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STEM Girl Recovers Self-Efficacy, and Lost Hope

“I feel I can do something in life now. I saw girls who are like me who had left their studies and I know now life doesn’t end here and I can have a bright future. I feel like living again.”

Urmila, Year 2 Step Programme Participant

Urmila, who is 19 years old and lives in Jugeda, Dhangadhi, dropped out of Grade 9 from a STEM school three years ago.  When she was 12 years old a tragic incident would change Urmila’s life dramatically: having gone to the forest to collect fodder for the family’s livestock and when trying to cross a river on her way back home with the heavy load, she lost her footing and almost drowned.

No one expected Urmila to live. She says, “I am fortunate to be alive and with the help of my parents, I slowly recovered from the trauma, but life was not the same for me after that”. Clearly consumed by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) she would vomit, faint and experience severe headaches regularly. Seven years on, Urmila is still unable to cross a river and becomes very scared when it rains heavily during monsoon.

Before this tragic incident, Urmila was a very bright student who showed much promise. Afterwards she was unable to concentrate on her studies, often missed her classes, and whenever she went to school she would experience flashbacks which led to vomiting and fainting inside the school premises. She stopped going to school altogether after her inability to cope led to her failing Grade 9. She became more and more introverted and started confining herself to her home. She could not speak to people and avoided large crowds or occasions which would draw attention to her. Her confidence rapidly diminished and she knew that if life were to carry on in this way, the future could offer her very little.

In June 2015, the local Social Mobiliser for STEM – Durga - contacted her and told her about the Step Programme. Following an interview with the STEM team, Urmila was invited to participate in the Step Programme. She attended the 5 day residential ToT on financial literacy which took place in Dhangadhi in November, 2015.  It was Urmila’s first time outside of her house in a very long time and with the support of the STEM team, she bravely faced 39 other girls.  During the first few days of the training, she was very nervous and did not open up to anyone. Gradually however, she started to speak up and showed increased interest in the training. Urmila’s parents live in India as her father works for a bicycle manufacturing company. As they send her money and she lives alone, she has to manage the household budget. She started to see that the training was relevant to her daily life and began feeling that she had contributions to make to discussions.   

On the second day of the training, when Urmila was asked to micro-teach on a given subject she refused to the extent of being tearful. However, on the fourth day of the training, she approached the training facilitator and asked to conduct the micro-teaching session. The transition from a fearful Urmila on the second day to the Urmila who was emerging on the fourth day, speaking confidently with great understanding on the subject matter, was a heartening and profound experience for everyone at the training. She said that the training was not only helpful in terms of knowledge, but she feels she has regained her lost confidence from the trauma she experienced seven years ago. During the self-efficacy pre and post-test she had achieved an overall growth of 144%.

She learnt about market assessments as a prerequisite to starting up a business during the training, and after the training when she went to her village she did an analysis herself on the village market. She realised her village does not have a cosmetic shop. To buy a hairpin, rubber band or a shampoo, women in her village have to travel to Dhangadhi which is a half an hour bike ride away. She now intends to apply for a GTF loan to start up a cosmetic shop in her village which she thinks will be profitable. She said, “I feel I can do something in life now. I saw girls who are like me who had left their studies and I know now life doesn’t end here and I can have a bright future. I feel like living again.”

The STEM Programme (Supporting the Education of Marginalised Girls in Kailali) is a 1.7 million DFID funded programme that works with around 8,000 in-school girls between grades 6 and 10, and out-of-school girls who dropped out during the same school years. The programme activities include: campaigning to promote girls’ education; training school teachers, school management personnel and parents; upgrading school infrastructures; offering vocational training and business start-up loans; using clean energy technology to impact on study time; delivering critical academic support, life skills and sexual and reproductive health training to girls; and providing training and employment opportunities to help girls transition from school into employment. The project began in January 2014 and will close out in August 2016.

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