Chepang children attend morning prayers at Bhotegaun Basic School in this recent picture. These children walk for over an hour every day to reach the school from their village. | Photo: Sabita Shrestha/Republica
CHITWAN, Nov 29: What Nim Bahadur Budhathoki, principal of Bhotegaun Basic School loves most about his job is the contribution he is making in educating children belonging to the 'poorest' community in the district. All the students in his school are from the Chepang community. It is the only school near the Chepang settlement in Bhotegaun. "However, our students have to walk for over an hour for attending school," Budhathoki said.
There are no other communities in Bhotegaun. It is exclusively a place of Chepangs. And the people are extremely poor, Budhathoki remarked. "I think there is no other community in the district which is poorer than this."
Chepang children in Bhotegaun don't continue their studies after they complete their third standard from the nearby basic school. To continue their studies, the nearest high school is two hours walk from their village. As such, most of the Chepang children discontinue their studies and start working.
His school offers classes only till the third grade. It takes around two hours daily for the Chepang kids to commute to and from the school. After they complete the third standard, the maximum level the school offers, they drop out of school.
"They do not join another school after they complete their education here. There are no schools nearby. So, they remain at home. It is an injustice," Budathoki lamented.
It is very hard to commute in the hills unless means of transportation are available. Even though the Chepang settlement seems very near to the school when viewed from the hill, they have to travel down and up the hill and that takes a lot of time for them.
Along with that, other schools that provide higher education are very far for them. Budhathoki asserted that the major reason for the Chepang kids to discontinue their education after completing third grade at the local basic school is lack of school nearby that could provide higher education to them.
"To continue their education, they will have to travel around four hours every day. For little children, this is very hard. On top of that education is hardly a priority for the members of their community," he said adding that not all school-going Chepangs children come to his school either.
The basic school was opened in 1988. And Budhathoki has been its principal since then. In the beginning, there were 20 children in the school. After five years of the opening of the school, the number reached over 30. "Sometimes we have 40, sometimes 45, sometimes 35. Anyway, the number of children studying at the school have been over 30, it has not gone down below that," he said.
After completing their education up to the third grade at this school, the nearest higher level school is Jana Priya Secondary School in Kalyantaar. To reach there the Chepang kids have to walk over two hours. Back and forth, they have to commute four hours daily, if they wish to continue their education. "That is why their education is terminated without moving ahead. It is very sad," he said.
People call their village Bhotegaun 'lek' (a high altitude destination) and 'neglect it'. Because of its remoteness, hardly anyone visits this village, Budhathoki said adding that because of that their village has been neglected.
The implications of the negligence by the government and other locals can be seen in Bhotegaun. It is still deprived of schools, hospitals and electricity.
"Schools were opened in this region three decades ago. During these years, people's life here has changed significantly. But for the Chepangs, life is still where it was yesterday," Budhathoki noted. "Nobody has thought seriously about the education of Chepang kids."
According to Budhathoki, the government could upgrade this very school or open some other nearby to further the education of the Chepang children. While they are deprived of education, poverty has also been equally discouraging the community for receiving a formal education.
"It requires a lot of effort to bring poor children to school and retain them. As neither the parents are have resources to invest in their children's education nor the authority has made efforts to reach out to them, Chepang's children future remains shadowed. No one is worried about the children's future," Budhathoki remarked.
After they reach eight or 10-year old, Chepang kids start helping their parents in generating income by crushing aggregates or carrying aggregates at various construction sites. Pradeep Chepang is one of such kids. He quit school after third grade and started to work with his parents.
"I studied till the third grade and after that, I never went to school. Other schools are far away, so I started working instead," Pradeep said. "My friends are also doing the same."
Janapriya Secondary School has students coming from far away. According to the principal Netra Bahadur Adhikari, students come here from Bhurkes, Baaspur, Maitase, and Baaspur, among other distant villages. "But a very few complete secondary level. Child labor is not a big deal here, parents send their kids to work. Some even go to town in search of work," he said. "This happens mostly with students from poor families. As for the Chepang kids, their study is affected by two reasons- poverty and the lack of awareness about the importance of education."