Despite the abolition of ‘untouchability’ in Nepal many decades ago, the practice prevails all over the country. Musahars, a people largely located in the south-east Terai region, continue to be untouched even among the untouchables; the lowest of the lower. Born into debt bondage, and systematically excluded from education, the economy, health and hygiene facilities, and all the empowerment which derives from citizenship and access to political and legal structures, Musahars are the among the world’s most politically marginalized, economically disadvantaged, and socially humiliated people.
Forced into early marriage or bonded labor to help pay off huge family debts, Musahar girls bear the brunt of this oppression. Most are married by age 10 and have borne 2-5 children by age 15, and 100% have dropped out of school by age ten. Consequently only 4% of girls from the Musahar caste can read or write, compared with a country standard of 77.5%.
Street Child has launched a three-year program called Breaking the Bonds which offers young Musahar women the opportunity to have an education and access employment or entrepreneurship. Thanks to funders including Dining for Women, the program will support 3,000 Musahar girls across three districts in Nepal to learn to read and write, develop leadership skills and confidence, and understand how to access services they are entitled to such as citizenship and voting. They will also receive training in employment skills and then supported to transition into the workplace, or will be given a business grant and training and mentored to set up a successful small business. Hand-in-hand with all of this runs intensive community advocacy, to change attitudes towards Musahar people generally, and Musahar women in particular.
Other Nepal work
Building schools in earthquake-impacted communities
The devastating earthquakes of 2015 disrupted the schooling of approximately 4 million children in Nepal. The earthquakes also displaced thousands of children and families from their homes. UNICEF immediately appointed Street Child as the lead education organization in Okhaldhunga, one of the hardest-to-reach districts affected by the earthquake. With their support we built 40 temporary learning centers to provide 1,595 children with a chance to go to school. Further support from UNICEF, the EU, and the Swedish Postcode Foundation then allowed us to:
give 5,239 children access to a safe classroom
provide 7,242 children with access to gender-friendly toilets and wash facilities
distribute educational materials to 48,773 children
train over 300 teachers, parents and school managers in psychosocial support, disaster risk reduction and hygiene practices.
In Nepal, brick factory work is seasonal and many workers migrate from India and South Nepal, spending six months at the factory, and six months in their hometown. Often whole families will live and work on site for the entire six month brick season – during which time children are often living in dangerous conditions, exposed to labor, and out of school.
In the Kathmandu Valley alone there are 125 brick factories which are home to around 59,000 children. Research shows that 66 per cent of children living in brick factories have never been to school. The majority of parents are desperate for their children to have an education, knowing that it’s the pathway to a better future.
To ensure children don't miss out on vital education, Street Child has built six schools within brick factories in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Lalitpur. These schools are providing 175 children with access to an accelerated learning program, where they learn a year’s curriculum in just six months, as well as a safe space to play.
Stories From Our Work
BIMALA, THE MOTHER WHOSE CHILDREN ARE BACK IN SCHOOL
'I am really happy with the school here... I don’t have to worry about my children’s education and I know that they are happy and safe. I don’t mind what my children decide to do in their future, I only want them to be happy and educated so they can freely choose what to do with their lives.'
Bimala travels to Nepal for work every year with her husband and three children. Like many parents who migrate to Nepal for brick kiln work she was worried about her children being out of school. “I just want a better life for my children, and education is very important for this. But in order to provide education I must work hard, even if this means my children must move schools twice every year.'
Street Child partnered with local NGO Kopila Nepa to set up a small school on the site of Bimala’s brick factory, so that the children have somewhere to learn while their parents work.
Bimala’s five-year-old son, Ashish, currently attends. This school uses a special curriculum and teaching methods designed to allow children to transition easily in and out of schools in their home districts, to minimize the disruption to their education caused by the yearly migration.
SARASWATI, THE EARTHQUAKE SURVIVOR DETERMINED TO SEE HER DAUGHTERS IN SCHOOL
Sindhuli was one of the districts worst affected by the earthquakes. For Saraswati, it meant her three daughters were unable to go to school, something she never wanted to see happen:
“When the first earthquake struck I ran to the school to check if my daughters were okay. I was scared to send my children back to school after the earthquakes, the building had cracks….whenever there was an aftershock all the children would start running out and get hurt….and I would rush to the school to check if my girls were alright.
'My parents didn’t want me to go to school because I was a girl. They said it wasn’t necessary. Today, one of my brothers is a doctor, one’s a vet, and one has his own business but I was never given that opportunity. This is why I am determined to educate all of my three girls so they can have a better life than me.'
After the Nepal earthquakes, many parents were scared to send their children to school because of damage to school buildings. Now Street Child are building more learning spaces in Sindhuli to ensure that children are safe to go to school. Saraswati is championing education for girls and boys in her community, leading by example in showing her community that it is safe for children to go back to school.
Sitli, Runa, and Dutri - young women from the Musahar caste
Sitli (left, aged 18), Runa (middle, aged 16), and Dutri (right, aged 18) are neighbors and friends – and all among the first cohort of Street Child’s Breaking the Bonds program. They are married but currently enrolled in and attending our first round of Accelerated Learning classes. Passionate and ambitious, they are determined to change attitudes to girls’ education in their communities, set up their own businesses to be more financially secure, and encourage more young Musahar women to get an education.
‘Jiten sir (the Community Educator), informed us of the classes in the community center and encouraged us to attend. In our first few months, we have learnt the Nepali alphabet and can count up to 100. This encourages us and gives us hope about what we can learn with even more lessons.
‘Our families are very supportive, and our husbands encourage us to go to classes every day to get an education. We hope that with an education we can set up our own small businesses. The only shops we have in our village are liquor shops, run by men. By having our own businesses, we think we can set an example to our community and help change attitudes.’
Sitli wants to run a grocery shop, Runa wants to set up a tailoring/sewing business and Dutri wants to create a cosmetics business. The girls, along with their families and communities, are grateful for the opportunity to have classes and there is some indication that attitudes are changing: when Street Child spoke to the wider community, one mother said that she wants her daughter to get an education, and that she will only let get her married once she is educated – and past the age of 20.