In Nepal’s west, the Rupantaran life skills programme is helping young people better navigate their realities, express themselves and identify brighter futures for themselves and their communities
Surkhet, Nepal - If there’s one thing Sirjana is certain about, it’s that no girl or boy should get married before they are ready. “The law has put the legal age for marriage at 20, but that hardly means you should rush to get married right after you turn 20,” says the 17-year-old from Krishna Tole in Surkhet District.
“You should wait until you are self-sufficient, so that you don’t have to be under anyone’s thumb and constantly humiliated and tortured.”
This was one of the biggest learnings for Sirjana following her participation in the Rupantaran programme earlier this year together with other children and young people from her community, a community wherein, according to Sirjana, many adolescent girls and boys get married far too early with dire consequences.
Rupantaran – which translates to ‘transformation’ in the Nepali language – is a comprehensive social and financial skills training package aimed at empowering 10- to 19-year-old girls and boys by informing them of their rights and enabling them to become changemakers in their communities. The Rupantaran approach was developed by UNICEF and UNFPA in collaboration with the Government of Nepal, with a focus on reaching youth from excluded or vulnerable groups, or communities facing specific socio-economic obstacles.
In Krishna Tole, the adolescents selected for the programme belonged to the historically marginalized Dalit community, girls and boys who have already faced a vast number of challenges from poverty to caste-based discrimination, abuse and exclusion in their young years. For 21 weekly sessions, the programme was run under a trained facilitator – someone from the community itself – for batches of 25 young people each, and covered key areas such as life skills and social education; financial education; and livelihood awareness.
Focusing on self-sufficiency, Rupantaran offers a wide range of practical lessons to support the growth and development of participants, including analyzing and challenging gender stereotypes and other discriminatory practices, identifying goals and dreams and means of achieving these, as well as building communication skills and expressing one’s opinions and feelings effectively, among others.
Eighth grader Shikha Pariyar, another of the Rupantaran graduates from Krishna Tole says that she has seen a great deal of changes in herself since having gone through the programme.
The 15-year-old recalls how some years ago, her parents had gone to India to find work and taken her along with them. “At the time, I didn’t think anything of it – I wanted to start working and start earning, because I didn’t think my education was important,” she says.
It was Shikha’s grandmother who had ultimately convinced her to come back and enrolled her in a local school, followed by the Rupantaran session.
“I now understand that you need to study to be able to navigate life more successfully,” Shikha says, referring to the Rupantaran lessons on budget and savings and stress management as examples.
Like Sirjana and Shikha, hundreds of thousands of adolescents across the country have benefited from the Rupantaran package so far, finding support amidst their peers and a sense of purpose in their lives.
Sirjana, for instance, says that she hopes to become a lawyer in the future. “I’ve witnessed a lot of discrimination from so-called higher castes towards communities like ours,” she explains. “I want to be able to put a stop to that, and help to lift up my people.