Nepalgunj: The slums of Dambhoji in Nepalgunj may sound like an unlikely place for an education, but this is exactly where 12-year-old Tulsiram Kohri is seeking his. When he’s done with his daily ritual of washing clothes, tidying his two-room mud-walled home, and cooking for his dad and younger sister, Tulsiram heads next door to his neighbour’s house for the day’s classes. It’s a similar story with Manisha, 13, and her 11-year-old sister Sunita Ghodiya, who work half the day as domestic servants at the nearby Dailekhi Hotel.
Two doors down from Tulsiram’s, in a tiny room that is fronted by an open drain, Anshu Jaiswal strives to teach these young children the basics of schooling. Moving carefully between the 14 youngsters, Anshu, a facilitator with the Urban Out of School Programme (UOSP), is teaching them to read time. Curious faces peer up at her as she patiently prods them, sometimes squatting beside them, and explains how a clock works.
For three hours every afternoon, six days a week and over a nine-month course, Anshu’s tiny home serves as a classroom. Run by the Nepalgunj Municipality, with funding and technical support from UNICEF, the UOSP helps working children and child labourers who don’t have time or simply cannot afford formal schooling, another chance to learn; and with the right amount of effort, an entry into the formal school system.
“Look at mine, I think I got it right,” says a smiling Sunita. A shriek goes up from Tulsiram as he shouts that he’s got it right too, followed by some of the others. Towering above them, Anshu smiles as most of her young wards wave their notebooks for acknowledgement.
Nepalgunj municipality and its bordering Village Development Committees (VDCs) are home to a sizable population of the Madhesi and Muslim communities, including other disadvantaged ethnic groups and desperately poor families. Families who are so poor that parents work full time or at myriad jobs just so they can afford three meals for every member and a roof over their heads. And often, when that is still not enough for food and basic needs, their children—some as young as eight—have to shoulder some of that responsibility and forgo schooling in order for the family to survive.
“There are so many working children in this area, especially among communities that are resistant to schooling their children, particularly girls, and that is why the UOSP is crucial here,” says Krishna Prasad Joshi, who heads the Social Development Section at the municipality, and oversees the UOSP classes. The municipality is running 35 UOSP centres, and with an average of 20 children per class, 700 working children are currently enrolled.
“A majority of the children who graduate from the UOSP classes have enrolled in school and continue with their education right through to SLC,” says Krishna.
The UOSP offers Grade 1 and Grade 2 classes, and upon completion of the nine-month course, children can be enrolled into class one through class five based on their individual capabilities and literacy skills.
“The District Education Office (DEO) helps schools to conduct tests on the UOSP graduates, and upon passing these, the children are assigned to an appropriate class,” says Udhav Shrestha, the school supervisor for the DEO in Banke.
Twenty-five-year-old Amna Khatun is one of these UOSP graduates. “When I first graduated from the UOSP class and entered school, many of my neighbours scolded my parents for letting their daughter go to school,” says Amna, a Muslim. Her neighbours stopped complaining when she began to top her classes right through to SLC.
Today Amna is a the principal of the Madrassa Aha Ya Ul Ulum which has 189 children and runs classes 1 through 5 on a curriculum similar to government schools. Amna is also a supervisor for five UOSP centres in Nepalgunj.
“Nowadays no parent that I know of will prevent their children from going to school,” says Amna as she nods at the assembly of children under the guava tree, now reciting math tables.
At the New Look Beauty Parlour in the New Road area, 22-year-old Aasiya Hashmi trims the locks on a matronly lady. Also a graduate of the UOSP course, Aasiya enrolled for a three-month beautician course two years ago and there has been no looking back. She is one of two full time employees at the parlour.
“The UOSP classes gave me a lot of confidence and taught me how to talk to people,” says Aasiya, who hopes that sometime in the near future she will be able to open her own salon.
Since its inception in 1997 the UOSP programme has turned out more than 35,000 graduates, 60 per cent of whom are girls and children from marginalised communities. Classes are currently being run in seven districts—Morang, Parsa, Kavre, Kaski, Chitwan, Nepalgunj and Dang—and in 12 municipalities in those districts.
“Education is the key enduring strategy; it helps prevent poverty and stops exploitation of children,” says Hanaa Singer, Country Representative for UNICEF Nepal. “The UOSP classes are a unique opportunity for those children who might have missed their chance for education earlier.”
source:Giri, Robin(2012),"The quest for an education", The Kathmandu Post, 4 May 2012
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