Situated in Rupandehi, Nepal about 205 km from the capital city of Kathmandu, Lumbini is one of four Buddhist pilgrimage sites, and it is recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Lumbini’s residents are predominantly Hindu, but many Buddhist shrines and monasteries from various nations are constructed around the birthplace of the Buddha. Many pilgrims from Southeast Asia, Japan, and Bhutan, along with a handful of westerners, come to Lumbini every year. However, despite the area’s global attention and appeal, Lumbini is mostly characterized by widespread poverty, limited road access, and a lack of health services and education.
As is often the case in areas lacking infrastructure and education, girls and women suffer most. Local customs in Lumbini promote gender biases and discourage girls from attending school, which limits girls’ and women’s access to proper health and sanitation education, thus also limiting their potential to improve the health and education of their families and children. Girls in Lumbini are pressured into marrying at a very young age, as early as 10, further pushing them into a life of illiteracy, poverty, and teenage pregnancies. Lumbini has been identified by UNICEF as one of the most critical areas for child marriage and discrimination against women. It also has the lowest average female literacy rate in Nepal: 18%. The lack of education for girls and women perpetuates many of Lumbini’s problems, such as severe malnutrition, lack of medical care, and high infant and mother mortality rates.
Further characteristics of girls’ lives in Lumbini:
One of RMF’s priorities throughout our work is to improve the education and health of girls and women, especially those in marginalized, underserved communities. We know that when girls and women thrive, families and communities thrive too. Soon after the April 2015 earthquake, RMF began working with Global Karuna, a Nepali organization that focuses on educating Lumbini’s underprivileged children. After initially working with Global Karuna in emergency relief efforts, RMF began supporting the organization’s Karuna Girls’ School in Lumbini.
The school provides education to girls and women, with a curriculum that emphasizes reading, writing, computer literacy, health, hygiene, nutrition, and family planning. 11th and 12th grade classes are taught in English. The school also provides vocational training for underprivileged girls and women and for disabled women. Karuna Girls’ School is the only inclusive all-girls school in the region, where young girls of any religion and caste can meet and learn.
There are a total of 186 students. Students at Karuna Girls’ School travel to the school daily from villages located as far as 15 km away. The school offers girls a chance to continue their education from grades 6-12 (currently the school is authorized to offer all but 10th grade; it is seeking government approval to offer grade 10, and is transferring 10th grade students to other schools in the meantime), and provides vocational training to women and girls in subjects like computer literacy and tailoring.
Karuna Girls’ School was founded in 2013 by Global Karuna, a branch of the Nepali organization Lumbini Social Service Foundation (LSSF). The school is Lumbini’s only inclusive all-girls school, where girls can study regardless of religion or caste.
RMF began working with Global Karuna shortly after the April 2015 earthquake, and we are pursuing plans to construct an additional building for Karuna Girls’ School and, in partnership with the school, develop a nursing and midwifery program.
186 students from various backgrounds
The stduent population reflects the larger Lumbini populations, which is predominantly Hindu, but the school welcomes girls of all faiths. Currently, the student body includes:
Pushpanjali Yadav is a 17-year-old girl in the 11th grade. She was married at age 15. Pushpanjali is from Bisunpura VDC, Ward-5, 11 km from Karuna Girls’ School. Each morning, she walks 30 minutes to catch the school bus. She studied in a government school up to the 8th grade, where she experienced gender discrimination. Pushpanjali prefers Karuna Girls’ School because it allows her more freedom. She would like to be an English teacher. Pushpanjali also attends music class and plays musical instruments.
The student population of Karuna Girls’ School increased from 150 students in early 2016 to 186 students by the summer of 2016, and student numbers are expected to continue climbing as the school expands its programs, the community sees the value of educating girls, and the school gains approval to offer 10th grade classes (currently the school is authorized to offer grades 6-12, except for grade 10). The school’s long-term goal, which RMF fully supports, is to serve a student population of 500 girls.
In keeping with our promise to construct an additional building for Karuna Girls’ School, RMF sent a group of engineers and surveyors to Lumbini in June 2016 to take necessary measurements and collect relevant data for construction. The engineers also prepared a model and 2D design of the proposed building. At the request of school administration and students, the building’s plans are being modified to include toilets on the ground floor. RMF Nepal’s team is currently working with relevant government authorities to obtain approval for construction of the school building. We hope to receive government approval by November 2016, and plan to begin construction as soon as this is obtained. The building will be used for additional classrooms, the library, school administration, and additional toilets. Karuna Girls’ School has committed to provide land for the building. Through our support of Karuna Girls’ School, RMF helps girls and women begin to thrive in the Lumbini community by offering a safe environment where they can meet and learn about reading, writing, computer literacy, basic health and hygiene, family planning, nutrition, and more.