In the fall of 2009, I swapped the comforts of the western world for a backpack and five months in Asia to volunteer, discover, and learn. The experience changed my life. I was introduced to poverty like I had never witnessed before. I saw schools literally collapsing around students as they struggled to learn. I lived among families who fought daily to provide basic necessities to their children – food, shelter, and water. But despite the overwhelming adversity that broke my heart at times, I was transformed by the thread woven throughout every story – HOPE.
In our first project, with the help of 30 international volunteers and an entire village in Jarang, Nepal, we built a new primary school for 80 eager students. Throughout this experience of living in rural Nepal, I began to connect the research I’d read about the lack of opportunities for girls and women with what I was seeing firsthand.
I was seeing that girls, like adolescent Sorbina, were always the last to arrive at school. They were also always the first people to wake in their households, rising early before dawn to begin tackling the many chores that fell on their tiny shoulders. Once finished with morning chores, they scrambled to school for a few hours before returning home to more work. But, yet, they did it day after day. And each day they made it to school helped strengthen their conviction that they would continue to receive an education.
In our next project, we envisioned and built the first women’s dorm in Salleri, Nepal. As many of you know, seven out of every 10 girls in the Everest Region don’t attend college because of a lack of affordable and safe housing options for girls. We’re working to change that statistic, and are planning to break ground on a second hostel for girls seeking a university-level education in the Everest Region this year.
Last summer, we celebrated the graduation of our first class of 40 from the hostel. We graduated Ramita Magar, a 17 year old who lived a five hour walk from the college and for whom without housing, her educational journey would have ended prematurely.
Growing up, Ramita nearly dropped out of school because the closest primary school was an hour commute from her village. (It’s unfortunately a reality that is all too common in remote areas of the country.) She worked in the fields every day, before and after school, and it was tough for her to make time for her studies. And yet, she did. She was accepted into the first class at our hostel and told us how it has changed her life for the better.
She said, “People in my village always say that education is like the third eye of a human being. If you do not have an education, you will not be able to do anything. Education is important for everyone, but especially women, because without it a woman [in Nepal] would just stay in her house just like her mother did. If I was still in my village, I would be married already and have a family. I’d have to spend my whole life with my husband, obeying him. Now, education is the most important thing in my life. After I finish school, my dream is to become a social worker and travel to different villages in remote places in Nepal and help others who are not educated.”
On a personal note, last year my husband and I welcomed a beautiful baby girl into our lives, our precious June. June is ½ American and ½ Nepali. It’s not lost on me EVERY day how entirely different her life would be if she was a girl born in the developing world. It’s actually what fuels me.
It is estimated that there are more than 75 million girls not in school in the developing world.
One in five girls in developing countries who enroll in primary school never finish. Yet when just 10% more girls are educated, a country’s GDP grows by 3%. One out of every 7 girls in the developing world will marry before the age of 15. Studies show that early marriages lead to poorer health and economic outcomes for a girl and her family. Yet, girls who stay in school for seven or more years will on average, marry four years later and have fewer children. Finally, studies show that every year of schooling increases a woman’s earning power by 10 to 20 percent, allowing her to lift her family out of poverty.
At Edge of Seven, we believe that educating and empowering girls and women in the developing world is not only the right thing to do, it’s also the best way to alleviate global poverty and improve the health and well-being of each and every person on the planet. Our Community Development projects, like our Primary School in Jarang and Women’s Hostel in Salleri, do just this by giving more girls and women access to education, health, and economic opportunities.
We recognize that our work is just a drop in the bucket of what needs to be done globally to eradicate poverty. But, if you are one of the 980 girls that we have affected -- if you are Sorbina or Ramita -- you see a path that wasn’t present before. And, our 980 girls who are now able to attain an education will go on to help others – communities -- transform their lives. To me, that’s the very definition of HOPE.
Thank you for your support now and always.