Like a Buffalo: Thirsty to Learn
by Lyn Jackson
The United Mission to Nepal (UMN) is built on partnership. Established in 1954 as a collaborative effort involving a dozen or so mission organizations, UMN pioneered Christian development work in Nepal in health, education, and industrial and rural development. These days, UMN partners with about 60 local Nepali organizations—such as ISN in this story. By helping them build their organizational and technical capacity, UMN strengthens these partners as they work toward their vision for their own communities. UMN is supported by Christian missions around the world, including The United Methodist Church—another layer of productive partnership!
To get to the Jugepani Church in Dhaubadi, Nepal, you have to leave the main east-west highway and wend your way through a magnificent forest for several miles before the trees give way to open fields. On training days, women—some riding bicycles—form a colorful line as they make their way to the church for their weekly literacy class.
Alisha Tamang is there to greet them. A compact bundle of energy, she’s the Isai Samaj Nawalparasi (ISN) facilitator of the group. The session starts with some choruses. Only about half the women are Christian, but they all enjoy the singing. Most of the women are ethnic Tamangs, so singing in the Nepali language is part of their learning, too. Then, after a short prayer, the lesson begins.
Alisha employs the Reflect method, using the interests and needs of the women themselves to shape the content of their lessons. This is hard work for the facilitator, so Alisha has drawn up her own charts. Today, the class is learning about improved cooking stoves, which are healthier (having less smoke inside) and which reduce timber use. The women are greatly interested in this lesson. The forest outside is community-managed, and they are allowed to gather only fallen timber for their cooking fires. While they need to cook, they also want to preserve the forest; so the group aims to have 100 new stoves installed in houses in the next six months. Meanwhile, they practice the Nepali vocabulary words that Alisha has chosen, writing these words in their notebooks.
“I didn’t know anything before,” one of the women admits. “I was like a buffalo—thirsty to learn!”
Hope for Rural Nepali Women
Access to education in Nepal has improved dramatically—especially when you consider that, 60 years ago, only members of the ruling family and their courtiers went to school at all. Now, the literacy rate for people above 15 years of age is 60.3 percent; but fewer than half (48.3 percent) of all Nepali women can read and write. When the women in Alisha’s group were of school age, it was unheard of to educate a daughter. “They will marry, and go into their husbands’ families,” parents reasoned; so for them to spend scarce resources on girls’ education didn’t make sense.
But things have changed. In an increasingly commercialized environment, women need to be able to read, write, and do bookkeeping. Literacy classes—such as those run by the United Mission to Nepal’s partner, ISN—bridge the gap for women and also encourage them to educate their daughters and granddaughters. This generational change is extraordinary.
Literacy Opens Doors
When her husband died, Ambika nearly lost her sole source of income: a fruit stall. Her husband had done all of the purchasing and keeping of accounts. Ambika could sell fruit, but she didn’t know how to negotiate with the wholesalers or bargain in the market. Cooperatives wouldn’t give her a loan because she couldn’t read, so the literacy classes she attended saved her business. Now, her grandchildren (she calls them her “apples and oranges”) are attending a good school and doing well.
Jalekha’s family runs several small “fancy goods” shops in the local bazaar. Because she couldn’t read or write, all she could do was watch the shop when no one else was available. Thanks to the literacy classes she attended, she is now a competent bookkeeper, handling sales and record-keeping on her own. Her third son is studying for a management degree.
Rupa’s mother is well into her 80s. She had no education at all. Neither did Rupa until she joined a literacy class. Now she’s a literacy facilitator, teaching other women to read and write. Her granddaughter Sashaktikaran is in the ninth grade and wants to become a doctor.
Lyn Jackson is communications director for the United Mission to Nepal.
Alisha Tamang teaches literacy to women in Dhaubadi, Nepal.
Rupa (left) could not read until she joined an ISN literacy class. Now she is a literacy trainer. Her mother (right) was never taught to read. Her granddaughter, Sashaktikaran, is in the ninth grade and plans to attend college to become a doctor.
All photos courtesy Lyn Jackson and Phil Rawlings/UMN
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