I didn’t know the right age for school. When I was a little girl, all my friends were in school but I was not. So I used to ask my father, ‘when can I go to school?’ He always replied, ‘next year.’ I used to dream wearing school uniforms, carrying books in book bag and walking to school. But the ‘next year’ never came to me. One day I asked my seriously sick mother the same question that I used to ask my father. She replied, ‘We can hardly afford food and clothes for you, how can we meet the school expenses?’ Her answer made me realize our situation.
These are the words of Bidhya*, a young girl from Nepal.
By many accounts, Nepal is the poorest country in Asia. Gender disparity, especially in education, is a critical issue. UNDP estimates that 66% of Nepalese men can read and write, while only 43% of females can. Young girls who are not in school are particularly susceptible to the injustices of child trafficking for the sex trade, child labor, and child marriage. In Nepal’s rural areas over 10% of girls are married by the age of seven, and 40% are married by the age of 14. UNICEF estimates 13,000 girls are sexually exploited in Kathmandu alone.
As school can be costly for families, marriage or sex traffickers promising “employment” can appear attractive prospects to parents struggling to put food on the table or young girls looking for a better life.
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
We at the Little Sisters Fund believe the best way to combat these risks is ensuring girls the safety of being in school, the security of knowing they can continue, and the opportunity to succeed. We seek out girls like Bidhya, who have a burning desire to learn and work hard, but whose financial circumstances prevent it. Giving girls educational opportunity, the support they need to thrive in school, and the confidence to stand up to societal pressures is far more effective (both in terms of monetary and human costs) than trying to rescue and rehabilitate young women from unjust labor or the sex industry.
That’s why the Little Sisters Fund provides long-term scholarships to girls like Bidhya. Once we get girls in school, we surround them with support through complementary programs. These include preventative healthcare and health education because healthy children do better in school, teacher training to improve the overall quality of education, and counseling and awareness raising programs to chip away at entrenched gender expectations in the community. Finally, older and graduated “Little Sisters” give back by serving as mentors, which has the dual impact of bolstering their leadership capabilities and providing younger girls with much-needed female role models who are confident, compassionate, educated, and employed.
A few years ago, Bidhya passed her 10th-grade School Leaving Certificate with flying colors. Throughout our 15-year history, our girls have a 99% pass rate on this test – more than double the national pass rate. Bidhya is now in her second year on scholarship at a U.S university, where she is studying to become a nurse.
How Long Does Change Take?
The drastic change in Bidhya’s life and future prospects didn’t happen overnight. In a world of short attention spans and people searching for instant results, we believe that change takes time—half a generation, in fact. Unlike other programs and interventions that seek to “reach” a large number of “beneficiaries” through short-term projects, the Little Sisters Fund aims to maximize the impact of our investments by funding the full education of our girls for 8-12 years. And while half a generation may seem like a long time, we understand that educating a girl breaks the cycle of poverty—and once it is broken, it is broken for good.
What You Can Do
You can support girls like Bidhya in a number of ways:
- Stay in touch with us and help us spread the word via Facebook
- Follow us on Twitter at @LSF_Nepal
- Share this story with your friends and network
- Or visit www.littlesistersfund.org to read more stories like Bidhya’s or support us financially.
* Name has been changed