Children playing carefree in the playground. Boys and girls playing sports. A girl wanting to go to school and dreaming for a better future. Many seemingly simple acts are so out of reach for many, specifically for little girls. Despite all the odds against her, Susmita Sunar, a playful, tenacious little girl becomes one of the success stories of the Rukmini Foundation.
Susmita is the youngest in the family of four. Susmita’s father is away from home most of the time. Her mother Sita is the sole provider for the family. She is out at work most of the time in a day. The children grew up with a close family with several cousins. After her older cousin was married at a young age, Susmita became the only girl among her older brother and cousins. Being the only girl in a group of boys did not bother Susmita. She played football (soccer) and cricket with them. It is not typical for a girl to compete against boys in sports, but Susmita had great interest in football and cricket.
Growing up in Pharping
They lived in a socially, economically and ethnically diverse town of Pharping. Susmita’s family comes from the community that has historically been discriminated against on the basis of their cast. The Caste system is illegal in Nepal, but the stigma still remains. Susmita recalls such incidents as a child, when she couldn’t enter into her friend’s house and describes it as “Hurtful.”
Susmita’s mother wanted to educate her daughter in a good school in the hope that good education will help her daughter to become successful. So, Susmita was admitted at Shikharapur Community School, which was the best school there, but it was not a public school, and it was not cheap. Susmita enjoyed her new school with friends of her own age. While Susmita was doing well in school, Sita was struggling to pay the fees. She had a very hard choice whether to keep her in that school. But Susmita loved her school and friends, and did not want to move to a public school though she knew she might have to do that if she wanted to continue her education. In desperation, Sita (Susmita’s mother) approached the school for help.
Rukmini Foundation was starting its partnership with Sikharapur school at that time. Understanding her struggle and determination, far too long the school proposed Susmita’s name for the Foundation’s scholarship. This is how Susmita became the very first scholar of RukminiFoundation. This made both mother and daughter very happy.
Feeling at home with the Foundation
Sita was relieved as the economic burden of her daughter’s education was lifted. Susmita survived the dreaded situation of leaving her school or worse, being a child bride like her older cousin. She was able to continue her education with her classmates, play cricket in her free time and enjoyed being at the Rukmini Foundation’s Didi (mentoring) program
Susmita looked up to the Didis who she found very caring, knowledgeable and fun. They listened to her problems, encouraged her to study, and played games with her. The Didis also were the mentors of the newly opened LitClub where the girls were engaged in various creative activities playing games, reading and storytelling. Sometimes, successful women and girls were invited to share their stories to inspire Rukmini scholars. Susmita took inspiration from such stories that were helpful for her to cope with the problems at home, especially her mother’s struggle to provide for the family.
After passing the national level S.L.C examination, she started mentoring younger Bahinis like her and volunteered at Rukmini activities. She was very good and well liked by the Bahinis (younger sisters), which made her comfortable in running the Lit club later on.
When a Mentee becomes a Mentor
She started her 10+2 (Pre college) education at Tribhuvan Higher Secondary school in the morning and volunteered in Rukmini Programs as Lit Club Mentor. She went on a home visit program to check on Bahinis and was shocked to see the conditions of people living in villages not very far from her town. She felt so much admiration for bahinis who come from such remote areas to study. Visiting villages outside her home town, listening to stories and experiences of Didis, attending monthly meetings with the Rukmini team in the U.S. and participating in discussions gave her a new perspective in life. She says, “Being at Rukmini Foundation is like seeing the world”.
Susmita’s Community Involvements
Susmita joined Bachelor in Business Studies (BBS) at Shikharapur Campus after finishing her Pre- college. She also got actively involved in various activities. Some of them are:
- She was one of the few girls who started playing the boys game of cricket, she organized a cricket team for girls in Pharping.
- Volunteering at a local organization called Sampurna Nepal, that houses a dozen children mostly without a family, who go to local schools. Susmita and her friends made frequent visits there to help the children to teach, help with stationary supplies, and even celebrate their birthdays with the children with their favourite foods to share with them.
- Working with Niwano Peace Foundation
- She and her friend worked as a paid volunteer in Kopugaun village collecting information about young children who were not attending school. They encouraged parents to send their children to school. They also painted the school building for children.
- She surveyed on child marriage in villages and volunteered at social activities in the community.
On the way to Financial independence
Susmita resigned from her mentoring role and went to work as an Accountant at an upscale beauty parlor in Kathmandu. She continued her education at Shikharapur College in the morning. While working at the parlor, she also trained to become a beautician. She thought of this occupation as a future venture. She gives credit for her courage and strength to do all these things to her mother and Rukmini Foundation.
She had to skip classes sometimes to get to her work. She wants to become financially independent, but her priority is completing her education.
Ms. Apsara Adhikari
Susmita has been able to work, continue her education and volunteer in the community. Seeing her daughter’s success makes Sita very happy. Now, Susmita and her brother take care of their mother whose health is not very good due to the harsh labour while supporting her family. For Susmita, her mother is her best friend. For Sita, her daughter is her dream come true.
Moving along to the next chapter
Recently, Susmita got married to a nice man with the blessings of both families. Susmita aspires to own a beauty parlor some day. But for now, she is looking for a job in an accounting or finance field. She also wants to keep mentoring young girls and get involved in Rukmini activities whenever she can. Susmita thinks that the stigma of the caste system is slowly changing in society. She also thinks that better education and awareness will help bring social equality. She is moving on with the “Unforgettable memories for a lifetime” at the Rukmini Foundation.
Susmita has become a success story and a role model for younger girls who can look up to her. Her success is the outcome of her mother Sita’s sacrifice to give her daughter the gift of education. Like Susmita, I am hopeful for the positive changes in society through education.