“My future has opened up”
In western Nepal, a young participant of the Rupantaran programme finds that her horizons have broadened in terms of her skills and the work opportunities now open to her
The majority of Laxmi’s early life in Dhangadhi Sub-Metropolitan City in Kailali District in western Nepal was devoted to supporting her family, with her education taking a back seat. Having witnessed her parents’ constant struggle to put food on the table, Laxmi started working herself at a very young age, rendering her attendance at school very irregular. After the 7th grade, she left school entirely to focus on daily wage labour.
“Our father mostly stayed in India, where he worked in the fishing industry, so it was just me and my mother at home,” Laxmi says. “I felt the pressure to step up and help out, but I couldn’t do that while going to school, so I left.”
With no specific skills to rely on, Laxmi says it wasn’t easy to find work. And even when she did find work, it simply did not yield the kind of income she had hoped for.
“It was never enough,” she says.
Laxmi’s experience is not uncommon. Of Nepal’s 11.6 million children, 51 per cent are girls. Many are burdened with gender discrimination and inequality, and are subject to multiple forms of violence, abuse, and exploitation. Almost a quarter of women aged 20-24 were married before their 18th birthday, 1 out of 10 girls in the 15 to 19 age group have already given birth, almost 2 out of 5 adolescent girls are anemic and 2 in 10 girls have reported having symptoms of anxiety. Only 54.3 per cent of girls continue up to secondary level education.
In April 2022, at which point she had been working full-time for four years, Laxmi learned about the Rupantaran programme, which means "transformation" in Nepali, being run in her community. The Rupantaran social and financial skills training package was developed in 2014 through a collaboration between UNICEF, UNFA and the Government of Nepal. The package primarily focuses on empowering girls aged 10 to 19 years although it also includes boys and parents. Its aim is to provide participants with the knowledge and skills necessary to unlock their full potential, enable them to actively participate in shaping decisions that impact their lives, and transform into catalysts for positive change in their communities.
The programme is currently being run across communities in Nepal as part of the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to End Child Marriage, generously funded by Max Factor through UNICEF’s Gender Equality Fund as well as the Governments of Belgium, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom, the European Union and Zonta International.
Eager to take up a new opportunity at a time in her life when everything seemed to be stagnating, Laxmi signed up for the programme. It was something of a whirlwind, according to the young girl, who found herself learning about all kinds of topics that she hadn’t encountered before, including child rights, gender-based violence, the harms of early marriage, financial literacy and saving tips, to name a few. It was, however, the session on microenterprise development that had the most impact on her.
“Learning how it was possible for someone like me to build skills and use that to start a business and become self-reliant was eye-opening,” Laxmi says. “I am confident that these skills will change my life.”
And she wasn’t alone. There were several other girls in the Rupantaran class who were also keen on taking a similar path. The girls relayed these wishes to their facilitator Basundhara Bhatta, who promised to help them in any way she could.
True to her word, Basundhara stumbled upon a local organization that offered tailoring training. Collaborating with Tej Bohara, a passionate social mobilizer working closely with UNICEF's partner organization, Bageshwori Asal Shasan Club (BAS Nepal), they swiftly connected with this opportunity. Late in 2022, Laxmi and her group of friends eagerly embarked on a three-month tailoring journey.
Laxmi's dedication knew no bounds; she tirelessly honed her skills, sewing and stitching a wide array of ladies' clothing items. With the training nearing its end, excitement filled the air. Laxmi and her friends weren't merely learning; they were forging a path to a brighter future. Upon completing the program, Laxmi received a sewing machine and essential materials to set up a tailoring shop in her neighborhood.
"Everything has changed," exclaims Laxmi, now 18 years old, as she reflects on her journey. "It's like my future has opened up."
Laxmi is just one of the 8,000 girls who have reaped the benefits of the Rupantharan skilling program. Remarkably, three-quarters of these girls, like Laxmi, have returned to formal schooling, while the remainder have received vital income-generating support, marking a transformative impact on their lives. UNICEF Nepal is committed to this cause and is actively seeking support to expand the program, with the goal of reaching 50,000 girls by 2027, further extending the reach and impact of this life-changing initiative.