Community school hostel boon for Chepang childrenMany students in outlying Dhading villages had to quit studies owing to difficulties in attending classes given the long distances they had to walk every day.
Susmi Chepang, aged 16, studies in grade eight at Kalika Secondary School in Benighat Rorang Rural Municipality Ward No 8 in Dhading district. Before joining this school, she was enrolled in Gothibhanjyang Basic School also in the same ward and it would take her around three hours to reach her school from her home at Dungbang.
The journey to and from her school every day would leave her too exhausted to concentrate on her studies. She saw no point in continuing and therefore dropped out of Gothibhanjyang Basic School when she was in grade 5 in 2017.
“I had to set off for school at 7am and would reach school by 10am. I would be so tired and hungry that I wouldn’t be able to concentrate in the classroom,” she said. “I would reach home only at nightfall walking for hours through deep forests and steep foot trails. I couldn’t do it any longer so I quit my studies.”
Susmi stayed at home and helped her family with household chores, lent a hand in the fields and also took care of her younger siblings for two years before enrolling again in grade 5 at Kalika Secondary School in 2019.
A dozen of Susmi’s friends also quit school around the same time she did because of the difficulties. Most children from the rural municipality studied at Jaldevi Basic School near their settlements up to grade three. They then transferred to Gothibhanjyang Basic School, an hour’s walk from their village, for grades 4 and 5. A majority of the students then moved to Kalika Secondary School.
For Susmi and her schoolmates, the possibility of going back to school came with the establishment of a hostel at Kalika Secondary School. The school, with the aim to provide students from far-flung villages the chance to pursue their studies without having to go through the hardships of walking for hours every day to and from school, established the hostel in 2017 but Susmi and her friends were not aware of it back then.
“When I left Gothibhanjyang Basic School in 2017, we weren’t aware of the hostel facility at Kalika Secondary School,” Susmi told the Post. “If we had known earlier, I wouldn’t have missed two years of my studies.”
Kalika Secondary School which runs classes from grades 1 to 10 currently has 23 students—10 male and 13 female—staying at the school hostel.
Most Chepang children of school-going age are deprived of secondary education as they live in remote villages where there are hardly any secondary schools. Although Kalika Secondary School and Gothibhanjyang Basic School are in the same ward of the rural municipality, the remote location of the area is such that attending classes for students as day scholars is rife with challenges.
“I was able to continue my studies only because Kalika Secondary School has a hostel. I live in the hostel throughout the year barring holidays when I go home,” she said.
Susmi’s three sisters and one brother are also students of the same school and live in the school hostel.
One of Susmi’s sisters, Sabita Chepang, is a grade 8 student. The 15-year-old says the establishment of the hostel revived her dreams of completing her studies. “Hostel has fulfilled my dream of studying. It has helped a lot of children like us. I believe I can bring positive change in my community. I want to become a nurse and help people, because access to healthcare is very poor in our village,” said Sabita.
The hostel is run with financial help from a social organisation, says school principal, Gopi Krishna Dahal.
“All 23 students from the Chepang community have been provided with free room and board. The boys and girls have separate dormitories and take turns cooking and cleaning the hostel,” said Dahal.
Sajana Mainali, a teacher at the school, said that the school monitors the hostellers from time to time. “The hostel built near the school has made it easier for Chepang children to pursue their education. At the hostel, teachers and class monitors inspect and observe students,” said Mainali.
Following the footsteps of Kalika Secondary School, the rural municipality plans to establish hostels for students from impoverished backgrounds in other community schools within its jurisdiction.
“The state government has started preparations for the construction of a well-organised hostel at Shankhadevi Higher Secondary School of Benighat Rorang Municipality, where a majority of students are from the Chepang community. After the construction of the hostel, it will be easier for children from marginalised groups to pursue their studies,” said Bodhraj Pathak, head of the education department of the rural municipality.