Schooling and childhood

As a little girl, Rabina seemed to have a normal life. She lived with her family as the youngest of five children, four girls and one brother, a little older than herself. Despite not being economically well-off, the family got by and Rabina especially enjoyed attending school . She studied  at Shikharapur Community School, and did very well where she was good at mathematics, a subject many students find difficult. All in all, she had a good childhood and a bright future.

At the verge of dropping out

Unfortunately, like many childhoods in Nepal, Rabina’s childhood ended far too soon as her elder brother became ill and needed hospitalization. His illness required expensive treatment and her family faced a difficult choice. In situations like this, daughters have to sacrifice their education due to economic hardships. Having seen this many times in her life, Rabina understood this, but she also had a strong desire to get an education. She had a dream of becoming a Nurse someday, so the idea that she might have to drop out of school when she should be an 8th grader along with her friends. Knowing Rabina’s potential and understanding her family situation, Rabina’s teachers approached the foundation about supporting her education; thus, Rabina became one of the first ten girls of the Rukmini Foundation.

I had the chance to meet Rabina very early in our program. in this event, we were able to provide a couple of eBook readers for the girls to share.

Excelling in Rukmini programs.

Being able to continue her education was a great distraction from the family hardships, and  Rabina being a great student, continued to do well. When we first spoke with Rabina about what she wanted to become when she grew up, she was adamant that she wanted to become a nurse. With the way she was studying and her obvious talents, we felt this was a realistic dream. She also seemed to enjoy the extra programs of the foundation, especially the Didi programs (Mentoring) and LitClubs (an afterschool program through our partner organization, LitWorld). At the LitClubs, storytelling, playing games and teamwork were her favorite activities. Didis (Mentors from the foundation) often met with the girls and listened to their problems, encouraged and helped them. The program also brought accomplished and successful guest speakers to share their stories and speak on issues that are important to young girls and women. Listening to their stories, Rabina  learned that every successful woman has endured some kind of adversity.

Misfortune strikes again

While Rabina was excelling at her school, a devastating blow fell on the family. Her brother, who had been struggling with a lengthy illness, passed away at a young age. It was a heavy shock for Rabina and an unimaginable loss to the family. The illness had both an economic impact to the family as well as an emotional one. In such a situation, anyone could have given up and sunk in her sorrows, but Rabina gathered strength and continued to do well in school and participate in as much of the foundation programs as she could. 

Graduation and meeting an inspirational Didi

Through her perseverance, Rabina was able to finish high school education (10th grade), and in 2014, appeared at the SLC (School Leaving Certificate) examination, which is the national exams to determine whether she can further her education beyond the 10th grade .  While waiting for the results, which typically takes months to arrive, she started working at the family shop in order to help out with the home finances. Months later, Rabina and her parents were very excited to hear that she passed the SLC examination with very good marks. For her parents, she had done enough of studying, but something inside Rabina told her that was not ready to stop there. 

Her determination to continue studying was made even stronger during a ceremony that the foundation organized to celebrate all of the girls who graduated. Rabina was even asked if she would like to speak at the program, and even though public speaking was a great fear of hers, she overcame it to give a short speech in front of the whole school, teachers and special guests. The chief guest of this program was none other than 2012 CNN Hero, Miss Pushpa Basnet. 

Miss Pushpa Basnet became a CNN Hero in 2012 for her work in helping children living in prison with their incarcerated parents. She opened an orphanage in her house and started working towards the rights and welfare of the children.

Hearing the inspirational story of Ms. Basnet, and also being able to speak in front of an audience like that proved to Rabina that she had the strength and could do more. Being inspired by the social work of Pushpa Didi as well as having the experience of being mentored by her Didis at the Foundation, she decided to get more involved in social activities in the community. Through our collaboration with another organization in Nepal, called Women LEAD, Rabina had the opportunity to participate in a leadership development program. At the training, she learned more about the social problems prevailing in society and how girls and women can help address them. Her sense of responsibility towards the society, especially girls younger than her, was further strengthened. This determination motivated her to continue her education, despite the financial challenges of her family, and to volunteer more in the community and mentor young girls.

A mentee becomes a Mentor

Through the foundation’s programs, a one-time scholar began volunteering at Rukmini Foundation by tutoring Bahinis who needed help in their Math, science and English subjects.  She encourages the girls she mentors not to get married before they are able to stand on their own feet. She believes that education leads to empowerment and empowered women can prevent social ills like gender discrimination and domestic violence. She is also instilling the belief that girls are equally capable of doing everything that a boy can do if they get a chance. She encourages girls to be strong and stand up for their rights.

Growing Entrepreneurial Spirit

While encouraging her younger sisters to pursue their education and their dreams, Rabina also thought about her own. She had wanted to become a nurse, but by having to work to support the family, she did not have the time or the financial resources to pursue the required degree. However, as we have already learned about Rabina, when she comes to an obstacle, she finds another way. 

The town of Pharping where she grew up is about 12 miles away from the capital city, Kathmandu and serves as a local business hub for the surrounding villages. Rabina’s family had already been running a small shop at their home, and Rabina decided that she could use her education, her leadership experience, and her wits to grow the family business. Since the town draws a good number of visitors from the Kathmandu valley because of its famous history, green lush hills and the famous Dakshinkali Temple, she felt that she could benefit from her house’s location close to the market. Rabina travels to Kathmandu every Friday to purchase supplies for the Saturday market at Dakshinkali and she wakes up at 3 in the morning to prepare the shop for a hopefully busy day. She has learned the art of business from her hard work, experience and education as she has been pursuing a Bachelor’s in Business Studies. One of her teachers, Ms. Apsara Adhikari is both impressed with and understanding of Rabina’s situation.

Rabina is a very hard worker and a dedicated student. She has to open her shop very early in the morning when there is the biggest crowd of people in the temple. She has had to miss some classes due to this, but she always manages to complete her schoolwork and she gets notes and assignments from her friends when she is not able to make it to school.

Apsara Adhikari

Teacher, Shikharapur College

The global pandemic has affected all local businesses and the family business was also hit hard, but due to the fact that her shop sold vegetables and food items, the local government allowed her family to continue operating for limited hours during the serious lockdown. Times are still challenging, but Rabina is determined and hopeful. With the growth in migrant population around the Pharping area, she expects to grow her business by providing quality goods at reasonable prices for the new community members.

Rabina conducting a mentoring session.

Outside of the shop, Rabina is close to completing  her Bachelor of Business Studies (BBS) degree and awaiting the result of her final examinations. She has successfully demonstrated that girls can be as capable as boys in any field, including being the main breadwinner for the family. =She has already faced many difficulties in her young life, but she was not deterred from these adverse situations and has always kept moving forward. She is sometimes a little disappointed for not being able to become a nurse, but she has turned out to be an independent and confident woman with a noble intention of becoming a socially conscious entrepreneur.  For me, she has become a better nurse who can prevent social ills from happening.

About Laxmi Aryal

Laxmi was the first female in her family to receive an education. While the education she received was limited, she was able to make the best of it and became the first person from her family and village to complete high school, undergraduate studies and eventually a Masters degree. She eventually earned a Masters Degree from the University of Pittsburgh in Public Policy. Hers is an inspirational story that the Rukmini Foundation hopes to replicate. She serves as an inspiration for the foundation and its leadership.
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