"I want to work at a hospital when I grow up," says Aasmin from Nepal. 👩⚕️Published: Jan 23, 2023 Reading time: 4 minutes
On a dreary December morning in the Bara district of Madhesh Pradesh, southern Nepal, fourteen-year-old Aasmin Khatun is tending to her household chores as her mother and grandmother instruct her from the background. Aasmin’s three sisters—all younger—run around in the courtyard and play with each other.
“I like it when it is dark,” Aasmin says, sitting in one of the only two rooms in their house and looking at the lone bulb in the ceiling. The cold season in Nepal’s Terai region can be cruel, especially during the peak of winter when there is nothing but haze for miles, and the sunlight is nowhere to be seen. During these days, houses without proper lighting are dim, and daytime can be as dark as dusk— especially if one tends to keep the windows shut to protect themselves from the biting cold.
Aasmin’s two-storied house, constructed by her grandfather, who succumbed to COVID-19 a couple of years ago, was facing an electricity outage. Her mother, Imrana Khatun, points to the ceiling amidst my conversation with Aasmin and tells me in her native language that her husband works as an electrician in Punjab, an agricultural state in northern India, where vast numbers of Nepalis work as both seasonal and migrant laborers.
Aasmin dropped out of school when she was eight years old because she was diagnosed with a chronic eye condition condemning her to live with a disability; at school, she was bullied and made fun of by her classmates, those who could see well but failed to see through their friend’s pain. Her parents took her to a hospital but returned because they could not afford to give her the required treatment.
Thanks to the Girls’ Education Challenge funded by UK Aid and supported Aarambha project, Aasmin is re-enrolled in school. The project also paid for her treatment and purchased the glasses that were too expensive for her parents to buy. Additionally, the project coordinated with the local government and obtained a Nepal Government-approved disability card for Aasmin. With the card, Aasmin receives 12,000 Nepalese Rupees from the government every three months. Her mother tells me they use the money to buy clothes, stationery, and other personal items for Aasmin.
With the support of Girls’ Education Challenge funded by UK Aid, People in Need started the five-year project Aarambha-Leave No Girl Behind with its local partner Aasaman Nepal and the Social Organization District Coordination Committee, Parsa, in 2018. Aarambha-Leave No Girl Behind seeks to improve the lives of out-of-school adolescent girls aged between 10 and 19 through literacy, numeracy, life skills, and community mobilization for social transformation.
The girls receive literacy and numeracy classes and can start their own businesses or return to school to complete their formal education. After nine months of attending these classes, Aasmin re-enrolled in school and has been able to tell her family to wait until she is at least 20 years old before they decide to marry her.
She tells me that she likes indoors because the sunlight hurts her eyes outside. “I want to work at a hospital when I grow up,” says Aasmin. “It is indoors, and it is also possible to work at a hospital at night.” Upon reflection, she admits that she is happy to work anywhere with an indoor office. For Aasmin, realizing her dream of working at a hospital may require a perilous journey that she will have to overcome with strength and patience. “My family is poor, and we struggle financially every day of our lives. I want to complete my education and earn for my family,” she tells me.
After taking part in People in Need’s Aarambha project, Aasmin and 9,496 other girls have received life skill training and education on various subjects, especially regarding legal and societal repercussions of harmful traditional practices such as child marriage and the dowry system.
For Aasmin and other children living with disabilities, access to education is not easy, especially in rural parts of Nepal. Nevertheless, her neighbors in the community support her decision to return to school and motivate her to finish her studies. “I really wanted to go to school and finish my education, but I got married when I was Aasmin’s age,” a neighbor I met on my way outside Aasmin’s house tells me. “I keep telling Aasmin’s family to ensure she studies well so that she can become independent and take care of them. It is a blessing for Aasmin that she got a chance to return to school - such opportunities are rare, and only lucky people receive them,” she said.