Spring Updates from Saptari District

Spring Updates from Saptari District

NYF’s long-term Caste Equality Project (CEP) is our most ambitious and daring undertaking yet. Our goal is to empower Dalit communities in Nepal to access the opportunities and resources they need to build towards the futures they envision for themselves and their children.

In order to meet these goals, NYF launched two phases of the Caste Equality Project. Phase I was the Educating Dalit Lawyers (EDL) initiative, which we launched in the summer of 2022. (You can read more about EDL here). Phase II of the Caste Equality Project takes place in Saptari District. The project is led by NYF’s very own Lalit Gahatraj, and it officially launched in the summer of 2023. We’re anticipating the work in this phase to be a decades-long project in order for us to truly build a transformative and sustainable movement.

Almost a year into the launch of the project in Saptari District, we’re thrilled to share some exciting updates!

Education Advocacy

At the end of April, NYF officially launched the School Enrollment Campaign for students in Saptari District in Tirhut Rural Municipality. In collaboration with the local government, NYF set into motion a vibrant initiative aimed at boosting school enrollment in the region. Our dedicated team, alongside enthusiastic students and teachers, began spreading the word across communities with energizing rallies and personalized home visits to promote the value of education.

On May 3rd, NYF kicked off the campaign by taking to the streets. Community members and students made posters and marched through their communities while chanting inspirational slogans like, “Send all children to school/leave no one behind!” & “Quality education is our right!”

Our team also made door-to-door visits to encourage parents to enroll their children in school. At the same time, they addressed concerns and answered any questions parents may have.

Then, in mid-May, NYF distributed hundreds of school uniforms and bags to children in the region. These uniforms were handmade by our industrial tailoring students enrolled at Olgapuri Vocational School. You can read more about this unique, cross-program detail in a recent blog post, here.

The School Enrollment Campaign ran until May 10th. Lalit Gahatraj, CEP Coordinator, shared that the early signs are very promising, with an uptick in school attendance already noted! This surge is partly attributed to the community buzz around NYF’s scholarships and nutritious mid-day meal programs, which are drawing more and more families to enroll their children into school.

Peer Counseling Program

In mid-April, thirty girls (aged 13 to 19) from the rural municipality of Tirhut in Saptari District, traveled with our staff to Olgapuri Village to participate in a five-day Peer Counseling training at our very own Ankur Counseling Center. The training began April 23rd.

For many of these girls, it was their first time leaving their village, a journey that brought both excitement and apprehension. Our staff dedicated a lot of time to earn and maintain their trust while supporting them every step of the way.

Building peer counseling skills within individuals will help empower young leaders to make an impact in their own communities. This is a prime example of NYF’s approach to addressing the “felt needs” of communities over “observed needs,” which includes recognizing community members as experts of their own experiences, successes, and challenges. This community-centered approach is a cornerstone of NYF’s strategy to ensure sustainable, far-reaching social change!

We’re excited to see the impact this peer counseling program will have on the wider Dalit community.

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Street Drama Campaigns

In February 2024, over 100 people gathered to watch ten girls from Tirhut Rural Municipality, Saptari District, perform their first street drama. Their play tackles various scenarios related to child marriage. This included dowry negotiations by the groom’s family and self-serving middlemen, the squandering of dowry funds on alcohol, a daughter’s stand against her forced marriage, and harmful consequences for girls experiencing early marriage.

The audience, including men, women, children, and elders, responded positively. During a guided discussion following the play, one man observed, “We often engage in certain practices without fully comprehending the consequences. This play was an effective eye-opener.”

New Community Centers in Saptari District

Construction begins with a groundbreaking ceremony

In early April, NYF hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of two new community centers in Saptari District. The ceremony was completed in collaboration with village members, and a respected elder named Chebli Sada performed a “jag puja,” or foundation blessing, to purify the land. The blessing was an important start to the construction of the ceremony because it allowed a connection to the spirits of the land and the ancestral deities of the people we’re serving. She also led a prayer to ensure a smooth progression of construction, free from hindrances and misfortune. Offerings of sweets, betel nuts, betel leaves, and incense were buried beneath the foundation, symbolizing a blessed new beginning.

Since the ceremony, construction on the two community centers have been underway, with a tentative completion date for June.

Community Centers will serve as vital hubs for Caste Equality Project programs

These two community centers in Saptari District will house most of our programs in the Caste Equality Project, holding spaces for education, childcare, and other important initiatives like:

  • Adult literacy classes (reading, home finance, legal literacy)
  • Town meetings where teachers, parents, and local leaders build community-wide, unified strategies
  • Nutrition-focused home cooking classes for mothers, applying NRH principles
  • Disaster preparedness programs
  • Peer counseling
  • Women’s empowerment and co-op groups
  • Teacher training

The plan is to hire staff for the centers from within the communities served, to build sustainable local capacity. Each center (and we hope to build more!) aids NYF’s sustainability in Saptari District, expands and enhances regional impact, and resources NYF to pursue its vision for meaningful change for the communities served. The more centers we fund, the more strongly we can scale while maintaining existing momentum.

The enthusiasm from the community in response has been heartwarming. We’ve seen widespread eagerness to engage, a testament to the importance of community involvement in bringing sustainable changes. Our late founder Olga Murray’s vision is alive and well, manifesting visibly in the strides we are making in Saptari District.

These initial campaigns have been made possible by several generous friends in the NYF Community. But we still need wider support to continue our work within (and beyond) the Caste Equality Project. Please click here to make a donation if you’re able to!