by Mona Bukenburger
When we climbed onto a truck at 4.30 in the morning, we hoped to reach Nele, maybe even Dipli the same day, and Sotang sometime tomorrow in the foothills of Mt. Everest. The driver was fast and the first part of the road surprisingly good, but once we hit the rural roads, we had to slow down. The road was dusty and bumpy with stones, with brooks and streams to ford. The vehicle was shaking all over, while dust was blowing in through the window. Still, none of this lessened our excitement, as we were laughing and joking with each other as well as with the others riding with us.
We drove through beautiful landscapes and saw smooth rivers, small farms and temples on the way, but also destroyed houses, broken roads and big boulders were laying in the way, here and there, making it difficult to pass. This area has obviously been hit by the earthquake, and some people were still struggling to get back what they lost…
The drive itself was an interesting experience as the vehicle, made for 10 people, sometimes crammed in 10 or 12. The driver seemed to know everybody in the district and he stopped to ask people whether he could take them anywhere, or just part of the way; or he would be talking to the driver of the opposite side of the road, just chitchatting about this and that.
We reached Dipli at 7 p.m., got out of the car, and with flashlights in hand and stars guiding the way, we started walking up the hill to a small guest house where we slept. The next day started at 7 in the morning, and we began our long trek towards Sotang, where we were to reach the schools that day. We walked fast, without many words, but in a very good mood.
Finally reaching Sotang, we found a place to stay, dropped our bags, and filled our bellies. The small woman owning the guesthouse was very friendly, cooked delicious food and told us to take more if we wanted. Her round face seemed to be smiling continuously while she walked around serving us.
Finally, we can got to work. We started with a couple of home visits on our first day. The father of one of our students took us to his home where we were immediately offered tea and homemade yoghurt from waterbuffalo milk. Once again, I was touched by their inborn hospitality. Here, too, they were living in a home badly damaged by the earthquake. There were cracks everywhere. As we were shown around, we felt that slightest vibration would bring down their home. There is nothing they could do–the government’s subsidy would not come close to covering the costs of a new house.
Now I understand why the home visits are so necessary: how else can one get to know the environment and background of the children: to actually see their families, houses and fields, and the half-an-hour straight up the hlll ascent to school. And, to drink tea together and chitchat creates a well-needed bonding over here.
The girl we visited next was very shy. She was about to take her “SEE“ exam (formerly called the SLC) at the end of High School. When we asked her what she wanted to do in the future, she hadn’t the slightest idea–just like many of us when finishing high school. But still, her situation was very different: in her peer group the girls get married at an age of 19, 18, or even younger. It is critical that she distinguish herself as a student. On the very day of our visit, her good friend was married, and she met us directly after the wedding.
Things like that cause us to worry about the future of our girls, and we leave with the conviction that we must make this a topic of discussion in Social Welfare Club. If it were not for ANSWER‘s Social Welfare Club (SWC), these kids would have no occasion to discuss such things as most are too shy to bring their individual cases to light. SWC is ANSWER‘s high school program in which movies are shown which bring out important social, psychological or ecological topics to the students. So, the next day at 10 a.m. we showed the film and discussed issues presented in it. The students were encouraged to speak up with their own opinions.
In a country where everything learned is memorized, pupils never learn to think, analyze, and self-express. SWC allows and even helps them find a way to express their own ideas. I am always surprised how difficult it is for some of the kids to create ideas of their own. But once the ice is broken, they come up with sophisticated ideas.
These kids grow up in a society, and in families, where they have to carry a lot of responsibility at a very young age. They know firsthand about the problems in their country; they know what it means to care for others; and they know about poverty, love and the importance of education. I really think that they can do a lot, if given the chance. In the safe confines of SWC, they speak about topics like child marriage and their personal problems in the group. I am impressed by one girl who told us, “Some girls are too lazy to study more, so they just get married.“ Where did she get the courage to express such a frank opinion in front of others?
Things are so difficult for young women here. On our journey, I talked a lot about topics like child-marriages and arranged marriages. I learned that most of the families would do almost anything to send a boy to school, while even small problems are going to be enough to prevent a girl from going. Girls have to be lucky, in order to have any choice in their lives.
It makes me sad and humble to know this: I live in the same world at the same time, and we are just of the same kind. But I have a choice. I can make my life what I want it to be. Just because I was, by chance, born in another place than these girls. These girls are forced to marry men they don´t love, even before they are ready to marry. Nor do they ever get the chance to attend school because their parents need them in the field or can´t afford the school fee. ANSWER reaches out and gives some a chance. No doubt that the ones who grab at the opportunity will be the ones to change their country. Already ANSWER has 7 girls in law school with more on the way!