It has been 26 years since RHEST first started its programs. In those early years, we did not have an office or a computer. We did not even know how to raise funds. What we knew was that if we worked passionately and sincerely, people will support us. Our convictions have been proven right. In the beginning, RHEST was able to support only 25 girls. But today, RHEST is supporting about 13,000 girls in 18 districts of Nepal. We had been working with the American Himalayan Foundation (AHF), Foundation for Just Societies (FJS) and the Hesperian Foundation for many years, and I hope we have many more years of working together.
RHEST emphasizes young girls at the heart of its work, providing them with an opportunity to attend school so that they would not be trafficked or be married early or be forced to work as child labourers. They will be safe in schools. In a way, RHEST fights for the human rights of these young girls and for their right to be safe. As educated adults, we also hope that they will also be able to fight harmful social traditions such as early marriage. We also work with local communities and parents so that they are aware of RHEST’s vision and help create a safe living environment for the girls.
A few days ago, I met Kavita, a nursing student in the Far West. Kavita was admitted to RHEST’s scholarship program when she was in Grade 3. All her sisters either never attended school, were married early or dropped out. The family was so poor that they did not have enough to eat two meals a day. All her family members were working as labourers on a farm. RHEST admitted Kavita in its program so that she can attend school. In spite of many challenges, she passed Grade12 and took the national-level exam for nursing students. Thanks to her hard work and dedication, Kavita secured government scholarship to study nursing. When I met her, she was proud of her achievement and thankful to RHEST for supporting her.
I also met Shova, a young girl in Sindhupalchowk. Both of her parents are HIV-positive. Her older sister is disabled. From a young age, Shova has had to take care of her parents and her sister. She has been supported by RHEST. She worked very hard and passed Grade 10 with good grades. She wants to get a higher degree in education so that she could become a teacher. What a beautiful dream for a young girl who has had such a difficult life. She has motivated us and inspired us to continue our work in assisting other girls.
As you’ll see in our report, the impact of our work is vast – we serve about 13,000 girls. We assist the girls not only in their education, but also encourage them to fight social ills, to advocate for their rights and those of others, and to become independent. We have around 1,200 Alum girls who are part of our alumni network and they assist us in the field work. Among them, about 350 serve as teachers who assist RHEST in its operations. We, as an organization, are proud that girls who were once vulnerable are now contributing to building safer societies.
Having said that, we still have many challenges. Gender discrimination and harmful social traditions continue. We find many girls from broken families, and we try to minimize those challenges.
But we are also happy to say that the government has now more programs for at-risk girls, and our girls are benefiting from increased support. We now have a better rapport with local communities, school teachers and administrators. We can track where the students are and where they are working. For example, at least 150 girls are working in local organizations, in government offices, have started their own small business, or become social workers in their communities. Reading their success stories we feel proud and satisfied that despite the challenges we have faced, we have been able to change the lives of many at-risk girls and keep them safe.