RYTHM Foundation’s Sustainable Community Development Programme in a remote, mountainous district of Nepal for the indigenous Chepang tribe rings true to these famous words by Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”
The project has brought discernible change to an increasing number of indigenous Chepang people in Raksirang in the Makawanpur district, where poverty and the dire lack of basic amenities contribute to their daily struggles.
The mounting challenges this population faces also directly affect the community’s children, with illiteracy and child marriages among the significant issues.
This is where RYTHM’s collaborative project with the NGO National Forum for Advocacy (NAFAN) strives to make a difference for adults and children – one lesson at a time.
The project entails NAFAN engaging, educating, and empowering the villagers through various educational programmes, including providing a conducive environment for the young beneficiaries and increasing their knowledge and skills for their social transformation.
RYTHM aims to assist 250 beneficiaries over the project’s three-year duration (until mid-2024), focusing on 180 young girls and women aged between five and 30. The project’s milestones include enrolling 99% of the children in school within two years and ensuring at least 60% attend school regularly by the third year.
Up until December last year, the attendance rate reached 20%. In addition, 30% enrolled in school within the first year, demonstrating the positive difference and impact the project is making.
Poverty, Illiteracy and Discrimination
The Chepang are among Nepal’s 59 indigenous tribes. Unfortunately, only 61% of the country’s 8.5 million indigenous population is literate, compared to the national average of 71% (United Nations).
“Deprived” best describes the lives of this marginalised population. About 70,000 live in challenging geographical environments in the hills and mountains of central Nepal.
However, remoteness is not the only difficulty they face. With the degradation of natural resources, unsustainable agricultural practices, and discrimination by society and the state, the Chepang are among the most impoverished. Over 90% live below the poverty line, surviving on less than US$1 daily.
Numerous other issues also plague the disadvantaged group. For example, food shortage is a chronic problem. The subsistence agriculture that most depend on does not produce sufficient food, forcing them to survive as daily wage earners.
Watch: This heartfelt video provides a glimpse of this resilient and hopeful community through the eye-opening experience of an RYTHM project manager during a recent visit:
Gratitude and Future Prospects
Bam Maya Praja, a mother of three, shares how the programme has impacted her life: “I dropped out of school after completing Year Two of my studies. “Thankfully, I have picked up from where I left off. I can now write my name,” she says.
The one thing missing from my life was education. Now, I feel very excited to have the chance to learn again.
Two of Bam Maya’s children have also been taking classes regularly, and she encourages other children and women to attend the classes.
“I want to see development in our village. I want our children to be educated and to teach in schools. I want our future generations to be free of our problems,” she adds.
Another beneficiary, 29-year-old father of five Surya Mann, only studied until Class 3 and believed he had lost out on creating a better future for his family. “I wanted to be successful but could not fulfil my dreams because of my circumstances,” Surya says.
“I now feel so lucky that I have the chance to learn, and my children are also getting an education. Maybe someday, my children will find success in life.”
Sashita Chepang, a facilitator with NAFAN, explains that while the children immediately embraced the programme, the women initially hesitated due to shyness and fear. “However, many have since joined the classes and are taking time from their household chores to learn new things,” Sashita says.
“The women and children wash their faces, feet, and hands before attending classes. They also participate in extracurricular activities, like keeping the classroom clean.”
Social workers like Sashita conduct academic lessons and teach daily life skills like personal hygiene, good manners, and moral education.
“We are incredibly grateful to RYTHM Foundation. Because of the organisation, the women and children learn new things daily. So, they want to read more and preserve their culture. We are also helping them keep their dialect alive and encouraging them to keep their language alive in our classes,” Sashita says.