October 11 marks the ‘International Day of the Girl Child’. First declared in 2012 by the United Nations, it is a day to reflect and to come together to shine a light on the issues faced by the 1.1 billion girls worldwide. It is a day to be galvanised into action; to refocus efforts to promote opportunities, and give girls everywhere the chance to achieve their full potential.
“I really like school,” 10-year-old Surta says with a shy smile. “I want to be a doctor one day.”
Surta is from Chauganfaya village, a remote village in the Humla district of northwest Nepal, high in the Himalayas. Life in this region is hard, with a harsh climate and limited services and economic opportunities.
Surta’s family’s main occupation is farming, but due to drought and limited land, this only feeds the family of nine for about two months of the year. To sustain themselves for the rest of the year, they care for cattle, work as porters to carry the cargo of passing trekkers, sell cooking wood and run a small tea shop. However, despite these efforts, sometimes the family still needs to take on loans from landlords and friends.
“After doing all this work we can barely feed our family,” says Kalu, Surta’s father. “And forget about good clothing for our children, their healthcare or education.”
This is the harsh reality for many Humli people. Historically, education was not a priority in the region, with families needing all their children to work alongside them on the land just to survive. In particular, girls were often denied opportunities to go to school, as they could not be spared from domestic duties. As a result, the district has some of Nepal’s lowest literacy rates, particularly for girls.
But this is changing. Over the past few years we have seen a huge shift in community attitudes towards education. More and more Humlis, like Surta’s family, are now sending their children – boys and girls – to school, recognising the value of education.
Adara helps families like these by improving the quality of education in the district, and by providing scholarships in the form of school uniforms, shoes and a bag containing essential school supplies. Often it is the lack of these items that prevents children from going to school. In all, 706 children across 7 villages received these scholarships in 2016.
“Due to Adara’s support I have been able to send all my children to school,” says Kalu. “Without it, I would not be able to afford to educate all of them, even though the school is right next to my house. Some of my children would have to go look after the cattle or work in the field.”
Surta is excelling at school, standing out for being diligent and hardworking. She consistently achieves first place in her class and is the class captain.
“I am really impressed with Surta’s performance in school,” her principal shares. “She is one of the brightest and most active students and she now has the chance to excel in her life. Unfortunately, not every girl in Humla is lucky like her.”
Adara continues working hard to improve the quality of education in the region so that more children like Surta are given the opportunity to thrive. And today, on ‘International Day of the Girl Child’, Adara reflects on its mission, and the truth of how issues that affect girls are really issues that affect all of us. If we allow girls to excel, then we will all be able to see and reap the benefits that this brings.