Borne of willpower and heart

Despite constant challenges, Dor Dev Ghimire has been steadfast in his commitment to bring education to a marginalized community in north-eastern Nepal

Aayush Niroula
Children in classroom
UNICEF Nepal/2019/ANiroula
10 May 2019

Ramechhap, Nepal: In 1993, Dor Dev Ghimire had been walking home to his village in his native Ramechhap District in north-eastern Nepal when someone called out to him. This someone was from the Majhi or fishermen community that lived nearby, and she handed him a letter and asked if he could read it to her.

Dor was aware of the general poverty that existed in the Majhi village, where residents had long been living hand to mouth. To add to their woes, about 18 years ago, when an airport had been built alongside the Koshi River in Manthali Municipality in the district, the construction had altered the course of the river. Huge swathes of riverside land had been swallowed up by the water. These lands, effectively rendered useless in terms of farming, had belonged to the Majhis. This had dealt a huge blow to their livelihoods.

But it wasn’t until that moment, when he was helping this Majhi woman decipher her letter that Dor truly internalized how different and difficult life was in a community so close to his own. The key to change, he saw, lay in education.  

Dor, then only 17, says he felt a sense of purpose for the first time in his life. He resolved to mobilize leaders and people of the community to bring education to the area. 

Headteacher of the school
UNICEF Nepal/2019/ANiroula
Dor Dev Ghimire, head teacher at the Srijanatmat Basic School in Ramechhap District in north-eastern Nepal. Dor had helped found this school in 1994 as part of his effort to help bring education to the marginalized Majhi community living near his village.

 Now, this was hardly what others in Dor’s community expected from him. Hailing from a so-called “upper caste” Brahmin family, his life would likely have taken a different direction, if not for his father. Dor’s father was something of an anomaly in the village, a man committed to liberal ideals and secularism. He had also been ‘mit’ – the term for a close, familial bond that is often ritually and formally established between friends – with a someone from the Majhi community, considered to fall on the lower rungs of the Hindu caste hierarchy.

Not surprisingly, this open-mindedness and sense of fairness had rubbed off on Dor.

That very evening, he talked to his father about opening a school in the village, and the idea was almost immediately approved of. With the support of some other local leaders, the process soon gathered momentum.

Locals contributed in labour and kind, working together to construct the school. And so, the Srijanatmak Basic School was established in the Majhi settlement of Odhare in 1994 with one teacher. About four years later, after he had completed his SLC, Dor would take over, eventually able to bring in a couple of more teachers and finding himself as the head-teacher, a position in which he has been serving ever since. For more than two.

Transitional learning centre
UNICEF Nepal/2019/ANiroula
The Transitional Learning Centre (TLCs) at the Srijanatmak Basic School in Ramechhap District in north-eastern Nepal. This TLC is among 250 such structures constructed by a joint USAID-UNICEF project in nine districts around Nepal, offering safer, more conducive environments for learning in earthquake-affected schools.

Pulling together resources to keep the school afloat has not been easy, however.

Never was this struggle more formidable than right after the 2015 earthquakes. The school’s modest structures suffered considerable damage, and Dor was forced to arrange for outdoor classes. And these conditions were starting to have an impact on the students, who were quickly losing attention and morale.

One day, however, Dor came to learn of a project that was building Transitional Learning Centres (TLCs) in earthquake-affected schools. Implemented by UNICEF and funded by USAID, the project sought to reestablish education in nine districts that were hit hard in the disaster. Dor quickly went to meet with people involved in the project and put in a request. And soon, he got his wish.

Headteacher of the school
UNICEF Nepal/2019/ANiroula
Dor Dev Ghimire (left), head teacher at the Srijanatmat Basic School in Ramechhap District in north-eastern Nepal, sits in on a class being held in the Transitional Learning Centre (TLC) at his school. Dor helped found this school in 1993 to help bring education to the marginalized Majhi community living near his village, and the TLC was constructed as part of a joint USAID-UNICEF effort to reestablish education in earthquake-affected schools in Nepal.

“It’s been a constant struggle, particularly since the community we’re working in don’t have the luxury to spare even a single paisa”  

Dor

Built on the very spot where the old structure had once stood, the new TLC now offers Dor’s students a sanctuary in which to study and play. Bhakta Bahadur Majhi, the chair of the School Management Committee who has been steadily supporting Dor through all this, says that the difference in environment is stark. “The old structure was like a cattle shed,” he says, “whereas this is the kind of place where children feel welcome.”

Bhakta Bahadur marvels at Dor’s tenacity and his dedication to helping the Majhi community. “He’s proof of what one person can do if they have the willpower and the heart,” he says.