Friday, July 24, 2015
The 20 young adults who make up the first graduating class of the Kopila Valley School are truly inspirational. With the many challenges - and in many cases, profound losses - they have experienced, these graduates are well-spoken, talented, well-mannered, civic minded, and curious, with great hopes and aspirations for the future. Their interests span from engineering to computer science, from the arts to the medical profession.
They're also scared. Thinking of "the future" brings up many emotions; hopes and dreams, worries and fears. This is never more true than in the adolescent years. These young graduates are about to leave the Kopila Valley nest and begin their plus 2 higher education on a different campus, with different teachers, different classrooms, and a different student body.
Grades 11 and 12 are referred to as "plus 2" in Nepal. Standard education spans nursery through 10th grade, which is what we offer here at the Kopila Valley School. Plus 2 is the beginning of college. Students take a big government exam in grade 10 known as the School Leaving Certificate (SLC), and their scores on that test largely determine which plus 2 programs they'll be accepted into. They also choose their general field of study at this point. Nisha, for example, one of our very own kids at the Kopila Valley Children's Home, will be studying plus 2 science in order to fulfill her dream of being an oncologist.
And so we're navigating new waters, figuring out how best to support our young graduates as they begin this new chapter in their lives. We've brought together the best people we could find to form our new BlinkNow Futures committee, an international group of brilliant minds with years of combined educational experience. The committee's been hard at work researching opportunities and advising on the best course of action for our graduates.
The first step has been the creation of the BlinkNow Futures scholarship. Plus 2 programs in Nepal cost anywhere from $200 to $600 per year. The Futures committee also places a great deal of value on experiences gained outside the classroom, and so every scholarship recipient will be required to have an internship - a paid one. According to UNESCO, more than half of children in Nepal quit school before reaching grade 8, usually because of pressure to start earning money for their families. To incentivize our students to stay with their studies, we're committed to making sure our students are paid for the hours they work at their internships, even if that means we have to pay them ourselves.
I must admit it is hard in this location of remote Western Nepal to hear these aspirations and be a part of this conversation. We want to give these children the world, but their futures are very delicate. I'm convinced now more than ever that we're up to the task, and our students' future is a bright one.
"My father was abusive for my whole life. So many times, because of his beatings, my mom was admitted to the hospital. One night, the night that changed my life, he beat me, my brother, and my mom before leaving us. He beat my brother so badly that he broke his backbone. My brother couldn't stand correctly for a year afterward. My father went to live with his family in another city, but continued to torture us indirectly: he filed a case to take the land we were living on, and even though my mom fought it, he got half of it. Then he married another woman. My father never gave us the love that every child expects, he never supported me. But Kopila Valley did, always, through all my ups and downs. My mom still struggles with health problems and economic problems. She has a cow and sells its milk to the market, which is our only source of income. I know I would have quit my studies early on if it weren't for Kopila Valley. Now I want to be a social worker, I want to help people in trouble. I don't want others to suffer as I did in my life."
- Deepa, age 17, Kopila Valley School graduate & BlinkNow Futures scholarship recipient
"My mother died because of uterine cancer. There are thousands of women dying from uterine and breast cancer every year in Nepal, and there are so many kids without parents. I want to work with cancer patients and help them live longer so that there will be less kids like me in Nepal. I know how it feels to lose everything at a young age."
-Nisha, age 16, Kopila Valley School graduate & BlinkNow Futures scholarship recipient
"I still see lots of hidden tension and worries in my mom's face. And I am trying my best to reduce my mom's worries and make her happy. Even though I want to go out with my friends, I never let it show. I don't want my mom to see that I want something that she can't give me. I know how hard it is for a woman to take all the responsibility of two children and fulfill their demands. I hope to take away all the tension that my mom has now, and take all the responsibilities of my mom and my sister so that my dad can be really proud of me. I know he is not with me right now but he is always alive in my heart and memories. "
- Chetan, age 17, Kopila Valley School graduate & BlinkNow Futures scholarship recipient