May 1, 2011

Educating Girls in Nepal

Bipasana Sakya Joshee
BMKF board president (2011-2013)

Although I am Nepali I am very few of the things that come immediately to mind when most people hear “Nepal.” I have had the privilege of growing up globally with sprinklings of holidays in Nepal cocooned within family visits. As I settled into adult life in the US I began to search for a group that would help me contribute not only to the country I left behind but to connect with the large disadvantaged populations of Nepal that are in many ways quite foreign to me. As soon as I heard about the Bo M. Karlsson Foundation, I knew their mission was the one I had been searching for.

While I had pursued a master’s degree in gender and cultural studies, I did not need it to know one simple fact. There is no greater single investment in a developing society than the education of it’s girls and women. This is clearly visible in the macro effects of smaller, healthier, more educated families with lower infant and maternal mortality. More immediately, educated daughters share their knowledge with their mothers, aunts and sisters, spreading basic but desperately needed information on topics such as hygiene, math and reading, immediately elevating the capacity and productivity of large segments of underserved societies.

I never went to school in Nepal but on occasion have had to deal with the various mazes of government bureaucracy in attempting to receive various documentations. I never fail to be amazed by the patience and diligence with which our recipients must have gathered the letters and recommendations for our application. But it is always the essays that stay with me. Many essays include descriptions of the hardships our applicants face: death of one or both parents in an already struggling household, pressure to work as a domestic abroad to send money home and even disabilities which in Nepal almost always add on social ostracizing.

These details are always shocking in their unfamiliarity to our relatively comfortable lives. Even more incredible to me is the ability of these young women, in these difficult circumstances, to see the bigger picture. I am humbled by their ability to transcend the difficulties of their daily struggles and not only see the systemic disorders of our society, but to care about them. So much so, that they take on additional challenges to pursue professions that empower them to take on the issues that have oppressed them.

Several of the young women left their villages for the first time to come to Kathmandu to study. One young woman who just graduated as an engineer was one of only three women in her class. And despite acquiring degrees in fields like engineering and education, all feel their lack of privilege acutely when job searching in a country where networks are everything. Their focus to educate themselves, develop skills and attain knowledge to knock down the very obstacles that threaten to hold them back is so incredibly courageous and self-less.

Two of the most regular programs the Bo M. Karlsson Foundation has funded are degrees in education and medicine. In my role as Chair of the Education Committee, I have had the opportunity to get to know a few of the applicants, through email and phone, bringing their stories and the details of their application to life. They talk about the desire to bring the benefits of the education they will receive, with our help, back to their communities. There can be so much professional frustration in Nepal among youth on the lack of opportunity and paths to professional success. It is so refreshing to come across such enthusiasm for such simple yet society changing goals and to remember the nobleness and civic pride that we ought to feel for these occupations: teacher, nurse, architect, these are the builders of our society. There can be no greater proof, than the enthusiasm and commitment to their communities of these particular group of women, of the solid investment that is in educating a nations young women.