A hunger for education

Sita Tamang is a girl for whom education is indispensable for living. The desire to attend school and excel in studies seems like a common aspiration for a young girl, yet this seemingly common goal is quite a challenge for many girls like Sita who face insurmountable odds in getting an education. This story is a glimpse of the type of grit and perseverance required to realize this goal.

Childhood and family

Sita grew up in a village called Lamagaun outside of Pharping, and is the youngest of five siblings. Her family’s only source of income was a small farm which provided just enough to get by. This lack of income made her parents realize the importance of education as an alternative to hard labor, so they wanted to make sure they could educate their children. However, Sita’s family lost their only source of income when someone they knew seized their land by deception. With the loss of their land, the family’s happiness evaporated, and even more sadly leading to her father’s untimely death. The loss of her father and the resulting hardships profoundly affected nine-year-old Sita causing her an undiagnosed illness. Despite having each other for support, life became very tough for the remaining family. Two of her three brothers moved away with their immediate family in search of livelihood elsewhere and Sita’s mother tried to provide for the rest of the family by working as a wage laborer while the remaining members also pitched in as seasonal laborers.

Schooling

Except for Sita, all of her other siblings had to give up their dreams of education. Despite all of their difficulties, the rest of the family kept encouraging Sita to stay in school and finish her studies. She began her first grade at Kali Devi Basic school, but since this school only provided education up to the 6th grade she faced an uncertain future when she reached 6th grade. With a stroke of luck finally, a non-profit organization called Project Himalayan came to her aid and agreed to finance her education at Tribhuvan Adarsha High School in Pharping. She was admitted in 5th grade so she could get acclimated to the higher academic standard of the school. Sita worked diligently and excelled. She was finally happy that her dream of education was turning into a reality.

Crossing multiple hurdles

Sita’s dreams shattered and reality hit when in 8th grade the Project Himalayan program could no longer support her. Though there were “free” public schools in Pharping and surrounding villages, her family could not afford other expenses related to attending school. Despite this big setback, Sita was determined to continue her education and she began working as a farm laborer to save some enough money for school, and in the meantime also continued her study at home by herself.

Her first hope was Shikharapur Open school, which admitted students who have dropped out of various schools and prepared them for the Secondary Education Examination called (SEE). Unfortunately, Sita did not meet the criteria to join this program, but she continued searching schools that would admit her in the 10th grade, which would allow her to eventually take the SEE examination. When she was not able to find a school in Pharping, Sita looked elsewhere and found a school in Kathmandu that allowed her to attend 10th grade. Even though Sita’s mother was in financial distress, she supported her daughter financially and emotionally. By this time, not all family members thought the idea of spending money for education was a good idea, but Sita remained resilient to continue her education.

Difficult road ahead

Attending school in Kathmandu was not easy as she had to leave home around 4.30 am to catch the 5 am bus from Pharping to Kathmandu. After reaching Kathmandu, she had to take another van that ran on a rather unreliable schedule to hopefully get to her school on time. On her lucky days, she would reach her school on time for her class, but usually, she was late. After school, it was the same hassle-prone journey back home.

After reaching home hungry and tired, she had to finish her homework and study to pass the board exam. On Saturdays and holidays, she worked as a farm laborer to earn money for the transportation to school, which was not just difficult, but also costly. This routine was exhausting, and despite her mental resilience, her body gave up. She fell quite ill and missed school again for a few weeks. She knew her examination was approaching, and she had to roll up her sleeves to pass. As always when odds seemed the worst against her, Sita gathered her strength and worked hard. She was able to appear for the SEE examination and her hard work paid off because she passed the exams with a B+ grade, which was very impressive. This was one of the happiest moments of her life and one of her proudest. With this result, she could pursue further education, but she was not sure how. She was constantly searching for options to quench her thirst for education.

Meeting Rukmini Foundation

The dream of education beyond the 10th grade seemed far-fetched for a girl with Sita’s limited means, and she desperately wanted and needed to find a way to attend 11th grade. While she was chasing after her dreams of a higher education, Sita was unaware that the Rukmini Foundation was there to help girls reach their potential through education. Luckily for her, a community member knew of her situation and also of the foundation and suggested that she contact the Rukmini Foundation team for help. With great hope, she immediately approached the Foundation office and met with the leadership team. After listening to her story, the foundation was convinced that they had to support this amazing girl. She was thrilled to learn that her high school dream was once again turning to reality and even started dreaming of a college education.

Opportunity lost to illness.

With the help of Rukmini Foundation, she was fully committed to her education and completed 11th and 12th grade from Arunodaya Secondary School with a major in English. During the final presentation at her 12th-grade examination, the examiners were so impressed that they decided to offer her a teaching position at Shikharapur School. This was a great honor and a just reward for her hard work and perseverance.

Unfortunately, before she could join the much-desired job, she fell victim to an undiagnosed illness once again and lost this incredible opportunity. However, her resilience shone through again, and after recovery, she emerged with renewed strength. At present, she is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Education at Shikharapur College in Pharping. Besides studying, she likes to help her mother and sister-in-law with household chores and also enjoys gardening and vegetable farming. She is a champion of girl’s education in her community and encourages other young girls to focus on their education with an aim of understanding the subject matter rather than just memorizing it to pass the test.

I love the awareness programs organized by the Foundation on girl’s and women’s issues and I enjoy participating actively. These programs aim to inspire young girls to stay focused on their goals and overcome their obstacles instead of just giving up, which is tempting to do. Most girls hesitate to participate in such discussions though because they are not encouraged to share their problems. I prefer one-on-one conversations with the Bahinis (younger sisters) because it makes them comfortable about discussing topics in a safe environment.

Sita Tamang

Bahini, Rukmini Foundation

Plans for the future

Upon completing her bachelor’s degree, she intends to become a motivational speaker and a writer to raise awareness on girls and women’s health and wellness, mental health, and various prevailing social issues. She says,” Helping others, encouraging them, and showing a path forward gives her mental peace and enhances her self-confidence.”

Sita reciting poetry during an International Day of Women program.

Due to COVID-19, schools are only offering online classes to those who have computer and internet access. Sita takes a few courses online on her phone and works on a vegetable farm as well. In her limited spare time, she enjoys yoga and meditation and credits these practices for significantly improving her physical and mental health. In the meantime, she has also been actively involved in creating awareness about COVID-19 where she advises her family, neighbors, and friends to avoid unnecessary travel, wear masks and maintain social distancing to reduce the spread of this disease.

Sita is a dreamer, but she is also a planner and always thinks about her next destination and starts to plan ways to reach that goal. We have reason to believe that her determination and focus can turn any dream into a reality. We have plenty of reasons to believe that her dream of becoming a motivational speaker and a writer is not just a dream, but a path she is currently traveling on. Rukmini Foundation is proud to be associated with an amazing girl like Sita who is a true inspiration and role model and my hero for the month of July.

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