The Slums of Surkhet

Ten minutes from the bus depot is a target-rich environment for slavers – a slum alongside the highway. The families living there are mostly from remote villages in Surkhet. They come looking for work and move into huts built illegally beside a busy, dusty highway.

Maya, an SGT alum and now SGT field worker in the area, took us inside. We crossed fetid open drains on sheets of plywood (there are no paths) to meet two of the SGT girls living there: Nila, and Mina.

Nila with her family in their home

Nila is 17, in grade eight, and has been in SGT for two years. “My stepmother is not supportive of my education. She doesn’t see the point. My elder sister dropped out in grade eight and my brother in grade six so that they could work to buy food. Without AHF’s help, I wouldn’t make it to grade ten.”

School, homework, extra tutoring, plus household chores don’t leave Nila much free time, but when she can she likes to read poetry. “I found a book of poems when I was in the fifth grade and really enjoyed reading them. I borrow poetry books from my friends when I can, because I can’t afford to buy them. My favorite poet is Laxmi Prasad Devkota [Nepal’s most famous poet] and his poem Don’t Pick the Flowers. It’s a metaphor for child marriage.”

Mina with her sister-in-law, Rajpura

Mina, now in grade 10, has a plan for her future. “I so want to be a forest ranger. I love animals, nature and the environment. In grades eleven and twelve we can now take elective, vocational subjects. From next year I’m going to be studying forestry.”

Mina's sister-in-law, Rajpura, never went to school and was illiterate when she married, but Mina is teaching her how to read and write. “She is a good teacher,” Rajpura told me, “She is a good writer and can read well. She is also patient with me and makes learning fun. I really enjoy her lessons.”

Nila and Mina, despite their poverty and difficult circumstances, are going to school and being kept safe by SGT’s network of field staff, and teachers. You can make an incredible difference to the lives of girls like these. They may have grown up in the slums of Surkhet, but they don’t have to grow old there, and their daughters don’t have to be destined to lives of abuse and squalor.

Do not pick the buds,

Do not pluck them, for it's a sin

Don’t rip the flowers, young ones,

Kindness and righteousness fade away...

                                        - Laxmi Prasad Devkota                                                                         excerpt from Don't Pick the Flowers