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Real lives

Girls’ education makes a world of difference for a community in Nepal

© UNICEF Nepal/2003
Sona Sada, 15, graduated from the Out of School Programme. She is now in grade 6 and hopes to complete grade 10.

Sona Sada walks one hour to get to the government school. The 15-year-old gladly makes the long trek from her village in Dumraha, Nepal. She is a Mushahar, a member of the landless tribe considered ‘untouchable’ in her country. She never dreamed that she would go to school. Her family is poor, and like most Mushahars, she seemed destined to remain illiterate.

“We never had enough money to spare,” says Sona. “The females in the house earn 30 rupees (less than half a dollar) for a day’s labour and my father double that.”

Sona and her two older sisters spent their days cleaning the house, fetching water and gathering cow dung to make fuel briquettes. Sona would also take the bulls and buffaloes to graze in the fields. It was there that she would see boys and girls from other castes clutching their books and scrambling off to school.

Schooling had not even been a remote possibility for the Sada children and others from disadvantaged communities. Just 54 per cent of Nepalese children complete primary school. Few are from her caste.

“I used to look at them, the children of the Kori and Mehtas,” she says, “but never dared to enter the school compound. I used to be scared.”

But that all changed for Sona when she was 10.

A woman came door to door, urging parents to send their children to the nearby informal classes at the Out of School Programme. There Sona and 20 other children got their first taste of education.

“I learned the alphabets and started to look forward to school,” says Sona. “But my parents didn’t have money to register my name. Not that year, nor the next.”

Then the Dumraha village – and Sona – got a break.

Out-of-school classes

In 1999, UNICEF’s Decentralized Planning for Children’s Programme assisted communities in Dumraha to mobilize themselves into self-help groups and participate in activities that would promote the welfare of children and women. One settlement of Mushahars – mainly women – was reluctant to start such an organization. For one, they didn’t have the money.  And whatever money they had, they did not trust it with an outsider. But when UNICEF contributed $65 as an interest-free equity fund and helped them identify a facilitator from within the community, 21 women formed the Dinabhadri Women’s Community Organization.

Sona’s mother, Maita Sada, was selected to be chairperson. But she, like the other members, was illiterate. A woman from a different caste living in a nearby settlement was chosen to be the manager. The price of their illiteracy hit the women head-on and motivated them to ensure that their children would not have the same fate. They pushed for UNICEF to support the Out of School Programme in their village.

Sona was among the community children who attended the two, 10-month Out of School sessions. She says that after the non-formal classes she was ready for ‘real’ education. 

“I wanted to learn more, to know more,” says Sona. “I had always wanted to do all that the manager used to do, working with figures and numbers, leading the group discussions, urging, teaching. I believed that by studying I would be able to increase my capacity to do so many things, that it would be good for my future.”

Sona, like her classmates, graduated and was ready for the regular government school. UNICEF helped all the children with their school fees and uniforms. Sona is now in grade 6, studying many subjects. She hopes to eventually make it to grade 10.

“I want to continue studying so that I can become a schoolteacher,” she says. “I want to spread knowledge all around.”

A world of difference

Education has opened Sona’s eyes. Her two sisters married at age 14. She is determined to delay marriage until she finishes school. This is rare in her community, where most girls are married off before they reach puberty.

“I will not marry before I am 20, for I have learnt that it will not be good for me to become a mother before that,” she says. “And even then, I will not marry if the man is less educated than me.”

Education has made a world of difference for Sona and for her community. Now Sona tracks the growth record of the village children and monitors the growth of pregnant Mushahar women in the area.

The Community Organization saw a bright, literate girl in their midst. Sona has replaced the non-Mushahar manager of their organization. She has received training on community mobilization, finances and credit, and has participated in Training of Trainers sessions.

Her schedule is tight. So she plans her day wisely on the long trek home from school.



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