A second chance
May 16, 2014-Every morning, Bina Lamichane helps prepare her grandchildren for school, dropping them off before heading off to classes herself. It’s a routine that the 56-year-old has been following since she enrolled in school two years ago. In that time, Lamichane has not just learned the alphabet, created words and basic sentences, but also become much more independent in handling her personal affairs.
She is now, for instance, able to write a letter to her mother in Palpa, alongside managing her own bank account—things that were practically unimaginable prior to this. And family members and neighbours have noticed the change in her. “Before she went to school, Ama needed our help all the time. She’d ask us to read the electricity bill out loud, and sometimes even wedding cards,” says her 29-year-old son, Saroj.
Lamichane had always wanted to study, she says, but she’d never been given the opportunity to go to school. The eldest daughter in her family, she had instead spent her childhood years helping her mother with the household chores and in looking after her younger siblings.
Belated though it might be, she’s fulfilling that wish now. Lamichane can even use a computer, Skype with her brother in Canada, as well as teach her grandchildren—in the pre-primary level—to say ‘Thank you’ and ‘Good morning’. And she’s not alone. Many other women have been reaping the benefits of a handful of schools that are now running five- to six-year SLC courses for elderly women in the Capital. So it is that we find middle-aged women in many households around town now rushing to go to school.
Of course, for women who’ve been ensconced in domesticity practically all their lives, the transition is not always easy. And their objective is to pass the SLC, not an easy task by any means. Subjects like English and Mathematics prove particularly difficult. “It’s probably wishful thinking, but it’d be great if someone were to design a different syllabus for us oldies,” says Srijana Upadhyaya, 38.
Upadhyaya says she can read well but writes very slow. The ‘10th grader’ lives with her brother’s family in Koteshwor, and although she’s terrified that she won’t be able to pass the exams, she takes heart from the fact that three women in their mid-sixties have already gotten through the so-called Iron Gate.
Upadhyaya wants to be a priest, just like her father. “My brothers weren’t willing to take it on, but I’d like to,” she says. She’s already read a few religious texts on her own, and is hoping to publish a few books herself. “My writing might be poor, but I feel like I can do it if I really work hard,” she explains.
Wanting to be able to read holy books is cited as a common reason for many women for joining school at an advanced age. And according to Sumitra Mainali, the principal of the Baikalpik Vidhyalaya in Koteshwor, which runs classes for middle-aged women, they also make great students. “They’re very hardworking,” she says. “We know it’s difficult for them, but we’re impressed by just how curious they are, and how good a grasp they already have of certain concepts.”
For Krishna Chaudhary, another of the aged enrollees, the classes have been a godsend. As someone who once struggled to collect the money her husband sent from overseas, she says having control over her own finances has boosted her confidence. “Education does that for us,” she concludes. Chaudhary plans on taking up a beautician training course once she passes her SLC so that she can open her own beauty parlour some day.
Sarita Sharma, on the other hand, is happy enough to be able to flip through a newspaper without help. Sharma, mother of three, could only listen to the radio for updates on current affairs, but after attending classes at the Bhadra Ghale School in Gyaneshwor, she is now able to read the news whenever she wants. “Before, I was confined to the kitchen. That’s all anyone would talk to me about,” she says. “Now I know what’s happening all around the world. And it’s eye-opening.”
And that’s essentially what most of these women are seeking—a sense of validation. While there are certainly a few, like Chaudhary or 49-year-old Dil Maya Pun, who harbour dreams of setting up their own businesses or joining the workforce in other capacities, for the rest, it’s simply a matter of becoming more self-reliant in their daily lives, of shedding the daily humiliation and limitations of being illiterate. “We’ve always put our families before us. This is something we’re doing for ourselves,” says Pun.
Published: 17-05-2014 09:48