Students of the Chepang community in Dhadhing district.
DHADING, Dec 25: When asked what she wants to become in the future, Setimaya Chepang, 10, replies, “Teacher”, adding that she wants to be a teacher and educate small children like her.
When the urban children are asked the same question, most of them would say doctor, pilot, or engineer, among others. Interestingly, almost all students of Robang Basic School (RBS) of Benighat Rorang Rural Municipality-10, one of the most backward and remote areas in the district, have the same dream and that is to become a teacher.
With a thoughtful expression on her face, fourth grader Setimaya said, “It takes a lot of reading to become a teacher,” adding, “It will be great if I can complete my secondary level education in my own village.”
Due to the lack of sufficient space in RBS, the students of grades four and five are compelled to share the same classroom. This village comprises mostly people of the Chepang community. Even in this 21st century, this village has no access to electricity and transportation. Surrounded by rocky hills and cliffs, this village does not even have proper drinking water supply.
The crops and vegetables grown by the locals are hardly enough for four months. Therefore, in other months of the year, they have to rely on wild fruits and vegetables. A family of 8-9 members is obliged to share the same small house. As RBS, the only school in the local unit, is a primary school, children in the village are compelled to walk for miles to pursue secondary education.
Most children drop out of the school even before appearing for the Secondary Education Examination (SEE) to get married. Early marriage is deeply rooted in the Chepang culture. Sommaya Chepang goes to school barefoot regardless of the weather and difficult route. She has neither slippers nor proper school uniform. The blue skirt that her parents bought years ago has turned black with dirt and the shirt has no buttons at all.
“I can’t tell my parents to buy me slippers and new uniform because they hardly earn for our meals,” Sommaya said. These children have to wait for festivals like Dashain and Tihar to eat good food and wear clean clothes.
Eleven-year-old Mankaji Chepang of Robang is a second grader at RBS.
It might be hard for others to believe but he does not know how it feels to wear slippers because he has never got one. No matter how long the distance, he walks barefoot. Apart from slippers, he does not even have the textbooks.
These children eat whatever is there at their homes. Sometimes, they rush to the school on empty stomachs. “We don’t have warm clothes, so we sleep by lighting fire at night,” Mankaji said. Most of the houses have cracks because of the 2015 earthquake. Some have somehow repaired their houses while others are still living in makeshift tents.
The Chepang people are living in extreme poverty, which is why they are unable to provide good opportunities to their children. Two pieces of clothes are all that they have to wear for the whole year. The winter often takes its toll on their lives. In order to escape the freezing cold, they have to skip school and avoid going out of home.
Saraswati Pokharel, principal of RBS, laments that the school authority has to reach the houses of students to request them to come to the school. “We see them coming to the school barefoot and without proper clothes. But we can do nothing as we too lack resources,” said Principal Pokharel.