In rural Nepal, women and girls can often be excluded from social, educational and political roles that could help them make a lasting difference to their communities. Many are responsible for both household chores and working to provide for the family, leaving them with little time or no incentive to attend school.
Yam Kumari Gurung, 36, is one of a handful of female head teachers in the country. It’s particularly rare for a woman to be presiding over a rural school like the one in Jawang village, where Yam Kumari is inspiring a wave of young girls to achieve their dreams.
It’s quite an achievement, as Yam herself was one of the first girls in her community to finish primary school, and one of even fewer to continue her studies in another city away from home.
Her achievements were possible because her parents were steadfast against village gossip that sending a girl away to study would lead to disrepute. She needed to be literate so the family could send letters to their father, who was serving abroad in the Indian army.
Putting girls on the map
Yam’s passion for education brought her home after she took a job as a teacher at the Rastrinimavi primary school.
“I came back to my village because I believed that it should have an opportunity to develop. The community has a positive way of thinking. If only one girl in the village passes her secondary school exams then that girl will get respect and become a role model,” she says.
A condition of her employment was to promote education for girls in the area. She went around the family houses, talking to parents and guardians about the importance of education for their girls. As a direct result her interactions, the number of girls completing primary education rose.
After 14 years of teaching, Yam was promoted to head teacher. The school has very limited resources, including only three teachers, so often she has to teach almost every subject. Nonetheless, it’s a position she has earned and enjoys immensely.
Despite all her achievements, she says she is still challenged by the legacies of patriarchy, saying;
“Even after teaching in this school for so many years, some people in the community still don’t feel completely comfortable with me being the head teacher. They don’t believe I can fully represent the school, and improve the conditions on a district level the way that a man ‘could’. Even though my qualifications are the same or even better, men would still be selected for a higher position before I would be. ”
Yam has worked tirelessly for her dream of becoming a teacher and improving the lives of young girls. She’s even put off having a family of her own, dedicating all of her time to the education of others.
As a role model with Sisters for Sisters, a VSO-supported project that aims to improve girls education opportunities she helps match up under-performing students with ‘Big Sister’ mentors.
She says, “Every girl needs an education to be independent and take care of herself. Education is the same as learning a skill. Girls need to fight against the structures and beliefs that may try to keep them small. My dream is that one day, they will all be equal.”