Parwati Sunar is a Nepalese mother of two young children. And she is currently attending the same school as her eldest son, having resumed her education, which she left at age 15 when she became engaged to a man seven years her senior. “I enjoy learning and I’m proud to participate with peers who are like my own children,” says Sunar, from her village of Punarbas on the southwestern tip of the Himalayan nation.
A mere 57% of women in the country of 29 million can read and write. Sunar, 27, hopes to become “educated enough” to do household accounts. “I think I shouldn’t have dropped out of school,” he says. Now she wants to catch up on the lessons she missed after having her first child when she was 16.
Parwati Sunar, 27, and her sons Resham Sunar, 11, and Arjun Sunar, seven, pose for a photo outside their home in Punarbas, Kanchanpur district, southwest Nepal, August 7 after dressing for school. NAVESH CHITRAKAR (Portal)“I think I shouldn’t have given up my education,” says Parwati Sunar, who dropped out of school at 15 to become engaged to a man seven years her senior. At 16 she was a mother. NAVESH CHITRAKAR (Portal)Parwati Sunar is checking on her eldest son, 11, who has a fever. NAVESH CHITRAKAR (Portal)Sunar helps her older son clean up while the little one draws water from a hand pump near their home.NAVESH CHITRAKAR (Portal)The moment of the bath of Arjun pouring water on his head. NAVESH CHITRAKAR (Portal)Resham Sunar poses for a photo with a hibiscus flower over one ear to celebrate her 11th birthday. ‘I feel good going to school with mom,’ he says NAVESH CHITRAKAR (Portal)Sunar works in a field outside his home. Her wish is to be “educated enough” to keep the household accounts. NAVESH CHITRAKAR (Portal)Sunar gives his son Resham a homemade cake made from wheat flour, sugar and milk for his 11th birthday NAVESH CHITRAKAR (Portal)Resham Sunar is in line for lunch with her friends at Jeevan Jyoti Secondary School in Punarbas. Sometimes he spends the breaks with his mother. NAVESH CHITRAKAR (Portal)In addition to teaching, the woman also takes care of the household and takes care of her goats, among other things. NAVESH CHITRAKAR (Portal)The children also help with the housework. In the picture. Arjun gives his older brother a sickle to cut branches to feed the goats.NAVESH CHITRAKAR (Portal)Mother and children go together to buy groceries at the local market. NAVESH CHITRAKAR (Portal)Sunar shares food with his son Resham and other schoolmates during lunch break NAVESH CHITRAKAR (Portal)Writing on a blackboard after an English class at Jeevan Jyoti Secondary School attended by Parwati Sunar NAVESH CHITRAKAR (Portal)Resham Sunar attends a class in the courtyard after the classroom fan broke.NAVESH CHITRAKAR (Portal)Parwati Sunar and her children are preparing to go to school together. Only 57% of women in Nepal (population 29 million) can read and write. NAVESH CHITRAKAR (Portal)Parwati Sunar and her son Resham learn to type during their computer class at the New World Vision Computer Institute in Punarbas.NAVESH CHITRAKAR (Portal)Resham rides his mother’s bike to computer class. “We chat along the way and learn from our conversations,” says the boy. NAVESH CHITRAKAR (Portal)Both also talk during the lesson. Sunar’s efforts may inspire other village women who are thirsting to learn beyond their domestic horizons in Nepal.NAVESH CHITRAKAR (Portal)
“I feel good going to school with Mom,” says their 11-year-old son Resham, who is one grade behind his mother. The boy shares lunch breaks with her and rides her bike as a passenger to computer classes at a nearby high school. “We chat along the way and learn from our conversations,” says the little boy, adding that his mother hopes he becomes a doctor.
Sunar’s day begins at dawn in a two-room bare brick burrow with a tin roof that he shares with his sons Resham and Arjun and his mother-in-law and their goats, who are cooped up in an area of the apartment. The house lacks a toilet, so the family uses nearby public land.
This woman’s everyday life consists of bathing in water drawn from a hand pump, working in the green fields that surround her, and baking cakes for birthdays. Resham celebrates hers with a smile, a hibiscus flower over one ear. Sunar’s husband works as a day laborer in the southern Indian city of Chennai to support his family.
Sunar’s efforts could inspire other village women who are thirsting to learn beyond their domestic horizons in Nepal
They all belong to the Dalit community, formerly known as the “untouchables” in the lower echelons of the Hindu caste system, but Sunar says they are not mistreated for it. “Nobody discriminates against me or my family,” he says.
After a simple meal of rice and lentils, Sunar changes into her school uniform of light blue blouse and skirt with striped tie before taking her son on the 20-minute walk to the school, which is also a tin-roofed building surrounded by trees. “It’s fun to be in the same class as Sunar,” says 14-year-old Bijay BK, one of his classmates. “Didi is nice,” she adds, using the Nepali term for an older sister. “I help her study and she helps me too.”
Sunar’s efforts could inspire other village women who hunger to learn beyond their domestic horizons in Nepal, where they still face discrimination and child marriage is widespread, albeit illegal. “She is doing a good job,” says one of her neighbors, Shruti Sunar, who is in the 10th grade at the school and is not related to her. “I think others should follow their example and go to school.”
The official enrollment rate for girls in primary education is 94.4%, but Krishna Thapa, president of the Federation of Community Schools, regrets that almost half drop out for reasons ranging from lack of books to poverty . “Schools lack infrastructure, such as toilets for girls,” she explains. “Most girls stop their periods because there are no toilets.”
But Sunar, who left a job as a domestic worker in neighboring India to go back to college, is determined to finish. “I think so now,” he clarifies. “I don’t know what to expect.”
With additional reporting from Navesh Chitrakar and Yubaraj Sharma in Punarbas; Edition (in English) by Clarence Fernandez.
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