Fighting for change and more opportunities, ICS volunteers and community members work together to improve the quality of life for the youth of Bhardev, a small community in Nepal.
In Nepal, the caste system is the traditional system of social stratification. The Tamang community are the largest Tibeto-Burman ethnic group within Nepal. Until 1950, Tamangs weren’t accepted into government posts or allowed to accept foreign employment. Nowadays, Tamangs are highly respected and the government has had to recognise that the empowerment of the Tamang community is essential to increasing the living standard across the whole of Nepal.
Despite this, there is still a huge lack of opportunity for Tamang people. Only 45% of jobs in the bureaucracy have been allocated to disadvantaged groups. Most Tamangs are farmers and are very much engaged in agriculture. Due to the discrimination experienced by this ethnic group in the past, they have genuinely remained poorly educated. The majority either work on local farms or have to travel to the capital city of Kathmandu.
Restless Development volunteers work in Nepal for around three months during their placements with the ICS programme. Volunteers in the community of Bhardev want to encourage youths to attend school and raise awareness in the community about the importance of education as well as the consequences of child and early marriage.
30 year old Vice Principal, Bishal Moktan, was born and raised in Bhardev.’Before grade 10, my family were very economically poor.” Bishal had to walk an hour and a half every day to get to his high school. “When it comes to remembering school, all I can think of is my struggles. We couldn’t afford the school uniform and so I went to school in my own clothes.”
Tradition and culture can play a huge role in the upbringing and education of young people. Bishal believes his Tamang community do not understand the importance of education. “Most people here in Bhardev are illiterate and don’t have the concept that children should go to school. If this issue is reduced it will have a huge positive impact on the whole community.”
Bishal is very passionate about raising awareness about the importance of education in his local community. “I have been teaching for almost 10 years now. In that time, the students have been impressed with my teaching because of my love for it and for the students.” Umesh Moktan, Bishal’s younger cousin, was proud to say that “the school’s English grades scored the highest in the district because of Bishal’s teaching!”
Bishal is a big inspiration to his students and the locals as he focuses on improving the quality of lives for the community. “when I became a teacher, I didn’t have a target of making money, it was more about helping the people. Teaching is doing services for the people.”
Shree Gupteshor school also wants to tackle the issue of early and child marriage. 10% of girls in Nepal marry before age 18. UNICEF indicated that Nepal has the third highest rate of child marriage in Asia, after Bangladesh and India.
27 year old Subash Moktan, from Bhardev, married his wife when she was just 16 and he was 23. He said “in this village, no one is aware of the legal age to be married. They just hear the news and attend the wedding.”
Many young Tamang’s drop out of education to get married because a future in agriculture lacks opportunity. Subash was returning from his studies in Kathmandu when he first met his wife. “We got married very soon, just 1 or 2 months after we first met. Our community were so happy when people got married, they have no idea about the consequences.”
Subash believes elders are encouraging the youth to marry early so that parents are able to get extra help with household and farming duties. “Each person has to change to bring out the change. Change our minds and ideas and that will change our community.”
As many youth run away from home to get married, Subash wants all locals to be educated about the negative consequences. “Sometimes the young people want an education but they are denied it. Instead of following traditions we should try to modify them. We will still make improvements this way. With more and more people being educated, when I am 60 years old I can guide the youth what to do and what not to do, we all can. We can pass on our knowledge.”
Around 8% of students from Nepal go abroad to continue their studies. Many young people who do not see a future of early marriage, agriculture or commuting to the city for work, head to countries like Japan and Australia to work and study. The government provides funding for students to attend school in Nepal up to grade 10. However it can be much cheaper for students to continue their studies abroad for grades 11 and 12.
18 year old Umesh Moktan was also born and raised in the Tamang community of Bhardev. He remembers many of his friends dropping out of school. Umesh recently graduated from his studies and is awaiting his results. “Most students dropout of school because their parents can’t afford the fees. A lot of youth go abroad to study after grade 10. Some drop out even earlier, in grades 8 and 9 to get married.”
Umesh decided to become a school teacher to implement the importance of education as well as the consequences of marrying early. “I felt it was a necessity to become a teacher, I want to share my knowledge I have gained with all of my students. I give the enthusiastic students books or pencils as a gift. I want students to pursue an education in Nepal.”
Studying abroad can have many negative consequences. Travelling to a foreign country alone and not knowing the local language can be very daunting. It can also be a huge strain as most young people have to work long hours in order to afford the fees. They are also away from their friends and family for a long amounts of time.
Umesh also wants to set a positive example for his students. He said “before you marry you need to have a job, be independent, and then you can marry”.Umesh is only 18 which is 2 years younger than the legal age of marriage in Nepal “before I give out advice to students, I want to be an example to them”.
Restless Development volunteers give non formal school sessions where students can learn through games, activities and group work. They also provide teacher training of these techniques to ensure their development work is sustainable. The volunteers often see attendance rising over their placement when they plan more interactive school sessions. Their lessons are on early marriage, sexual rights and sexual health. Out of school youths are also encouraged to attend many of the events and activities.
Green club is an example of an extracurricular activity where students can learn more skills such as event planning, budgeting and marketing. Community events and street dramas from youth clubs are very popular in Nepal, however many schools lack the time, skills and resources to continue running the programs. Restless volunteers support schools to ensure all opportunities are being seized to run the clubs sustainably.
Lydia Mawdsley, a Restless Development UK volunteer who worked on the project in Bhardev said “we were able to link Green Club with the local women’s group who has previously stated that their issues were not being heard by the younger generation. Bridging this gap meant we were able to facilitate discussions about issues such as early marriage. We encouraged the women’s group and Green Club to lead these discussions and come together to figure out a solution for raising awareness within the community.”
Restless work with the community elders as well as the youth to ensure the awareness is being spread across all of the generations. Subash said “the community have taken to the volunteers in a positive way. The school sessions encourage the locals to do better in the community.”
ICS and Restless Development’s work wouldn’t be possible without the community welcoming volunteers into their homes. Host families provide volunteers with food and accommodation during their placement.
Ambu and Shambu, 39 and 36 year old cousins from Bhardev are hosts for Restless Development. Their family do agriculture and farm work in their local area and Shambu is currently awaiting results from studying his bachelors in sociology. Both cousins take part in many social works around the community. They said “we are very proud to live and work in our birthplace but we have many issues here.”
The cousins wanted to host the Restless Development volunteers as a way of assisting with positive changes in the community. “We want the volunteers to feel comfortable and happy. We like to help guide them with the locals and their events. Within 2 months, you can make an impact on 14 and 15 year olds. If the children decide not to take part in early marriage, then the volunteers have made a big impact.”
In the past, the cousins have seen volunteers from a variety of different organisations make physical changes in their local area such as building toilets, installing water tanks and painting schools. Restless Development are the first organisation to work in Bhardev with the goal of making unseen changes, with sustainable long term goals.
Restless Development, ICS volunteers and the locals of Bhardev community continuously work together to provide their youth with education so that they can have more opportunities for their future.
“Change our minds and ideas and that will change our community.” Subash Moktan.
Read more from youth reporter and ICS volunteer Anna Ashbarry here.