By Jennifer Prestholdt
A team of staff and volunteers from The Advocates for Human Rights is in Nepal visiting the Sankhu-Palubari Community School (SPCS) in the rural Kathmandu Valley. The Advocates has supported the school since it was founded in 1999 to prevent child labor, encourage gender parity in education, and improve the lives and well-being of the most disadvantaged children in the area.
In the United States, where education is both compulsory and free, we often forget that the right to education is not meaningfully available in many parts of the world – especially for girls. The UN estimates that there were more than 67 million primary school-age and 73 million lower secondary school-age children out of school worldwide in 2009. In addition, an estimated 793 million adults lack basic literacy skills. The majority of them are women.
Most of the students’ families work in agriculture. They are farmers with little or no money to spare on school fees, uniforms and supplies. Frequently, the adults in the family are illiterate. Many of them are from marginalized groups such as the Tamang. An indigenous group with their own culture and language, the Tamang students must learn Nepali as well as English when they come to school. A pre-K program was added in 2011 to provide pre-literacy eduction to better prepare the students for school. This week, The Advocates’ team is conducting a site visit which includes interviewing students in grades 5 through 10 about their experiences at the school and their plans for the future.
We’ve been inspired to hear from so many of the girls about their commitment to getting a good education. Since the school’s founding in 1999, the teachers have conducted outreach to parents and worked hard to encourage female students to attend and stay in school in spite of societal pressure to get married, work in the fields or enter domestic work.
Their efforts have definitely paid off. While girls worldwide generally are less likely to access, remain in, or achieve in school, 52% of the students in K-8th grades at the school this year are girls. And a girl is at the top of the class in nearly every single grade at SPCS.
Students had so much to tell us about their hopes and dreams for the future. Some wanted to be doctors and nurses. Some wanted to be teachers. Some even wanted to be professional football (soccer) players!
The Sankhu-Palubari Community School may be a small school in a remote valley, but it is a place where the human right to education is alive and well, providing a better future for these children. The impact that these students have on their community, their country and – hopefully, the world – will be thrilling to watch.