Background by Foundation Didi (Mentor), Dipa Kuikel
Last month in December, during our year in review – we highlighted a few of our Bahinis, who have made remarkable transformations, and Samjhana is one of the finest examples. This is a story of survival, enduring extreme hardships and discrimination in her family home. Samjhana shares with me her story as she recalls the past from mother’s childhood to the present time with a vivid picture of the society and family life in her birthplace of Jumla in western Nepal. She also recalls how she experienced the best and worst of humanity. The best being having a maternal grandfather who valued education for girls at a time when sending girls to school was uncommon in certain rural communities. This allowed her mother to become the only girl in the whole school. Sadly though, her father exhibited some of the worst traits as he married three wives, one after another hoping the other one would give him a son, and had altogether eight daughters and two sons. Hers is a story of countless difficulties, limitless perseverance, and unbridled hope.
Early Family Life (as told from Samjhana’s mother’s perspective)
When the girl was in 9th grade, a marriage proposal came from a young man from another village. The girl expressed her desire to finish the SLC exams (the national high school graduation examination) before getting married. The marriage was postponed till next year, but unfortunately she did not pass the SLC, but the marriage went ahead. After marriage, everything the young girl and her parents had hoped for turned upside down.
After marriage, girls are considered the property of the husband’s family. Accordingly, the new bride had to give up school and went to live in another village with her husband’s big joint family. Her principal duty became serving the family and giving birth to a child (a male child). As sons are preferred to daughters, many people still believe that a family is not complete without a son. Unfortunately, she was giving birth only to daughters, and for this crime she was treated badly by her family. Her husband lost patience and remarried, expecting a different wife would give him a son. However, his cunning plan did not fare well either, and he started to become more and more angry. As if the girl’s life was not already difficult enough, the country was in political turmoil due to civil unrest, which was particularly severe in western Nepal. The rebel army was forcing people to join their movement in these areas, and some of her family members had to join the rebels.
With increasing tension in the family and the fear caused by the unrest, her husband moved her and the family to another district in western Nepal. The girl happened to be pregnant again, but upon learning that the baby was a girl, her husband tried to get rid of their unborn child at a hospital. The hospital did not allow it, as the pregnancy was in an advanced stage. After having seven daughters, the husband still wanting a son, remarried a third wife. The girl having faced untold amount of suffering couldn’t take it any more, and she took the courageous decision to leave her husband and went back to live with her mother in Jumla.
From the Frying Pan Into the Fire
Despite her mother having fled her life, her paternal grandmother and her aunts found her and forcibly took her away from her mother and took to their family home. Separated from mother, living among many family members, Samjhana and her sisters had to work hard all day with very little food. She recalls how they used to beg and sometimes even steal food in order to ease their hunger. There were constant fights, verbal abuse and general chaos in the house. Her father even tried to give her and her elder sister to a school for orphans, by falsifying records and giving them different names to “make” them into orphans. As with many of his schemes, he was unsuccessful as the school figured out the lies.
The sisters were looking for escape the miserable family life. They had a strong desire to leave home and go anywhere they could to live peacefully and be normal children. Many people were fleeing these parts of Nepal to go to the capital city of Kathmandu to avoid being recruited into war. One of their uncles was one such who was leaving in search of work. His son was living in a children’s home in Kathmandu. Bravely, the girls approached their uncle and pleaded to take them with him. He knew a friend who could help the girls find a place where they could live and study. The girls accompanied him to Kathmandu hoping to find a better life and to leave behind their bitter childhood. Their travel expense was collected by selling one of the very few precious things they owned, a gold earring. Nothing could be more golden to Samjhana than a chance for a new beginning and the opportunity to learn and grow in peace.
Forging A New Identity
With the help of their uncle, the girls from Jumla were able to get out and eventually found a place to take them in called Shed the Light Home, a foster home in Pharping (where the foundation operates). This place became their new home and a sanctuary. Samjhana was admitted at Shikharapur Community School, one of the foundation’s partner schools, and here she began a new chapter of her life. In order to erase her painful past and to start a new future, she changed her name to Samjhana in grade 8. The name is somewhat ironic because Samjhana literally means memory.
Despite the difficult beginning to her life, Samjhana is now doing very well in school. One of the reasons why she seems to be doing so well is her involvement with GLOW Club Shikharapur. GLOW Clubs are focused on the overall development of girls through various innovative activities designed for girls in a safe environment and are guided by mentors where they learn skills needed to advocate themselves. One such program is called Girl Advocacy Committee (GAC). Global GLOW has supported these committees in more than 30 countries around the world. A member is selected from each country representing the voices of girls from their country and the committee holds meetings to discuss issues related to girls. This year, Samjhana was selected to represent Nepal. Samjhana is well-equipped to raise issues like gender discrimination, domestic violence, social and economic status of girls and women, which she has experienced firsthand in her own family. She has overcome such challenges and hardships and found a way to uplift her life through her resilience and dedication to education. As a GAC member, she participates in virtual meetings with members from other countries, shares experiences about the condition of girls in her country and learns about other countries and the girls who live there. She works with her peers in raising the concerns of girls on a global platform.
Samjhana in Her Own Words
When I became a GAC member, I understood my existence and purpose much better. I learned that I am not the only girl who faces hardships and has had a difficult life. There are millions of girls who are living difficult lives. I learned that the only way is to smile and get over my troubles is to work hard to raise awareness on such discriminatory practices that make the lives of so many girls very difficult. Even though I got away, the situation in my house back in Jumla is still the same. It is my job to raise these issues in the community and work together with others to find solutions for a big change. I am working hard in my school to get an education and being involved with the GLOW Club has really helped me a lot.
Concluding Remarks from Dipa Didi
Samjhana is a reminder of the power of hope and the unbelievable courage of so many girls throughout the world. I am confident that she will become a voice of change around gender discrimination and become a champion for girls and women in our society. She turned her painful past into her strength and has become an inspiration not only to other girls, but even us who are her mentors.
NOTE: The story of Samjhana was written by Samjhana in Nepali and this post is a summary of her story with the added perspective of one of her mentors, Dipa.
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