By Geeta Thapa
In the Year 2008, I took one semester off from my regular Bachelor’s Degree program to re-visit Nepal and I utilized part of this time as a volunteer at Janata Higher Secondary School. As it happens by pure coincidence, there I meet a five year old girl, Ashmita Chhetri. To have grown up in Kathmandu, I had many apprehensions and unknowns in my mind and I had no expectation that I would have a lasting impression from a five year old child. However, a brief conversation with this little girl left a new impression and outlook about people in me. There was something about Ashmita; we developed an instant bond and time after that became different.
Ashmita would hold my hands and take me to the school from my temporary residence at Madi, every morning, at 9am. During the one hour walk uphill in the mornings, I learned that, despite her young age, she has taken on many responsibilities of her household. She woke up before 5am and swept her house while her parents left for field work. Her mother would bring morning meal to start and Ashmita would look after it, controlling the fire in wood burning kitchen, until the food is cooked. The meal would be ready when her parents came back. Such sincerity and the burden of so complex responsibilities at such young age!
Story of Ashmita made me experience awe in appreciation of human potential and the sorrow of not having choices and options even for a five years old child. I wondered if there could be options to harness the amazing creative potential of children without taking away the fun, excitement, and freedom of playing with friends. Older siblings taking care of younger siblings, sisters sacrificing their education so that their brothers can go to school, and very young children looking after cattle is seen so easily in these villages. Things that would be taken for granted by young children of developed societies are mythical luxuries to children like Ashmita.
Conditions of poor families in Nepal’s villages plead for change and improvement in lifestyles where children could be raised in desirable learning environments. If not the change in the whole society, if a project can change the life of even a single child like Ashmita, I would consider it well-worth it. However, looking into the 4C project, which came to fruition from years of experience and long contemplations of Michael and Tineka Casey, I see potential for change at a larger scale. Therefore, I proudly salute Michael and Tineke for their dedication to build a better life for children – one village at a time, starting from Ashmita’s village.
As I reflect, I realize that the power of an exposure can be great in sensitizing our mind about many important issues of society and in changing course of our thoughts. After this encounter with Asmita it makes me think why many well to do people in the cities keep young children as their servants, and why much richer people in the west do not keep servants. Perhaps absence of exposure may be a reason why we remain indifferent about plight of others. And even in volunteering there are earnings of thoughts and reconstruction of our self!
Please visit an informational website http://usha.cffn.ca and learn more about the initiative. The proponents look forward to having cooperation and participation from many generous individuals and institutions for educating rural and marginalized people of Nepal.