This story is about a girl who grew up in a small town, Pharping. About two miles away from her home, there is a famous temple of The Goddess Dakshinkali. Thousands of people visit this temple every year. Many local people have a shop to serve the pilgrims. Puja’s parents also have a shop there. They worship the Goddess every morning before opening the shop. When their second daughter was born, they named her Puja or Pooja, which means Worship in Sanskrit.
Childhood and Family
Puja was highly creative, playful, and a happy child. She loved to draw pictures and color them in bold and vibrant colors. She spent most of her time with her older sister Santoshi, and they would help their parents at the shop during the busy seasons. Puja was very inquisitive and kindhearted child. When she visited her family shop at the temple, she used to pay attention to everything and everyone. She felt bad when she used to see young boys, girls and adults begging for money from the visitors. She used to go and talk with them and hear their stories. She wanted to find out if she was able to help them in any way.
The shop was the only source of livelihood for the growing family, so money was always a problem. While their parents worked at the shop, Puja and her older sister, used to run the household duties of cooking, cleaning, and looking after their younger brother and sister. Puja’s parents may not have had a great education, but they knew that a good education was the only way for their children’s brighter future. Despite their financial hardships, they decided to send all their children to Shikharapur School, which was considered the best school in the area.
At Shikharapur, Puja did very well, and outside of academics she enjoyed taking part in games and dance, always eager to learn and share with friends when she learned something new. Perhaps it was due to her creativity, but she started dreaming of becoming a fashion designer when she grew up.
Being a Rukmini Scholar
While all the children were doing well in school, Puja’s parents were struggling to pay for their four children’s school fees. However, they never thought of moving them to a public school, which was free, but the quality was not as good. Their situation was common knowledge to the teachers and when Rukmini Foundation started looking to offer scholarships for girls who were facing hardship to continue their education in the area, Puja’s school recommended her. Thus, she became a part of Rukmini Foundation family since 2012. Puja’s parents were incredibly happy as their financial burden got little lighter.
Learning from Rukmini Programs
Puja enjoyed every Rukmini program and participated them with great interest. She loved the Didi (mentoring) program, where young, educated girls known as Didis (older sisters) meet on Saturdays and share their stories, help them with schoolwork and encourage them to study hard. They also made Bahinis understand what they can do with a good education. Sometimes special Programs were organized bringing successful women as Guest Didis to inspire the girls. She also learned that the Didis also overcame difficulties to attain success. Their success was the result of their challenging work and determination. For Puja, Guest Didi Pushpa Basnet (CNN Hero) inspired the most to do something good for the society.
Puja (right) with one of her very best friends, Sushmita
Another favorite program for Puja was the Lit Club where girls learned various skills with fun and creative activities. She learned to meet and greet friends, read, and share stories, understand their strength, learn about kindness, and hope and many valuable skills for life. She learned to praise and encourage each other and accept everyone as they are. Her proudest moment was getting the SLC certificate from her favorite guest Didi, Pushpa Basnet.
Puja continued her two-year pre-college program at Tribhuvan Adarsha High school. She continued her participation in all Rukmini activities. After passing her 12th Grade examination, she joined Shikharapur College to study for a BBS (Bachelor of Business Studies) degree.
From a mentee to Mentor
While studying in College, Puja became a Mentor at Shikharapur Lit Club. She ran Lit Club activities very well. She knew all the activities and games which she shared with her Club. She enjoyed herself while playing games, teaching, and learning from each other and making Bahinis feel equal to her and encouraged them to do well in school. Bahinis were very happy with their Mentor Puja Didi.
Engaging in different activities
Her childhood dream of becoming a Fashion Designer was replaced by becoming a makeup artist. She knew her strength in drawing and desire to become an artist, she took a training in Kathmandu. In her free time, she worked at her sister’s beauty parlor.
She also worked at Niwano Peace Foundation surveying whether there were any children who were not enrolled in schools. She pleaded with parents to send their children to school.
She also got involved in the survey of child marriage situation in a village at Bhandarkharka. During the survey, she discovered that child marriage was high in the community. Surprisingly, it was not the parents who were eager to marry them off, but it was the girls who wanted to get married on their own. She found that many children were left by their fathers or mothers, and they did not have older guardians to teach or guide them. In that case, if they meet someone who shows interest in them, girls find that very comforting and want to marry.
Puja was moved by such stories and wished they had a supportive family like hers. She talks to the girls about all the negative things that can happen to their life if they marry at an early age and encourages them to stay in school until graduation.
During the lockdown, Puja volunteered at a local Food bank and taught her neighborhood children in her home.
Current job and Future plan– What next?
She has been teaching at a local private High School since 2020. She teaches computers for 4th to 6th grade students. During lockdown, she was busy teaching online classes. She is working on completing her bachelor’s degree in Business Studies.
Her career goal for the future has been to open her own beauty academy. But for now, she wants to work and gain some financial independence first. Puja’s parents are quite supportive of whatever choice she makes. They just want her to be independent and happy. She is free spirited person, always wanting to do something different than usual. She wants to ride a motor bike rather than a scooter. Her mother believes in Puja’s strength and supports her decisions.
She is particularly concerned of helping street children and stray dogs. Those ideas have remained in her mind since her childhood days seeing the children begging at the temple and the neglected dogs around town.
I feel quite happy to see Puja’s amazing personal growth – how a young girl from a humble background turned out to be so confident and empowered and doing so many things at an early age. She is truly a role model and inspiration for our Bahinis. Girls like her can bring positive changes in our society. She says, “I can raise my voice for a positive change, organize programs to raise awareness in the society.”
I admire Puja’s parents, especially mother, who understood the value of quality education as a way for their children’s future. Their love and support for their daughters and son without discrimination and keeping them in school even in the most difficult situations are highly commendable.