International Youth Day 2021: SAAET Stories from Early Project Graduates!
International Youth Day
International Youth Day occurs every year on August 12th. It’s a valuable chance created by the UN to focus on the biggest issues facing young people throughout the world. The theme in 2021 is “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health.” As the world population grows and nations respond to climate change, sustainable food systems will become more important than ever. To achieve the necessary changes, the participation of young people is critical!
This International Youth Day is a great opportunity to share some of the earliest success stories from NYF’s new SAAET Project!
The SAAET Project
Saaet is Nepali for “an auspicious moment of starting a new journey” – and at NYF, it stands for Sustainable Agricultural and Entrepreneur Training.
This project tackles gender inequality, skills development, and food systems all at once. Designed especially with young women in mind, this course brings simplified greenhouse technology and up-to-date organic agricultural practices to individuals hoping to achieve financial success while staying within their home communities.
NYF’s Vocational Education and Career Counseling Program (VECC) offers multiple job readiness and vocational education options to Nepalese young people seeking career opportunities close to home. Those we help are experiencing many different kinds of barriers to economic success—but those most in need are usually young women.
The SAAET Project is just one part of NYF’s work to combat child marriage in Nepal, and part of our commitment to helping young women and girls find economic empowerment on their own terms.
Our first class of SAAET students were Freed Kamlaris from the Western Terai. Their training took place in March-April 2021—let’s see how they’re doing!
When Sunita was only 13 years old, her father sent her to work as a kamlari far away from her home in Bardiya District. In exchange for her labor, the family was promised two things: they would be allowed a large enough plot of leased land to feed the family year-round, and Sunita would be sent to school.
As so often happened, the promise about Sunita’s education was broken. She worked as a kamlari for 5 years, until she was 18 years old. NYF knew about her situation from surveys conducted in the village, and we had to threaten legal action to finally bring her home.
Sunita is 26 years old now, and the memories of her days as a kamlari are still fresh and painful. She worked extremely long hours, from early in the morning to very late at night, locked in the house doing cooking, cleaning, childcare, and any other work that came up. Sunita hopes no child ever has to suffer that way again.
Once rescued, Sunita enrolled in grade 6 and managed to complete her studies through grade 10. In Nepal, all students must take the notorious “Iron Gate” exam (the Secondary Education Examination) at the end of grade 10. This extremely rigorous test determines who can move forward. Sunita was unable to pass the Iron Gate, so her academic studies ended there.
She got married in her early 20s and, through NYF support, took an 18-month vocational course in agriculture. Sunita and her husband decided they preferred the idea of farming over the notion of working for someone else, so they applied for a microloan from their local co-operative and started banana farming. Soon they added vegetables, chickens, and pigs. Sunita and her husband have been happy to be able to pay back the co-operative loan, and they’re paying the lease on their land through their own earnings now.
But Sunita hopes to be able to own the land outright and expand the business further.
That’s why she was so happy to join the first class of the SAAET Project. The material taught in the class expanded Sunita’s existing knowledge of best agricultural practices and gave her great new ideas for her farm. She also learned helpful business practices!
When she returned home, the spring COVID outbreak was just hitting the Western Terai, and shutdowns made accessing building materials more difficult than expected. But Sunita was still able to start working on her own new greenhouse, which will allow her even more crop flexibility. She is already harvesting her first greenhouse crops, and she’s looking forward to being able to continue growing vegetables through the winter months. Sunita and her husband are hoping their farm will become a model for other farmers in the region.
“Dhanyabad, NYF!” she says. “I am very grateful for the invaluable support I have received from NYF which has transformed my life beyond my imagination.”
When Lila was born, her entire family was bonded in a practice called Kamaiya. Nepal abolished the Kamaiya system in 2000, freeing the family from this exploitative practice. But without much government support for families like Lila’s, they soon needed access to farmland they could only get by making Lila a kamlari for their landlord. (Kamlari was the last remaining piece of the old Kamaiya system.)
“My landlords did not send me to school, but I missed going to school badly. I was studying in grade 4 when I had to become a kamlari,” Lila says. “I had to sacrifice my education just for my family to be able to get two decent meals a day. There was no way the landlord would give us the land for farming if I refused to work.” Lila was ten years old and carrying the threat of her whole family’s starvation on her shoulders.
As a kamlari, “I had to do all the work from cooking, cleaning and looking after the landlord’s children, to cutting and collecting fodder for the cattle,” she recalls. “If I was ever late to come home or late for work, I would be scolded badly.”
One year into her time in bondage, Lila learned about an anti-kamlari campaign in her village. “I feel so lucky that I did not have to work as a kamlari as long as so many of my friends did,” Lila says. NYF had been collecting the names of known kamlari girls, and Lila’s name had appeared on these lists. “I was worried I wouldn’t be able to go to school after returning home, but on the day of my rescue, I heard that the same organization would be sending me to school, too. I felt so happy. I suddenly felt so relieved and light at heart because I would not have to bear the anger and scolding from the landlords anymore.”
Lila studied all the way through 12th grade and then completed an 18-month agricultural science course on an NYF scholarship. She and several other freed girls established their local co-operative to help their community grow its economic power, and Lila helped her family start up a vegetable farm that could feed them year-round and even bring in up to $60 a month.
Lila got her greenhouse started right away when she returned home from the SAAET training. Her family is already seeing the benefits of the program on their diet and on their ability to bring in extra cash! She is looking forward to adding in the drip irrigation system soon, and is planning her strategies for fall and winter crops.
Now, at age 26, Lila knew she needed a bit more specialized knowledge to take the family farm from subsistence agriculture to a fully-fledged business. She was thrilled to hear about the SAAET Project.
“During the training I learnt about increasing production by growing vegetables throughout the year using more efficient tools and techniques,” she explains. “I also learnt about organic farming and producing organic pesticides by myself. NYF not only provided the skills but also a start-up fund for us to build a greenhouse. With the money and the skills, I and my family have built a greenhouse near our house and have already started vegetable farming. I am confident that we can produce far more than before and increase our income. Gradually we plan to expand greenhouse farming and establish a successful business.”
Arati was ten years old when her father sold her off as a kamlari in a different village. “Even now, I always get sad and wonder what made my father to sell me as a kamlari,” Arati says. “I try and console myself that it was not entirely his fault alone, and that he was a victim of the oppression and the ill practice of slavery of the Tharu people.”
Memories of her kamlari years are painful and difficult for Arati. “My parents had sent me as a kamlari on the condition that I should be sent to school. The landlords therefore admitted me in school, but I was able to go to school only after finishing all the work at home. I had to wake up in the dark hours before four o’clock in the morning and start my chores. I looked after the landlord’s children, cooked, cleaned, did the dishes, and all the other chores around the home. The landlords would get very angry if I made any mistake and scolded me constantly.” Arati takes some faint consolation in the fact that her landlords did not beat her.
“I was desperately looking for a release from this condition,” Arati recalls. “I wanted to be free like other children and go to school like them.”
After three years, a massive anti-kamlari campaign took hold in Arati’s village and she was rescued from bondage by NYF. “I felt very lucky that I got this life changing opportunity,” she says, “and I pursued my studies seriously.”
Arati recently completed the 12th grade. During her studies, she was part of a group of freed girls who established a local co-operative for savings and credit. She’s a proud contributing member of this co-op.
Back in 2018, Arati and her family acquired a plot of land to start a vegetable farm—but they have not managed to run it in a systematic, commercial manner. Arati signed up right away when she heard about the SAAET Project, knowing the training would make a huge difference.
“During the training we (21 girls including me) learnt a lot about using more advanced tools and technology for greenhouse farming, and about adopting agriculture as an income-generating enterprise.
After I returned home from training, I have built a greenhouse and started vegetable farming with the help of my family. I now have the knowledge about both seasonal and off-season farming, which will enable us to produce vegetables throughout the year. I am confident that by using the knowledge and skill I acquired from the training, we can easily increase the production and income by as much as three times than what we are able to do now. My parents are also very happy and proud of me and the work we are doing as a family.”
Those in Arati’s village are already spreading the word that she has vegetables to sell! Her farm, and others like it, will make an enormous difference in the health of the surrounding communities.
Only the Beginning
The SAAET Project has developed organically as NYF has responded to the pandemic—and we are enthusiastic about developing it further. This International Youth Day, we are so proud to be helping communities of young people pull their communities forward using new innovations and skills.
As Nepal’s economy heals from the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts, young people in Nepal will need job preparedness training and career education more than ever.
To help us continue offering the SAAET Project and other vocational training programs, please donate today, and share our message on social media!
(For an even greater future impact, consider celebrating National Make a Will Month throughout August 2021 by joining our Legacy Circle!)
Frontline Warrior: NYF’s Lila Tharu Celebrates Freedom Day by Saving Lives
Frontline warrior healthcare workers across the world have spent nearly 18 months battling COVID-19 to defend their communities. These heroes have saved countless lives during the pandemic.
For one of these warriors, Lila Tharu, age 26 (below), her status as a nurse and midwife is a source of particular satisfaction. NYF is proud to count Lila among our many accomplished alumni now to heal their communities during this crisis.
Kamlari Freedom Day
Sunday, June 27th, 2021 marks the 8th anniversary of the legal abolition of the kamlari practice in Nepal – otherwise known as Kamlari Freedom Day.
Kamlari was a form of indentured servitude which exploited the daughters of the Tharu ethnic minority group in Western Nepal’s Terai region. After generations of predatory lending by more powerful “land-owning” groups, the practice emerged as the only way for families to pay back exorbitant generational debts.
At every Tharu New Year, parents sold their daughters – some as young as six years old – to work long hours in the homes of strangers. In return, families would receive an average of only $30 for an entire year of their child’s labor. Thousands of Tharu girls spent their entire childhoods in kitchen slavery. Some never returned home.
To people in the Western Terai, the kamlari practice had come to seem inevitable – a baked-in cultural truth that very few people dared to question.
Lila Tharu – Kamlari Life, Rescue & Education
Lila was born in Thakurbaba Municipality in Bardiya District and she was sent away to work as a kamlari in 2005, when she was 12. Her two older sisters had also worked as kamlaris.
After two years working in her master’s house and being denied an education, Lila was identified and rescued by Nepal Youth Foundation in 2007. Through the Indentured Daughters program, her family was provided with economic support to offset Lila’s lost “wage” as well as the materials needed to allow Lila to return to school: a kerosene lamp to study by, a school uniform, notebooks, and more.
Lila was a determined student who dreamed of becoming a midwife. Soon after her rescue, she was enrolled in grade 7 at a local school. She completed high school (10th grade at the time in Nepal) in 2012, passing her country’s notorious SLC “Iron Gate” exam and earning a place in the Auxiliary Nurse Midwife program at Sushma Koirala Memorial Institute in Nepalgunj. NYF provided her with a college scholarship throughout her studies.
NYF continued to provide career support as Lila began her nursing career in a private hospital in Banke District. And in November 2016, she finally landed her dream job as an Auxiliary Nurse Midwife at Bheri Hospital in Nepalgunj, the largest government hospital in the region. She has remained there ever since, continuing her education by taking Nursing Care and Skilled Birth Attendant trainings to further enhance her skills.
The salary she brings home each month is far beyond what members of the Tharu community thought possible for one of their daughters only 10 to 20 years ago. Not only is Lila serving a critical role in her community’s health system—she is proving the incredible potential within a Tharu girl.
Lila Tharu – Frontline Warrior
At the beginning of 2020, Lila was living at home with her mother while continuing her career. Lila’s father had passed away years before, and her two sisters were now married.
Things changed in Lila’s work life when the pandemic hit. She was added to a special COVID treatment team early on and assigned temporarily to nearby Sushil Koirala Cancer Hospital in Khajura. This hospital had been set aside especially for COVID patients, and Lila worked there for several weeks during the pandemic’s first wave. She also served COVID patients in mandated isolation in a Kalpatri hotel during this time.
Now, during Nepal’s intense second COVID wave, Lila’s hospital in Nepalgunj is at the epicenter of the crisis. Many young people from Western Nepal cross the border into India to find work, and when the virus surged in India earlier this year, they fled back north to escape the pandemic – not realizing they were bringing the virus home with them.
Bheri Hospital now has four dedicated COVID wards, and Lila (below, in white at far right), who has valuable COVID Care experience from 2020, is a frontline warrior in one of them.
She is hard at work monitoring her patients’ vital signs, measuring oxygen levels, and providing intravenous therapy and medicine, as well as other critical care. COVID death rates for hospitalized patients are frighteningly high everywhere, and Lila’s ward is no different. During this second surge, they have lost an average of 3-4 patients per day. But Lila tries to remember the lives she has helped to save as well. Many of her surviving patients would not be able to return home if not for her.
In spite of rigorous safety protocols, Lila herself caught COVID in the spring, like many other frontline warriors across the world. Fortunately, her symptoms were mild, and after a short isolation, she returned courageously to the COVID ward to continue her lifesaving work.
She will continue this work until her expertise is no longer required in the COVID ward. She (below, preparing medicines for a patient) is proud to be doing this important work in her community – and grateful to the NYF Community for making her journey possible.
Just One Story of Thousands
Lila says she was afraid when the virus first arrived in Nepal – but she is extremely dedicated to the community she serves. Her courage is nothing new to NYF.
Like the other Freed Kamlari women, Lila had already experienced intense hardship and taken many daring steps before COVID arrived. Together, while most of them were still children, these girls dared to challenge their communities, abandon their masters, question their culture, and declare their own worth. Many of them returned home to families who resented them for taking such bold steps. Others were injured while marching for kamlari freedom, as police objected to the girls’ protests against the government.
Lila is one of thousands of Freed Kamlari who refused to stop simply at being rescued from an exploitative practice.
She and so many others have claimed their personal power by seizing educational opportunities and chasing their dreams – and working to lift their sisters and daughters in the process. Some are becoming lawyers, determined to defend human rights. Others have become small business owners or specialized farmers, gradually building personal and generational wealth in ways their parents could not.
And some, like Lila Tharu, dreamed of helping others in the healthcare field. They’ve grown up to be frontline warriors in a global crisis they never imagined.
Happy Kamlari Freedom Day, Lila!
Happy Freedom Day to ALL of the Freed Kamlaris
and to the young girls and women who will never be bonded away!
And Happy Freedom Day to the NYF Community – to everyone who helped support this incredible program. Lila’s story, and so many others like it, are proof of the amazing way your #LoveWorks.
To help celebrate this joyous occasion and support the education of brave young women like Lila, please make a thoughtful gift for NYF Scholarships or our Vocational Education program on our donation page.
SAAET Project: Lockdown inspires new growth for young women in Nepal
A letter from President Som Paneru
Dear NYF friends and family,
One year ago, just before the pandemic began, NYF was working to engage more women in our vocational education programs. We had seen that most of the young people interested in coming to Olgapuri Vocational School were young men—no matter how hard we tried to encourage young women to apply.
We reached out to families and learned that many young women were anxious about living near a big city like Kathmandu. Others insisted that even if they learned the skills offered—carpentry, plumbing, welding, and electrical—the pervasive culture of workplace sexism in Nepal would ensure they never truly advanced in a career. To these young women, the risks associated with these career goals were simply too great. As we worked to design an enriched program especially for them, the pandemic arrived. Olgapuri Vocational School was forced to shut its doors until further notice.
That is when the pandemic forced us to look at the problem differently.
During the lockdown, a generous donor helped us begin building a beautiful group of greenhouses on the Olgapuri grounds. As I oversaw the progress, I wondered—could we design a pandemic-safe vocational education program for young women that could bring greenhouse technology and training to their villages?
Greenhouses are relatively inexpensive to build and maintain, and can provide an enormous economic benefit to women in rural communities.
This is how the new SAAET Project was born. Saaet means “an auspicious moment of starting a new journey” – and it stands for Sustainable Agricultural and Entrepreneur Training.
Starting this spring, our greenhouse trainer will travel to rural villages to quarantine and then provide hands-on training to classes of 20 young women each. Students will learn the basics of organic farming, nursery techniques, construction and use of plastic greenhouse and drip irrigation, budgeting, bookkeeping, and more. By the end of the training, each woman will be prepared to manage her own greenhouse—feeding herself and her family with nutrient-rich vegetables, and often making extra income, even during a crisis.
Including the start-up materials for each girl’s fully-functional greenhouse, the project’s cost per village is $7,500. In our first year, we hope to bring the SAAET Project to five villages—or 100 young female entrepreneurs.
I am so grateful for the loving support that has made this project possible during an unprecedented crisis. Your gifts are helping Nepalese young people build towards better health and brighter futures.