Laxmi vs education inequality
Laxmi is a community volunteer 'Big Sister' helping girls in Surkhet, Nepal, go back to school and finish their education.
More than 95% of children in Nepal are now enrolled in primary school. But girls still face a huge challenge completing their education, especially as they approach adolescence.
The pressure to get married young, the challenge of dealing with menstruation and the expectation girls will help with domestic work all contribute to girls dropping out of school early.
Laxmi Dhami is a volunteer fighting to keep these girls in school. As a 'Big Sister' on VSO's Sisters for Sisters' Education project in Nepal, she mentors and coaches young girls and their families to value education and gender equality.
Laxmi supports four vulnerable young girls through the project, who live in the same community as her in Karekhola, Surkhet district. They are her 'Little Sisters'. Her role is both to encourage the young girls, as well as to engage with their families, who may be the ones pressuring their daughters to stay at home.
Somu has been one of Laxmi's little sisters for more than four years now. She's showing huge progress.
Before the project, Somu had no interest in school. She was attending only one or two days a month and had fallen badly behind.
When Laxmi spoke to Somu, she was initially very resistant about the idea of going to classes more regularly. After some coaxing, Laxmi learned that Somu didn't understand her lessons and had lost confidence in herself. She was shy and worried about being teased.
It took time, but Laxmi eventually won Somu's trust. She promised to help her keep up with her homework. She also helped her enroll in learning support classes, provided by VSO, to help her catch up at school.
Laxmi encouraged Somu to take part in sports activities and public speaking competitions arranged through the project. Somu's confidence grew and grew. She began to enjoy school and is now attending every day.
Laxmi started coming into Somu's school to teach the girls how to make re-useable sanitary pads, to help them avoid missing school when they're on their period - a common reason girls fall behind.
By now, Somu was becoming passionate about education, and wanted to share her newfound enthusiasm with others.
Then 14 years old, Somu convinced her family to let her use a room in their modest house to start a community library.
VSO donated some books and Somu started holding classes on Saturday mornings for preschool-age children as well as those who had dropped out. She assisted with the children's reading and even gave classes on hygiene and sanitation, sharing what she had learned through VSO activities at her school.
Laxmi also shared with Somu her own story of being married at just 16. She urged Somu to take a different path and to go as far as she possibly can in her own education, and only get married when she's ready.
Together, the two have even led campaigns in the community against early marriage and encouraging families to bring girls back to school - with success. Somu even won an award in 2017, when she received a 'Top 10 Unsung Heroes' award from Nepal's Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare for her contribution to reducing drop-out from her school in Karekhola.
Somu says “My big sister is my role model. Mentoring made me strong, bold and feel mature. I felt that this is the turning point in my life.”
Laxmi says: "Seeing Somu's succeed is so rewarding. The project made a big change in me too. Before this, I never questioned my own early marriage. Now I wish I had progressed further in my education. I am planning on going back to college and gaining a qualification.
"I have increased in confidence too. I am proud to be known as a 'Big Sister'".
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