Meet Kanchan. She and her mother are residents of Her Farm. Her mother came to Her Farm after her husband brought home a second wife because Kanchan's mother gave him a daughter, not a son. Kanchan has just started school in the village this year and attends morning English classes in the classroom at Her Farm each day before regular school. She's an addorable, sweet child, but she's also very much at-risk. The rural education system in Nepal is not good at all. The results of this year's SLC, or school leaving certificate as it is called were just released. Only 43% of all students in the 10th grade passed. Of the total graduates, only 28% were from rural schools such as the one Kanchan attends. It's critical that girls like Kanchan get all the education support possible as the odds are very much stacked against them. In government schools, for every 100 students, only 3 will pass the SLC. Knowing that the odds are so much against them, 50% of children in government schools drop out after grade 5. A significant number of them are girls. Of the same 100 students who begin school, only 13 will still be in school by grade 10.
Passing the SLC is akin to graduating high school and it's critical for future employment. It's fair to say that if a girl doesn't pass the SLC about the best she can hope for is to work as a house cleaner. Every year the news reports that several young girls who didn't pass commit suicide upon hearing the results. You see not passing means their families will very likely marry them off to some boy they have never met, and very soon too as the stigma of not passing will be too great for the family to bear. Because a girl who doesn't pass has limited options in getting a good husband, the liklihood that she'll end up in poor surroundings and a victim of future domestic abuse increases as well.
Followers of this project and readers of our updates about it are well aware that Bina Basnet started something unique and wonderful when she founded Orchid Garden. It's a project full of good deeds that has helped hundreds of children. That's all good of course, but as a donor myself to this project I was elated to read that Bina has been recognized by the Management Association of Nepal for her skills as a manager. It's always heartwarming to read how young, at-risk youth have been helped by Orchid Garden, we all get a case of warn-fuzzies about that. As a donor though, it's also great to know that good management is in place to use donations wisely and to administer the program well. The recognition of Bina by the Management Association of Nepal demonstrates that this isn't only a warm-fuzzy, feel good project to support; it's well run and donations are used wisely. I like knowing that, I hope you do as well.
While this project is intended primarily to provide school uniforms to girls, it's a lot more than that. I have had a struggle with how to write this and be delicate. Let's start with the fact that girls are unwanted in Nepal. A girl represents a huge future liability in the form of dowry, a practice that is technically illegal, but thriving none-the-less. The parents of a girl will have to pay, in cash, in property or some other gifts to the family of her husband when she one day marries. Girls who leave school early face a lot of pressure to marry. But young girls are often neglected family members. The family doesn't want to spend money on food or clothing, nor education for their daughter. There's saying in Nepal that educating your daughter is like watering your neighbors garden. The consensus is that a young girl needs only to know about cooking, cleaning and caring for her husbands parents and many boys are reluctant to marry an educate girl as they see that as a source of trouble.
My wife, who is Nepali, has related to me what it was like for her growing up. She got the leftovers at meal time and often there wasn't enough. She was dirty most of the time and once a week she'd bathe with her friend, in the open at a cold-water tap where they'd have contests to see who had the most lice. She had but one pair of underwear for the week. The female readers of this may appreciate the problems associated with that, and since I promised to be delicate, I won't give details. As they say, google it.
Older girls often are not provided with bras and as they develop that becomes a source of humiliation. Typically they take to wearing several undershirts in an effort to mask their development and avoid the teasing and taunting that comes with that. Teasing about such matters in Nepali culture is a more serious issue than in ours. Girls have left school at that age rather than suffer the teasing as it's a humilating and shameful experience for them.
Even older girls, face larger problems still as their menstration begins. Many schools do not even have toilets so they have to hide in a bush or behind a tree, or rock to change pads. Pads in Nepal as we think of them do not exist. A pad is simply some old clothing torn and sometimes, but not always, sewn together. That requies careful cleaning, which many do not know how to do or they are too shy and ashamed to be seen cleaning so often they get a only a cursory washing before reuse. Many schools will not allow a girl in the classroom at this time, which further encourages them to just quit, stay home and wait for their parents to arrange a marriage.
This program attempts to address these issues by providing a uniform, which is a financial block to keeping daughters in school and providing everything that is supposed to be under that uniform such as a bra, if needed and several, not just one, pair of panties as well as pads and instruction in care and cleaning. Girls suffer from various infections and skin disorders due to dirty underwear and improperly cleaned pads. We are changing that. So, don't think this just about the uniform, while that is certainly an important part of this project, what goes under the uniform is equally important in the lives of young girls. Help us to help them grow up healthy, grow up understanding their bodies and what is needed for good health. Help delay the age of marriage and keep girls in school where they belong.
Greetings from Kathmandu, Nepal where I've just come to after spending over a month in the village. We have three girls in the village totally outfitted now with uniforms and school supplies. These three are at extremely high risk for leaving school early and at high risk for trafficking. Their mother left these children with their grandfather who is financially in no position to provide for them. Their father is dead and with the mother refusing to support them, they are at above average risk of being taken out of school, due to the costs involved in educating them. Nepal has one of the highest rates of human trafficking on earth and it's girls just like them, the ones without solid families, who are most at-risk.
There are a lot more young girls who face this problem and need our help to keep them in school. We estimate that in this one village alone, up to 20 girls are from families so poor that providing uniforms and school supplies is beyond their ability. Those 20 girls may well be left out of school beyond the 5th grade. In this village, the local school only goes to grade 5. After that, the children have to attend a larger school, a full hours walk downhill in another town. That school has strict requirements for uniforms, shoes, school backpacks and etc. There's a very real possibility that once they finish class five in the local village, they will be kept home to cook, clean and ultimately become childhood brides.
Another step we've recently taken is to open a before and after school tutoring program in conjunction with our GlobalGiving project entitled Her Farm. Please see the video link about it. As families value girls education less, it's easier for them to fall behind in studies and when that happens, they frequently elect to leave school.
Working with Orchid Garden Nepal (see Stop Making Paper Orphans of Nepal Children) we sent some young women from the village for training. Orchid Garden has a remarkable program for education and we intend to replicate their success in the village. We now have tutors to help those children who are falling behind in studies. Watch GlobalGiving for a new project from us soon dedicated to that program as well.
I am attaching a recent photo taken at the community school in Mankhu. I admit, it's not the greatest of photographs ever taken. I'd like to invite you nonetheless to take a long hard look at it. Some of the children have no uniforms at all. Some have half a uniform, just the shirt perhaps. One small boy in the front has a blue shirt but seems to have no buttons, or only the top two or three buttons. His shirt is bery dirty as well, yet he stands there looking almost proud of his barely-there blue shirt. If you look hard you'll see two of the girls are missing some buttons, have ragged sleeves or just part of a sleeve. From the degree to which one has her sleeves rolled up, I'd guess it's a hand-me-down shirt.
These children are from poor, farming families and can't afford a school uniform. You may be thinking, ok, not a big deal that don't have a uniform, if they have food and school, that's not too bad. In Nepal, the culture is such that kids without uniforms can be dismiseed from school entirely. Furthermore, it's an embarrassment to dress in such ragged clothes or to be missing half a uniform. As the children get older they will refuse to attend school rather than be seen without a proper uniform. It stigmatizes them as coming from poor families. Other children will taunt and tease them, the principal or teachers may send them home and admonish them not to return without buttons on their shirts or a clean uniform. The drop-out rate past grade 5 rises as the children become aware of the poverty they live with.
Take a look, a good long look. Put this in a cultural context. We're going to lose some of these children. If we lose the girls at a young age, they will marry young (and uneducated) and the cycle never stops.
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