CHITWAN, Jan 2: Govinda Chepang of Madi Rural Municipality-9 often encountered wild animals on his way to school which is a three-hour walk from his home. He was forced to go to the same school as there were no secondary school nearby.
He and his friends had to walk through the forest to reach their school daily. Govinda is currently an eighth grader at Shree Lower Secondary School of Govindabasti. He was in grade six when, while returning from school, he saw a leopard crossing his path.
"As the school is miles away from our homes, we had to leave home early. Sometimes, if the food wouldn't be ready by 7 am, we had to rush to the school on empty stomachs," said Govinda, adding, "We had to spend so much time on the way, we did not even had enough time for doing home work."
Now, he stays in the hostel of his school. This has made studying a lot easier for him. During the devastating flood of 2017, the locals of Kusumkhola took shelter in the school. As the school authority was aware about the misery of students, a hostel was built near the school in 2017, especially for the children of the Chepang community.
Principal Bishwanath Ghimire says the students started coming to the school regularly after the school started residential facility for them. Earlier, the students were enrolled in the school but they did not attend their classes regularly. This year, there are 312 students in the school and 140 of them are Chepangs while the rest are Dalits and other minorities.
The school hostel is now home to 74 Chepang students. Soniya Praja, 11, of Kusumkhola studies in grade five at the same school. In the past, she had to come to the school barefoot, crossing the dangerous Riu River and various other streams. However, she started living in the hostel after reaching grade five. She says she and many of her friends have been greatly benefited by the hostel.
Many parents used to marry their daughters off at young age, as they could not send them to school because of the distance, said Man Bahadur Bista, chairperson of the school management committee. Sadly, the hostel, which has been a 'home away from home' for these children, lacks proper infrastructures and facilities.
Principal Ghimire informed Republica that two classrooms of the school were converted into the hostel. This has compelled the students of nursery and grade one to study in same classroom. There are separate rooms for girls and boys in the hostel but managing all the students in such a small space has been a challenge.
The room where the girls live is also their kitchen. Chairperson Bista informed Republica that some older students in the hostel had to cook meal for all earlier but now a staffer has been kept for the purpose.
Various organizations have been providing clothes, blankets and stationery to the hostel students. As the school was struggling to provide meals to the students, Madi Municipality offered Rs 100,000 for the meal. The students living in hostel are offered meals twice a day.