Breaking the cycle of poverty with education in the most remote parts of the world

Happily Ever Smarter, a new campaign to get thousands more children in remote parts of Asia into school, for the very first time

Karen Garvin
Saturday 01 May 2021 16:25
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<p>Pupils skipping during a break at the United World Schools Heluwabesi school in Nepal</p>

Pupils skipping during a break at the United World Schools Heluwabesi school in Nepal

We all know how difficult the past year has been for schoolchildren here but for children in some of the most remote and marginalised communities abroad who have no access to technology it has been nearly impossible.

Even before the pandemic struck, 258 million children were out of school. The UN has estimated that 24 million children may never return to school after the pandemic. Concerns are that vital progress made in access to education will be pushed back by a decade.

Photographer Navesh Chitraker travelled for two days, from Kathmandu to the extremely remote and rural region of Sankhuwasabha to document this community where there has been little access to education for centuries. Even today in Sankhuwasabha and other rural areas of Nepal, only a third of the population completes primary education. The culture of education is new and fragile; there is little understanding of the importance of education, families are dependent on children’s help in the fields and at home and for many it’s just too far or dangerous to get to school.

Surya Karki, country director of United World Schools, Nepal, says: “Two-thirds of children that attend state schools drop out of the educational system before they finish secondary school.

“For children that are out of school in these remote areas, especially the girls, the future is precarious. They are more likely to be exploited for child labour and as many as 10 per cent of young girls are married by the age of 15.

“Our aim at UWS is to try to break the cycle of poverty by giving these children a life-changing education. We’ve already reached 6,800 children in Nepal – and 43,000 across all our programme countries – by developing schools, investing in local communities and innovating our programmes.

“There is 90 per cent chance that children at UWS schools succeed because we work with the community to make sure the investment is worth it. Our aim is that they become critical thinkers, that they continue to dream and explore. I wouldn’t say that every child is going to become a professional but I would say that none of these children will be exploited.”

Award-winning charity UWS has launched Happily Ever Smarter, a campaign to get thousands more children in remote parts of Asia into school for the very first time. It aims to raise £2m to build, resource and equip 70 new schools, train 375 local people as community teachers and reach 10,000 more children – to give them a chance to escape a cycle of poverty and transform their lives.

Donate to help children live Happily Ever Smarter before 29 July and the UK government will double your donations, to reach even more children in remote areas across Asia with a life-changing education. www.unitedworldschools.org

UWS Majjuwa teachesMaths, English, Nepali, Science and Social Studies as compulsory subjects. The school also has three computers. Amir, 6, (centre) says: “I like to play at school and my favourite class is computers, so I try not to miss even a single day!” 

Apart from foreign labour and tourism, the communities in Sankhuwasabha are reliant on farming, mostlycardamom seeds and the Rudraksha bean, used for Hindu prayer beans.  The global pandemic has meant that access to markets has been reduced and the imports of fertilisers have also been impacted. As a result, families are having to farm more areas and need their children’s labour even more than before.

Anjana Poudel, 25, helps her son Amir, 6, get ready for school.

She says: “We believe through education he can have a future away from simply living without dreams. We are investing in him in the hope that a life out of poverty can become real.”

Chimini said:“I wish to go to school so I can be better at reading and writing. I want to understand everything, and I want to learn to write my name. My grandparents say that I shall join a school when one is built here in our village. I wish that’s very soon.”

Dhana Laxmi Rai, 72, “I don’t know what to say, only I know that life has been very hard. I’ve had to use these 10 fingers to the fullest in order to live. I never went to a school. Back in my times, there was no concept of school. Schools started to emerge, and I thought about going to school, but then I got married and didn’t have time to go.” 

Farmer Indra Rai, 34, didn’t finish primary school but wishes for her two young daughters, to go further and train to become teachers and nurses. “I can see school has improved and many students come for the education. I’d like both my daughters to join UWS Helawubesi.”

Dhana Laxmi Rai, 72, and her granddaughter Kanchi, 10, live together deep into the Himalayan hills. Until 4 years ago there was no school in the village, so Kanchi was unable to go but she is now in Class 5 of UWS Helawubesi, an hour’s walk through the mountains.

Schools are now open, but as a second wave of Covid-19 hits Nepal there are fears they may have to shut again. Once the habit of going to school is lost, it is the girls that are most vulnerable to dropping out as families feel the need to have their daughters help at home, or in the fields, and some are married as young as 14 or 15 years-old.

Preeti continued: “In the evenings I do my homework when Auntie Bhim cooks. I also try to teach my little sister. I help at home by cleaning the house, smearing the house with red mud, sweeping the front yard every morning, feeding the pigs, cows and goats, and looking after the rooster.”

Preeti, 10, is the first girl in her family to go to school. She says:“Auntie Bhim insists that I go to school every day – it makes her happy to see me go. And I enjoy going. When I grow up, I want to become a doctor.” 

Sankar Narayan Shrestha, 94, takes care of his cattle in Helabuwesi, Nepal. Sankar has never been to school but now understands the importance of education. He said, “Education is a must in life”. Although he has no children, Sankar donated a piece of his land so that UWS could build a school in the village.

Sisters Heena and Soyeena, 10 and 11, sit on the bed they share. They live with their Aunt and Uncle as their mother left and their father is working in Malaysia so he can send money back to the family. Soyeena says“My problem is not being able to go to school, but I feel happy now I can see a school being built in the village.  I’ll be so glad to study rather than be working.” 

Heena,says she finds it difficult to carry the loads of grass every morning and tiring looking after the cattle all day in the forest. “If I could go to school, I would study to be a teacher when I grow up. I will work really hard so I can be one of the best students in the school and all the teachers will like me the most.”  

Kanchi, 10, said “Sometimes I stay with my aunt who lives closer to the school, but I don’t like to leave my grandmother home alone.  My grandmother wants me to focus on my studies so I can be a successful when I grow up and have a good income. I’d like to become a teacher one day and give my grandmother a comfortable life.” 

Chimini, 11, works alongside her grandmother cooking and serving noodles to the villagers in their kitchen shop. Her father has gone to Qatar to earn better money.

Heena, 10, lives inthe small mountainous village of Sedangfung in Nepal and has never been to school. “I wonder what it feels like to be in a classroom wearing a school uniform. I’ve heard that teachers give special care to their students. I wish to see and experience all that.”

It takes over an hour each way for Amir, 6, to walk to school. The paths are treacherous and during times of heavy rainfall and storms there is a high chance of landslides and floods.

UWS builds schools in some of the most remote, impoverished villages in the world and champions inclusive, innovative and sustainable education, including remote learning during the Covid-19 pandemic. Since 2008, UWS has transformed hundreds of communities and thousands of children’s lives.

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