“I had dreams of becoming a teacher and marrying an educated person, but my parents wanted me to get married before they passed away.”
Radha Ram, a 23-year-old woman living in Devtal Rural Municipality in Bara, originally from the marginalized Dalit community in the Terai region of Nepal, got married at the tender age of 13 and now has four children ranging in age from 2.5 to 8. Despite her early marriage and the challenges that come with being a young mother, Radha is determined to pursue her education and provide a better future for herself and for her children.
As I sat down to talk with Radha, she had her youngest son on her lap, breastfeeding him and trying to put him to sleep. She shared with me that she has sent her three older children to a nearby school and is adamant that they complete, at least secondary education, in order to have better opportunities in life.
Radha’s journey to continue her education has not been easy. She was in grade 5 when she was forced into marriage against her will. “I had dreams of becoming a teacher and marrying an educated person, but my parents wanted me to get married before they passed away.” After marriage, she lived with her parents for two years and completed grade 7.
“I was frustrated staying at home. When I heard about the Community Learning Center (CLC) for drop-out-girls, I decided to enroll”, she said. In 2019, Radha joined a Community Learning Center (CLC) run by Aarambha project and supported by UK Aid’s Girls Education Challenge program. The Aarambha project is led by People in Need in partnership with Aasaman Nepal and SODCC. This was a turning point for her, as she was able to continue her passion for reading and learning. Her husband initially opposed her decision to join the CLC as their economic status was poor and he thought that she could better support the family by staying at home. However, despite the initial opposition, Radha persisted and continued to attend the CLC, where she learned about social issues, literacy, and numeracy. She also managed to convince her husband and her in-laws to support her to continue her formal education at a regular school.
Radha shared, “After completing the CLC program, all the other married girls went for vocational training, but my only objective was to continue my formal education, which I had left behind four years ago. So, despite being a daughter-in-law, I was the only one who enrolled in a formal school. I joined grade 9 and continued my studies. I had my youngest son, so I couldn’t attend regular daytime school, but I received home tuition supported by the project, which provided a tutor for my studies. During my preparation for the Secondary Education Examination (SEE), the project again coordinated with the school and arranged free coaching classes for me, along with necessary study materials and reference books.”
With hard work and determination, Radha successfully passed the SEE in 2022. However, her journey has not been without challenges. Managing household chores and taking care of four young children while studying has been extremely difficult. She studies at night after completing all her chores and putting her children to sleep, and during the day, she studies for two to three hours while her children are at school.When asked if she plans to have more children, Radha smiled and says, “No, not any more. My eyes are open now, and if I had known and realized the consequences of early marriage before, I would have definitely limited my children to two. Influenced by friends and neighbors, I gave birth to four children without much thought. Even after joining the CLC, I became pregnant with my fourth child, and it took me time to understand and realize all the consequences.” During the conversation, Radha became emotional and tears welled up in her eyes. She shared, “Due to my early marriage and having four children before the age of 23, my health has been affected. I am physically weak, lean, and thin, and my children’s growth has been slow too. But now I am aware, so I try my best to provide a nurturing family environment for my children to pursue a good education and live a better life.” Radha’s determination and hard work has not gone unnoticed by her family and the community. She has been able to register her children’s birth certificates and her own citizenship, despite initial resistance from her family due to fear of property division. To her surprise, her mother-in-law was proud of her achievements and expressed her gratitude, stating,
“There is no other daughters-in-law in our community who goes to school. I am proud that my daughter-in-law is studying. She helps our neighbours with important documents and even assists her husband with mobile phones and other tasks he doesn’t understand.”
Over time, Radha’s health has improved, and her children have really started thriving in the nurturing family environment that she provides. Her husband, who initially had doubts about her education and documents registration efforts, soon began to see the positive impact that her choices were having on their lives. He now supports Radha wholeheartedly.
Today, Radha continues to study diligently and aims to become a Female Community Health Volunteer (FCHV) in her own village after she completes Grade 12. She has been keeping herself updated about vacancies in the local government (palika) and the work that an FCHV does. She is grateful to the Aarambha Project for the support she has received including study materials, follow-up visits, and mentoring, even after she completed the CLC program. The support has fuelled her motivation and helped her pursue her passion. She is determined to continue her education, become an FCHV, and make a meaningful contribution to her community. With the support of her family, she is confident that she can create a better future for herself and for her children.
Radha’s story continues to be spread throughout the village, and she has become a role model for other young women who face similar challenges. She has been approached by several girls who have sought her guidance on things like education, marriage, and citizenship registration. Radha is more than happy to share her knowledge and experience and has become a mentor for these girls, encouraging them to pursue their dreams and break free from social norms.
Radha’s story is a testament to her resilience, determination, and courage in the face of societal norms and challenges. Her voice shines through as she continues to pursue her dreams, overcome obstacles, and create a brighter future for herself and for her family. Her story also highlights the importance of education, empowerment, and how awareness can bring positive changes both to individuals and to entire communities.
Author: Bindu Gurung, MEAL Coordinator, Aasaman Nepal