The people of Sukumbasi Tole, a village in Nepal, are primarily Dalit and fall into the ‘untouchable’ category of the Nepalese Caste System which assigns individuals a certain hierarchical status based on Hindu beliefs. Although a law was passed in 1962 making it illegal to discriminate based on Caste, the Dalits still struggle to obtain the status of those in higher castes. Dalits, literally translating into oppressed or broken, are extremely marginalized in all aspects of life: religious, cultural, social, and economic. In a country where farmland is extremely scarce, the people of Sukumbasi Tole find themselves settled on land for which they have no title. Their settlements are permanent, but they have no rights or security with regard to their land. As farmers, this is a threat to their livelihood and survival.
Despite the extreme deprivation of human dignity and social justice, the Dalits of Sukumbasi Tole, with the backing of Dubai Cares and BuildOn, are bringing greater opportunities to their children through education.
Suraj, a 14-year-old Dalit student at the primary school in Sukumbasi Tole, has shown dedication, power, and strength to change the future of his village through education. With his father away working in India, scraping by on a meager salary and sending as much money home as possible, Suraj has been thrust into a leadership position in the family. Suraj’s mother, Sukmaya, has never been to school and his father attended only long enough to learn to write his own name. Currently the family is rebuilding their home, which means they have no shelter and are sleeping unprotected in the outdoors.
Despite these challenges, Suraj has risen to a leadership role in the community. He is the Chairperson the Children’s Club at his school. One of the current projects of the Children’s Club is to educate community members on the importance of latrines. Through the guidance of his teachers, Suraj and seven other classmates are showing people the health dangers of not using latrines. Suraj has also emerged as a leader in the construction of the first proper school structure in his village. As the school year just finished at the end of March, Suraj can be found everyday on the worksite doing various jobs – digging the foundation, carrying sand and rocks, and filtering sand. His diminutive frame is deceiving. Despite his size and his age, Suraj’s contribution to the construction of the school is substantial.
Standing inside one of the 5 ft. holes he dug for the reinforced concrete columns, Suraj said, “If I study I can be a successful person in the future. If someone takes me away from this area, I will know where I am and be able to get back home”. Suraj, at such a young age understands that education is the key to his future. Suraj’s goal is to become either a doctor or an engineer and his favorite subject is science.
Developmental Challenges in Nepal
Several problems and challenges continue to plague the education system in Nepal, and societal disparities based on gender, ethnicity, location and economic class prevent many from attending school and are yet to be eliminated. According to a UN report, apart from having the lowest GDP per capita of South Asia, the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal has the lowest life expectancy, the largest share of undernourished children, and significant inequality across social groups. In the 2013 Human Development Report, Nepal was ranked 157 out of 187 countries.
Dubai Cares Programs in Nepal
Dubai Cares supported the establishment of 220 libraries and the publishing of 5 local language titles/books, of which 336,000 copies have been printed and distributed. In partnership with BuildOn, Dubai Cares is directly benefitting 2,100 primary school age children in 14 schools, and 1,200 illiterate women from indigenous rural communities. Activities also benefit 5,000 adults, teachers, and officials (600 unique volunteers per school project, project leadership teams, teachers, officials).
Providing Access to Quality Primary Education
Dubai Cares’ efforts in Nepal reflect the theme of its current “What if …” Ramadan campaign for 2014, which will run throughout the Holy Month of Ramadan to spread awareness about the importance of education, as one of the most effective tools to break the cycle of poverty. Through this campaign, Dubai Cares will ask the UAE community to imagine their own children facing the same hurdles that children in developing countries do. What if your son fills up his bottle from contaminated sources on the way to school where the water has been making him sick most days of the year and makes him miss school days? The campaign also aims to raise funds for improving children’s access to quality primary education in developing countries.