I grew up in a typical Madhesi family in an underdeveloped village in Rauthat district, attending a government school. The notoriety of government schools for poor infrastructure and low quality of education is well known. Although my family was poor and my parents were barely literate, they prioritized education. And I was fortunate that despite being a girl from the Madhesi community, my brother and my family encouraged and supported me to join Rato Bangala School (RBS), an institution at the other end of the spectrum from my previous experience. My brother had just completed his high school from Budhanilkantha School and had started working in RBS as a Mathematics teacher. He brought me to Kathmandu and took my responsibility at a very young age. When I came to Kathmandu in 2000, I did not know Nepali language, and English was a far cry. Thus, my brother admitted me in a medium ranked school where I learnt both the languages and got acquainted with the english medium school. After getting the basic knowledge and language skills for 2 years I got admitted to a better school. Life was not easy as I had so many barriers coming from a small village school environment. I was struggling at my grades. I was given scholarship from Little Sister Fund (LSF), an organization which provides scholarships to economically disadvantaged Nepalese girls to become empowered leaders through education. I was fortunate to get the scholarship as it eased the burden of my fees to some extent. My brother had to pay partial fees of my education and partial was covered by the scholarship. One 6th grader at RBS left school as he went abroad with his family and that is when I got the opportunity to be in RBS. I got the admission at RBS but my struggle began from then as my classmates were from better educational and elite backgrounds. It was very odd initially but later I made close friends who guided and supported me in studies despite the fact that I was not of their standard. This instilled “a sense of responsibility in me, both towards other girls in my community and towards my family” at a very early age of my life. Throughout my education at RBS, I stayed connected to my village by engaging in several social initiatives including tutoring other students. I finished my A-levels from RBS in 2009 with good grades.
After completing my high school, I joined the National College, an affiliate of Kathmandu University, to pursue Bachelor’s degree in Development Studies. The interdisciplinary program taught me the theoretical aspects and approaches to address poverty and exclusion related issues. Furthermore, during the course of my Bachelor’s degree, I participated in several activities which have added a practical element to my education. I was on the verge of being a graduate when I saw advertisement of Teach For Nepal (TFN) and it was very intriguing as it said, “what if your first job was to change the nation?” The idea appealed me, while we talk of “change”, we have to become the agents of the “change”. It is easy to criticize the system from outside but the difficult part is to be a part of it and reform it. I want my nation to be literate, and I decided to join TFN. I applied immediately realizing that till this time I was on the receiving end and so then it was the time to give back to the society. It took two months for TFN to announce the results of the selection, and luckily I was selected.
I wanted to get out of comfort zone and try something different. I knew it was going to be very challenging and tough but did not know the depth of toughness. I thought with my effort I could get more Babitas, who would outshine because somebody helped her get the best of herself. I spent two years serving in Nawalpur, Sindhupalchowk.
The journey was not easy at all. I was born in Terai, lived in Kathmandu, where I never had to struggle for food but the in remote hill “Pahad”, life is very tough. It was a struggle to get good nutritious food. The weather was not very conducive and I fell sick. I was out of my comfort zone and I lived the hardships of common hill people in Nepal.. While I was there, the devastating earthquake struck Nepal and I witnessed one of the most horrifying events in my life.
TFN not only helped me teach the underprivileged kids in schools but also shaped one very important aspect of my life: my life partner. I was about to complete my two years of fellowship when I found my life partner. He is also a TFN fellow dedicating two years in Dhanusha district. We met in the office and became friends. With time our relationship and bondage grew and finally we ended up tying knots with consent of my family. Had I remained unmarried or married someone without my family’s consent, it would have set a bad precedent in the patriarchal society and this would be used as a reason to hold back girls from getting to higher education. Not that I approve of it, but the society does not function on rational logic, but perception and long-held beliefs, and it will take time to reform. The literacy rate is lowest in Rautahat district and I want more girls to come out of their comfort zones and get education for the betterment of the society.
I am the only graduate from my family, my elder brother supported me in this journey and without him, my journey towards my dreams would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible. Unlike other families in my village, where females are treated differently than the male members, my family was very conscious about it and I was treated in par with my brother.
I got married to Pravakar Sah, he has been very supportive. I call him the magician of my life as he makes complicated things very simple. It was his support and care which allowed me to go back to complete my fellowship just after two days of my marriage ceremony. Generally, the newlywed bride is not supposed to leave the house of her husband for certain period of time in our culture. My in-laws treat me like a daughter. My father-in-law owns a school in Raghunathpur and I have a choice to help him run the school.
The notion that a Madhesi woman is restricted to four walls of house in “Ghunghat” is not only being challenged, but proven anachronistic. Given an opportunity, any woman or man can break the stereotypes to live up to his/her dream.
After completing my fellowship, I chose to work for Terai Human Rights Defenders Alliance (THRDA), an organization working to provide equity and justice in Terai/Madhesh. I am appointed as a media and communication coordinator. I am happy to be able to serve for the betterment of Terai/Madhes, the place where I was born and the place where my future holds.
I want all the girls to grab the opportunity as it comes and prioritize education. Education is liberating; it not only empowers you individually but helps the society and the nation to move forward in future. The only way we, “the Madhesis” can change the future of girls, is through education.
*photo courtesy Teach For Nepal (TFN)