"Education is most important in order to be confident and independent. How can I not be happy when my daughter is learning?" says the father of Akhlima from Nepal.

Apr 18, 2020

Every morning when the sun hits the porch of Akhlima’s house in the Terai region of Nepal, she perceives a positive warm energy for the day. She feels the fresh air around her and hears the breeze in the trees. Her day starts with cleaning the house. 

She goes to fetch water with slow footsteps. Her neighbour says: “Every morning when she walks carrying the water pot, the water spills out and the expression she makes is cute.” This is a sweet gesture by her neighbour in a society where girls are married at a young age and their perspectives are very limited. Even more, when it’s about a person living with a physical disability.

There are many reasons why girls like Akhlima drop out of school in the south of Nepal. “It was the rainy season and it was harder for my daughter to go to school as she cannot walk properly. Though she was registered in school, this difficulty along with the financial aspect and social norms made her lose this opportunity,” says Akhlima’s 75-year-old father, Nathuni Miya. “I did not feel good and comfortable in the school as it was not an enabling environment for me. Teachers used to teach fast and I could not catch up to their pace. Also, it was difficult for me to reach school. So, I dropped out,” adds Akhlima.

I had no idea of numbers, alphabets or anything

Akhlima is a fifteen-year-old married girl who is waiting for a Gauna. Gauna is a customary ceremony that takes place after several months or years of marriage. Before Gauna, the bride stays at her parents’ house for a specific period of time. Akhlima got married 10 months ago and is currently living with her parents. This is a common practice in her community. Girls marry as a minor and have to cover their face with a scarf or, more typically, a sari. As they are never provided with opportunities and access to education, they acquire zero bargaining power in the house. They have null or low literacy and numeracy skills and lack information about their rights, equality, sexuality, contraception and life skills.

Akhlima hadn't thought of joining school again after she dropped out, as she hadn’t had the opportunity and had never realized the importance of education. “I had no idea of numbers, alphabets or anything. I used to do household chores. I sometimes feel very low because I fail to do my work properly,” shares Akhlima. “Some surveyor was collecting data on married out-of-school adolescent girls in the village. I thought that this could be an opportunity for my daughter to enrol. My neighbours were also sharing information about the program with their daughter-in-law. I took the surveyor to my home and gave them my daughter’s information,” her father explains, recalling how he first gained information about the learning centres opportunity.

First out of 5 daughters who can read and write

With the support of Girls’ Education Challenge funded by UK Aid from the UK government, People in Need started the five-year long project Aarambha - Leave No Girl Behind with its local partner Aasaman Nepal in 2018 to improve the life chances of married, out-of-school, adolescent girls aged between 10-19 years, through literacy, numeracy, life skills, and community mobilization for social transformation. This reflects the UK Government's commitment to standing up for the right of every girl to 12 years of quality education.

Akhlima has now been enrolled for several months in the Saheli Kishori Community Learning Centre, together with 20 other girls in her village of Bara District. “My husband knows about my participation in the program and he supports that I am a part of it. I have new friends here and having friends means adding happiness. I also feel comfortable and glad to be part of the program,” says Akhlima.

Her life is changing with improved literacy and numeracy skills. She can write her own name in front of the family and community members now. “I can read and write from books. This is something I have never thought of,” she explains. Akhlima’s parents are happy to see their female child studying despite being married and living with a physical disability. Out of five daughters, she is the first one who has learned how to write and recognize alphabets and numbers. Her parents are now supporting her. “Education is most important to be confident and independent. People get a job if they are educated. How can I not be happy when my daughter is learning?” says her father.

Girls want to make their own life choices

A few meters away, Priyanka Kumari Singh, a facilitator at the community learning centre, is currently teaching his daughter and 19 other girls from the community. “Akhlima is a smart girl and never skips class. I have seen her grow which makes me very proud. Now she can write the alphabets. She can write her parents’ names. She is able to read and write from books and read the calendar,” says Priyanka.

Participants are interested in the community learning centre. They feel safe and happy about participating in such a friendly environment. The facilitator further shared that studying in the community learning centre has made the married girls realize the importance of education and delayed marriage. “I salute the willpower of married out-of-school girls who are learning in this learning centre. Those who are waiting for Gauna shared that they want to postpone their Gauna for some period of time. The level of realization and confidence among these married girls is really to be appreciated,” says Priyanka. This is something unexpected, and also means that the girls want to stand up for themselves and make their own life choices.

Akhlima also asked her parents to postpone her Gauna for a certain period of time. Her request took great determination to win over the strict social restriction. Finally, her parents and her husband agreed to this. “I doubt what the situation of my daughter could be without my husband. The stigma of disability is wide. I hope everything will be better for my daughter with this new step,” says Akhlima’s mother. In the meantime, Akhlima and her father are already thinking about the future. For them, the next step is for her to take part in vocational skills training in the project. “I am gradually learning in the community learning centre. I have thought about being a part of vocational skill training and engaging in some productive work like tailoring,” says Akhlima.

83 community learning centres for 1709 girls

People in Need is currently providing literacy and numeracy courses to 1,709 married out-of-school adolescent girls in the Rautahat and Bara districts of Nepal through 83 Community Learning Centres. Students also receive life skill courses to pursue their life plans and develop transitional pathways to formal schooling or livelihood opportunities. The project envisions fostering girls’ education and positive social norms, as well as addressing the harmful effects of early marriage.

Akhlima’s story proves that education can change the mindset of people. It increases a sense of realization and responsibilities. Here Akhlima’s determination has won over the adversity created by social norms. The impact of a few months can change the lives of young married girls and their families. This has been possible thanks to Girls’ Education Challenge funded by UK Aid from the UK government. GEC is the world's largest global fund dedicated to girls' education, supporting over a million marginalised girls in some of the poorest countries, including girls who are living with disabilities or are at risk of being left behind, through quality education and learning. #leavenogirlbehind

Author: Jenisha Twanabasu, PIN Nepal Project Coordinator