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“If I can help my children with their homework, it will be a big achievement for me…”

Anju with her children

When Anju dropped out of school to become love married before turning 13 she was studying in grade 6. Despite her in-laws pleading with her to continue her education, she refused, wanting to stay at home instead. Twelve years on, her feelings about education have changed. At the age of 25, and as the sole carer for her three sons (an 11 year old and 4 year old twins) since her husband has been working in Malaysia for the past 5 years and is only able to visit from time to time, and her in-laws have moved to Kathmandu to work on a farm, Anju has become increasingly isolated. With very little land to cultivate, until this year completely reliant on herself for labour, and a growing family with growing needs, Anju acutely feels the real consequences of her lack of education. The EGAP (Educate Girls. Alleviate Poverty) Campaign implemented in her area as part of the STEM programme rang true for her - that girls education leads to skills and opportunities which potentially lead to greater income, better health, less hardship, and a more secure future for the whole family. Despite her change of heart, all attempts to become more skilled had failed prior to STEM, as "sometimes training opportunities came up in our VDC, but I couldn’t even join a course because I don’t have the qualifications they require to enrol."

Her husband and her in-laws have been extremely encouraging of her recent decision to go back to Janajagrity HSS School in Fulbari, but Anju’s confidence and conscience have played a major part in this decision: “Sometimes my oldest son asks me to help him with his homework and I don’t know what to say. I feel so guilty. Being able to one day help my sons is very motivating.”

Anju has enlisted the support of her sister-in-law to help her with her work and plans her days around her education as well as her children’s: "Now I wake up at 4.45 in the morning, prepare breakfast, feed my children and send them to school. When they are gone, I go by bicycle." Anju’s twins are attending nursery at the same school and she confided in the school principal – who she spoke to after being inspired by the EGAP Campaign - that she worries that if her children know she is there, they might come to her class and disturb her. Despite these challenges, Anju is determined to continue.

Going back to school is in itself a challenge where catching up feels more like starting from the beginning: "My friends and teachers are very good with me. They are very supportive but technically I find it very difficult. After almost 13 years outside of education I struggle with many things, especially English. I need to start right from the beginning with ABCD. I find it hard to understand what is going on, but I never feel weak because I am trying."

When asked what she hoped to achieve in going back to school, Anju’s answer was simple: "I don’t have very big goals; mainly I just want to learn some things for my children. If I can help them with their homework so their futures can be better, it will be a big achievement for me."

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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