Thursday, January 2, 2014

Two Taltules of Taltuleshwory

A week or so before our travel to Thangpalkot earlier this month, Kumar Sir told me about a little girl, Sabina, and a small boy, Saugat, whose guardian and family, respectively, were struggling to cover the children's educational expenses.
Sabina Ghale
Sabina Ghale
Saugat Gurung
Saugat Gurung
The children attend the neighboring school of Taltuleswory Primary School, also in Thangpalkot VDC. (COMMITTED recently completed a library project at the school.)
Hearing their stories, I decided I would pay these children a visit during our visit to the village.
Sabina, a beautiful little girl studying in second grade, I discovered, does live with her maternal aunt just as Kumar Sir had described. Her dad had died a while ago. Though her mom was still alive, she had remarried and left the village with her new husband. (I didn't ask for details beyond that.) But they weren't the only problems the little girl faced. For a while now, it turned out, she had displayed considerable insecurity about her background and had begun using and writing a different surname from the real one.
The little 3rd grade boy Saugat's dad, unfortunately, had been in the bus that drove off the road and plummeted down a hill last summer killing 14 on the spot. While the dad was lucky to have escaped with his life, he had injured his legs--he is lame as result. His mom is a day labourer. The boy and his family live with his paternal aunt and her husband, unable to support themselves completely.
As per my request, the Principal of Taltuleswory, Ms. Pandey, submitted a formal request for sponsorship. They are very detailed as you can see below.
Request for Sabina and Saugat's sponsorship.
Request for Sabina and Saugat's sponsorship.
Sabina Ghale's story.
Sabina Ghale's story in the Principal's words.
Saugat Gurung's story.
Saugat Gurung's story in the Principal's words.
Currently, the education of one student costs Rs. 8420 per year. (At the current rate of exchange, that amounts to about US$87.00.) See below for a complete breakdown of the expenses.
Cost of their education.
Cost of their education.
I am thrilled to report that a friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, has agreed to sponsor Sabina's education all the way through to 10th grade!
Now, Saugat needs a sponsor! Please let me know by email or by some other means if you are willing to sponsor him. If you are contemplating doing so, please have a read of our sponsorship policy and how it works before you make your final decision.
And be sure to visit this page later for updates.
Dec. 17, 2013.
* * * * * * * *
Update 5:50 pm Dec. 17, 2013
Another friend, who also wishes to remain anonymous, has agreed to sponsor Saugat!!!
Thank you you two--you know who you are!

Dorje Gurung
Education Program Director
(Click here for the original post on Dorje's Dooing blog.)

Bishnu's Dream Lives On

A little over a month ago, we put out a plea on behalf of a young girl, Bishnu, one of the many casualties of the tragedies that befall Nepalese migrant labourers in Qatar. Within twenty-four hours, three generous people and an organisation in Kathmandu, Higher Ground, donated the necessary funds, ensuring, for the time being, Bishnu did not need to abandon her dream of continuing her education. She does not need to give up her studies and go looking for a job to support her family and siblings. Had it not been for the generous donations, as the first-born in the family, she would have had to shoulder the burden of taking care of her siblings and family.
On October 9th, we were able to make the first deposit and just last week on November 8, we made the second deposit. Every month around the 8th, for the next four months, COMMITTED will be depositing Rs. 15000 into Bishnu’s mom’s bank account. The remaining balance will be deposited in the last month, the seventh month. (Click here for COMMITTED’s education-sponsorship policy.) Bishnu will complete her 12th grade then. (I am in touch with her and have been talking to her about her plans after that.)
The fund covers Bishnu and her siblings’ education-related expenses. It pays for,  for instance, their monthly tuition fees at the school, private tuition fees (held at the school outside of normal school hours), textbooks, stationary, school uniforms etc. The Principal at Shree Bhimsen Higher Secondary School, the school most of the children attend, will be assisting us in monitoring the progress of the children’s education.
Five of the children, including Bishnu, attend Shree Bhimsen Higher Secondary School in Sundanda-1. Those children are Rajesh in 7th grade, Laxman in 8th grade, Sharmila in 8th grade and Laxmi also in 8th grade. (Her father had two wives, hence the children of similar ages!) The school is a little over an hour walk each way from where her family lives. The sixth one, her brother Raj Kumar, a 7th grader, attends Shree Bhim Karina School in Karina-5, a school located in the same area as the other school. Bishnu, however, is hoping to transfer him to the school she and the rest attend.
Once again, thanks are due to Karla, Gillian, an anonymous donor and Higher Ground in Kathmandu for their generous donations.
Please check back here for more updates etc.
Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013.
Dorje Gurung
Education Program Director
(Click here for the original on Dorje's Dooing Blog.)

Casualty of Qatar: Shattered Dream?

One of the many casualties of the abuse, exploitation and slave-like treatment of semi- and unskilled Nepalese laborers in Qatar, but something that hardly gets any in-depth coverage in the media and public forums, is the dreams of thousands of young and innocent Nepalese children.
A couple of days ago, I received a call from my journalist friend, and fellow United World College (UWC-USA) graduate, Subina. She was wondering if she could invite Jayjeev, my friend and colleague at COMMITTED, and me to a luncheon to discuss a migrant laborer issue. I knew she had just returned from a brief visit to Baglung, a small town west of Kathmandu, where she had gone for an assignment.
At lunch, she had a story to share, a story of Bishnu, a young girl who, along with her family, had now an uncertain future. Here’s the story in Subina’s words.
Bishnu’s Dream
Bishnu Devi Khadka
Bishnu Devi Khadka
Bishnu Devi Khadka, 19, is a 12th grader who had been building a dream–to become the most well-educated woman in her village in Baglung and do something big. She was one of the few exceptional students, who despite studying in a local village school, was able to score first division grades in her 10th grade board examination. She even got 91 percent in Science, a subject she wanted to pursue for her higher studies but could not as it was too expensive for her parents. Nonetheless, she kept her spirit up and continued her education, studying to become a teacher. [Clickhere, here and here for blog posts about the challenges of being a student in rural Nepal and to truly appreciate Bishnu's academic achievements to date.]
But on August 12, when her father’s dead body was brought home from Qatar, along with the realization of debts that the family now owed to so many people, she saw this as the death of her dream as well.
Dol Bahadur Khadka, Bishnu Devi’s father, had gone to Qatar as a construction worker in April this year. The family, like that of most migrant workers from Nepal, had taken huge loans for him to go to Qatar. But, just after three months, in July, Dol Bahadur, 53, died in an accident at the construction site where he was working.
Now, the family is in debt. Even though the insurance here has paid off $7000, the family still owes another $2000. They have already sold all their land, and while we were there, they were in the process of selling their only buffalo.
Bishnu Devi, her mother, and her six brothers and sisters, have no idea how they are going to sustain their family. They’re waiting on the compensation that the company in Qatar has yet to pay them to clear the debts, but have very little hope of actually receiving it.
Bishnu Devi says she feels helpless for her family, who now-a-days do nothing but weep all day. She understands the family can’t afford her education anymore. But she still hopes. She still hopes that somehow she can still study and keep her dream alive.
Where Does COMMITTED Come In?
Subina wondered if COMMITTED could do something to help with her and her siblings’ education. Bishnu has another 7 months to go to complete her 12th grade. The cost is about US$1200.
Since returning to Nepal, I (and COMMITTED) have had requests for help with stories such as this. But for obvious reasons we are unable to help every one of them. We have had to pick and choose, unfortunately. Besides, we run a sponsorship program of our own.
This one however, we all felt we needed to, and could, do something about. To have completed 10th grade from a school in rural Nepal in flying colors, as Bishnu has done, she has overcome a major hurdle. It would be a shame and a great loss if the current hurdle squashes her dreams.
Personally, as someone, just like her at that age, who had stayed in school dreaming to become, amongst other things, the first person from my village to get a college degree from an educational institution in the United States, her story spoke to me. I am acutely aware of what it means to dream big and to come across hurdles to achieving that dream; what it means, and what it does to you, when you encounter hurdles that tell you that the dream might be just beyond your reach, especially when those hurdles and circumstances are beyond your control. I am aware of that because I went through that, regularly, as a young student. Ultimately however, I was able to live my dreams partly through charities of others.
And a bit of charity is what we are hoping will enable Bishnu to realize her dreams as well. This is where you come in. Maybe one or two or some of you out there can help Bishnu achieve her dreams!
The Solution
COMMITTED has decided to raise the necessary funds to help Bishnu with her education. In my efforts to help rural students with their education, I have been shown great generosity by a few hundred people already. But we are calling on your time and/or generosity for this as well.
There are a few different ways you may be able to help us with this.
Option 1:
Walk for COMMITTED in Dallas or sponsor a walker!
We have signed up to raise funds at a fundraising walk organized by Walk For Nepal in Dallas, Texas, USA. While most of the walkers would raise funds for ongoing projects COMMITTED runs, we are hoping for a volunteer (or two) to commit to raising the necessary 1200 dollars for Bishnu’s education.
Should that not happen, we are planning, with the permission of all the walkers, to earmark 1200 dollars to the cause. Incidentally, 80% of the funds raised by a walker for the partner organization goes to the organization. In other words, should you decide to walk on our behalf, you would choose us (when registering) as your partner organization and we would get 80% of the funds you raise.
Details of the walk:
Organization: Walk For Nepal (Have a read of the Slideshare slides for more information on who they are and how it works. COMMITTED has had representation in past walks, most recently in Washington, DC, this past summer.)
Date: November 10, 2013
Venue: River Legacy Park, Arlington, Texas
Registration: Follow this link. Under partner organization, select COMMITTED. Once you register, be sure to let your friends know so that they can sponsor you.
Sponsor a walker: Follow this link.
If you are in Dallas and decide to volunteer to raise funds for Bishnu’s education, please let me know either by email (dorje[at]dorjegurung[dot]com) or leave a comment under this post.
If you have any questions, again please email or leave a comment below. If I am unable to answer it, I’ll put you in touch with people in Texas.
Option 2:
Donate through our website. (The donate button appears just above the bottom right corner.)
Should the site appear inaccessible or nonexistent, please be patient and check back at a later date. We are in the process of revising and redesigning it. Be sure to let us know in some way (again by email or comment underneath this post etc.) that the funds are for Bishnu’s education.
I’ll be updating this blog post with comments about any new development. Be sure to check back.
Nov. 12, 2013
Since I have a page devoted to Sponsorships I have decided it would be better to devote a page to Bishnu and her siblings’ education sponsorship program where I provide updates etc. than update this blog post.

Dorje Gurung
Education Program Director
(Click here to see the original post on Dorje's Dooing Blog.)

Relief for Brothers

You wouldn't be able to tell from their names.
Samir and Sagar are Newari if we go by their surname. But unfortunately with the archaic but traditional system of classifying people based on caste AND the absence of social mobility, the brothers are considered to be Dalits, one of the lowest, if not the lowest, castes. The reason? Their mother was one.
This is one of the small ways patriarchy in Nepal serves itself! In general, in traditional Nepalese communities, if you marry someone lower down the social ladder, you lose your high caste status. And as a child, you always get your surname from your dad but the caste you belong to will be the lower one if your parents belong to different ones! So, though very very patriarchal, the society allows classification of the caste of a child or children based on their mother, when she happens to be of a lower caste. Apparently, what I have heard is that partly because of all that, the instances of a woman marrying a lower caste man is considerably less than the other way around. In other words, the social pressures for a woman to marry within their caste is higher than for men, thereby limiting, in small way, women's choices!
Returning to the make a long story short, due to changes in the circumstances of their family, partly because of the mother being a Dalit, the two boys have fallen on hard times. (The plight and story of Dalits--and all other marginalised people and communities of Nepal, those from low socioeconomic backgrounds--is a long and complicated but important one, which I'll have to reserve for future posts.) The boys are now taken care of by their elderly grandmother. A concerned school teacher told me about their plight during my recent visit to the village (to set up the Fishery and to look at SIP programs). Promising to see what I could do, I asked for a formal request for sponsorship of their education-related expenses, which they did (see image below).
Sponsorship Request
Sponsorship Request. (Click on the image for the original.)
The request letter reads:
Subject: Scholarship request.
Concerning the request, we would like to inform you that the financial situation at the home of the brothers Samir Shrestha and Sagar Shrestha, grade 5 and 6 students respectively, is so dire that they are struggling to continue their education.
The following is their education-related expenses for this year and we kindly request that scholarships be provided to them.
Grade 5Grade 6
1. Admission fees3001. Admission fees400
2. Exam fees (3x150)4502. Exam fees (3x250)750
3. Tie, belt, school bag8003. Tie, belt, school bag800
4. School uniform + shoes15004. School uniform + shoes1500
5. Stationery (notebooks, pencils etc.)9805. Stationery (notebooks, pencils etc.)1580
Combined total = 4030 + 5030
= 9060 (nine thousand sixty)
Signed and stamped
The Principal
I am very very happy to report that Nathalie Vignard, my friend and former colleague from my years at BMIS, in Malawi, has offered to sponsor the boys' education all the way through!
On behalf of the boys and COMMITTED, thank you Nathalie.
* * * * * * * *
Dec. 13, 2013 Update
During COMMITTED's visit to Thangpalkot Dec. 8-11, I spent some time with the two beautiful boys (and other children from similar socio-economic backgrounds). Both Sagar and Samir are doing very well in school. Sagar is 7th in a class of 35 students! Samir is 8th out of 24.
Sagar and Samir, from the left.
Sagar and Samir, in that order from the left.
I also paid a visit to their home. The boys live with an uncle, mother and grandmother on one of the two streets reserved for Dalits. I discovered that all Dalits in the Village Development Committee of Thangpalkot are segregated. The bothers themselves live in Dhamai Tole (Tailor Street). (Dalits comprise of tailors, cobblers, blacksmiths amongst others.) More about that in some other post, but here's a "Thank you" letter from the School.

Thank you note from school.
Thank you note from school.
It reads:
Subject: About the sponsorship.
Dear Ms. Nathalie,
Thank you for sponsoring and thus providing financial assistance to our students Sagar and Samir.
The Principal

Dorje Gurung
Education Program Director
(Click here to see the original post on Dorje's Dooing Blog.)


COMMITTED runs two kinds of sponsorship programs: student and teacher.
The student sponsorship program is up and running. Government schools provide tuition-free education. But, many families still can't meet some of the most basic of expenses--admission fee, exam fees, tie, belt, school bag etc. While the Social Business for Education project (the Fishery) is in the process of being set up, which will eventually cover ALL the expenses of school (education-related expenses of the children, teachers' salaries, resources etc.), for those families struggling to cope now, we find funds to cover the expenses either through individual sponsors or otherwise. As and when we receive notification of struggling families, for whatever reason, we attempt to find the necessary fund.
The cost of sponsoring a student, depending on the grade, is anywhere between Rs. 5,000 and Rs. 10,000 per year (amounting to between US$50.00 and US$100.00 at the current exchange rate).
The cost quoted above does NOT include any administrative costs nor do we ask for one. In that way, our sponsorship program is very different from many others. We basically collect the funds from the sponsor and pass it on to the school management committee to manage the needs of the child. We (COMMITTED) do follow-up with the child but we don't create a personal relationship between the child and his/her sponsor. If you decide to sponsor a child, please remember that you will not receive any letters from the child or progress reports  or photos etc. I would like to believe that if you sponsor a child's education, you are doing it for the child and not for yourself.
Should you sponsor a child, each year we'll send you the revised cost for that year, and you'll be asked to make a single payment.
The teacher sponsorship program is not ready yet. We are planning on setting it up so that instead of personal sponsorship, group of individuals or organisations would/could sponsor them since teachers' salaries are considerably higher. The justification behind this program has to do with the fact that we have, as far as salaries go, three different tiers of teachers working at our school.
The first and second tier teachers' salaries are paid for by the government and "Rahat" (relief in Nepali). (Rahat is a program run and funded by a consortium of multi- and bi-lateral donor agencies. It's not clear for how much longer this assistance program will continue.)
The government and Rahat allocated funds for teachers' salaries is fixed both in amount and the number of teachers it pays for. The actual number of educators required to run a school however is generally higher. The school and/or the community employs the additional and essential teachers to make up the difference. And these are the bottom tier teachers--they earn considerably less than the other two for the simple reason that the community cannot afford to pay them as well. Some of these teachers make a third of what the other two make!
While the first and second tier teachers make around Rs. 18,000 a month (about US$180), their bottom tier counterparts make around Rs. 6,000 a month (about US$60).
Details of families and/or students and teachers needing help will be posted here.
Dorje Gurung
Education Program Director
(Click here for the original post on Dorje's Dooing Blog)