June 14, 2019
“She refused to eat for two days when I asked her to quit her studies after tenth grade,” Jamil, Samirum’s father says, looking down at his hands.
Jamil had never witnessed the stubborn side of his then 17 year-old, quiet daughter. “I could hear her stomach rumble. She didn’t eat or speak to me for two days."
Samirum, the youngest of six siblings, had watched this unfold before. All of her older siblings dropped out of school and were married between the ages 16-18. Committed to her education, Samirum refused to live the same fate.
In Madesh, Nepal, early marriage is a typical tradition, where girls are married off before they become legal adults. Jamil, like many, didn't question this practice until Samirum and her social mobilizer challenged his perspective.
As part of Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program, parents regularly meet with social mobilizers both during community meetings and home visits. Jamil’s time with his daughter’s social mobilizer not only changed his view on Samirum’s life, but also her siblings.
“I had planned for Samirum to marry but after her time in the Girls’ Education Program, I realized that I had promised her didi (Room to Read’s social mobilizer) that I would let my daughter study as much as she desires. After Samirum went on a hunger strike, I could not say no,” says Jamil. “I had to keep my word. I also realized that my other children were confined to domestic chores and agriculture. I knew Samirum wanted a different life. She has her own goals. I cannot run away from my promise now. I have to let Samirum chase her dreams. If not, I will live with regret whole my life."
Today Samirum marks the first in her family to bypass the tradition and continue her education. Jamil is now proud of his daughter's success in school and even more so that she hosts literacy classes for adults on the weekends - preparation for her dream of becoming a teacher.
“I know my Samirum is smart and hardworking. I believe she is going to be everyone’s favorite teacher one day.”
Samirum adds, “I am proud of my baba (father) for keeping his promise. Thank you, baba, for being a man of your word."
In Nepal, some fathers have trouble seeing the value of educating their daughters. Pratima’s father, Ajbahadur, is not one of them.
“I have a father who supports my every decision and guides me to do better. What more could I ask for,” says 13 year-old, Pratima.
A staunch advocate for girls’ education and empowerment, Ajbahadur has always treated his children equally. He believes girls’ education is the best investment one can make in life.
“No one in my family went to university. We were rash in quitting our studies at the secondary level. We didn’t know the value of education back then. I am very hopeful that my daughter will go to college and have a successful career,” he says. “It would be a dream come to true to see someone from my family attend university.”
Ajbahadur is also a member of the School Management Committee at his daughter’s school, where he helps increase parental participation to help mothers, fathers, and teachers feel more accountable for delivering and supporting quality education.
“Parents like Ajbahadur plays a vital role in creating a conducive learning environment for girls in school,” says Shobha, Room to Read’s social mobilizer. “Recently, Ajbahadur and other parents in the committee raised the need for a separate toilet for girls and constructed one. Because of this, many girls now feel safe to use the school toilet while they are menstruating.”
An exemplary father in his community, Ajbahadur’s drive to encourage girls has made him stand out.
“A daughter can do incredible things and achieve more when a father stands up for her,” he says. “Education is the biggest gift Pratima will take with her.”
As a public service employee, Nadaram understands how difficult it is to get a government job in Nepal.
“I would not have had a decent job if I had quit my studies in the past. I say the same thing to my daughter. Education is the key to survive in today’s competitive world,” he says.
In the western part of Nepal, majority of the population is illiterate and practices like early marriage and bonded-labor still prevail. Nadaram knows, as a father, he plays a critical role in furthering gender equality.
“Our society is patriarchal. If we want to see any change, we have to start with the fathers. A convinced father can convince anyone in the family,” he says. “Together with Room to Read’s social mobilizers, we persuaded some fathers who were against girls’ education. It took us a lot of effort to change their mind.”
Nandaram has seen growth not only in local fathers, but most importantly in Chitra. With steady life skill classes and reliable mentors, Chitra has ample tools to cultivate confidence and skills ranging from speaking up for herself to financial literacy and career planning.
“I witnessed a sudden change in Chitra after she enrolled in the Girls’ Education Program. She became more confident. I could not believe it when I first heard her speaking in an inter-school debate competition. She was so fluent and fearless,” her father says. “I realized how emotional support and a little encouragement can go a long way.”
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