One of my bosses shared this short essay with me a few weeks ago. She didn’t know where she had read the essay but had kept it for many years. I was really inspired by the essay, it is just so beautiful what a little of education can do not only to a person but also the community. I think it easy to take education for granted especially when you live in a country like the US, where basic education is accessible to all (I know this is not as simple as I stated but that’s another post). I looked up Chameli Waiba and found a few articles on her. She is one truly amazing person and I wanted to share her story. You can read more about her here.
The Magic Of Letters
I believe in the alphabet, because it has the power to change life.
I realized the power concealed in the alphabet on the very first day I joined the adult literacy class. For the first time, I was introduced to letters that stood for my name. In discovering the Nepali alphabet, I discovered I was Cha-me-li and not Cha-mi-li, as everyone used to call me. It felt like magic. A little loop of “e” for “i” changed my name!
If three letters could change my name, how much would I be able to transform my life if I understood all the letters? I spent that whole evening writing and rewriting my name. After that, I carried the spelling book with me while I went to collect firewood, weed the maize field, just everywhere, until I learned to write.
Before learning how to write, my life was like the nearby Indrasarovar Lake, always stagnant. I had the pain of child marriage, my husband did not support me, abject poverty was my way of life and I didn’t have any skill or courage to do anything. But I saw that the number of people learning to read and write was growing — and their lives were improving. I then realized it was neither wealth nor beauty that I lacked, but letters.
As my new knowledge of words boosted my confidence and courage, I made a resolution: Yes, my life has been like this, but I and my sisters and brothers should be given education, as much as we would like.
The immediate obstacle to this was the Tasar River. The village school was on the other side of the river and children would be cut off from going to school during monsoon season. I wanted to erect a bridge over the river. In the beginning the villagers did not help. Some even mocked the idea, saying it was only for me and called the idea, “Chameli Bridge.” But finally we got support, materials were collected, volunteer laborers were available and the bridge was finally constructed.
Now I cannot express my satisfaction seeing children running to school over that bridge. It is a bridge of iron, a bridge of letters, a bridge of community. Nothing is achieved without the cooperation of all.
I am now heading five women’s microsaving groups. Ten or 20 rupees that used to be spent buying petty cosmetic items have been collected into a fund of 300,000 rupees. We are planning to open a small cooperative in the village soon. We also want to run permanent literacy classes for women and open a library.
All this is the result of my knowing the alphabet, even though I learned it late. Letters have immense power. They have magic. The greatest thing in the world is the alphabet. That is my belief.
We all know that education is important for women especially those living in poor countries. Almost all aid organizations emphasizes how a family and community can change for the better if more women had access. According to this survey, 57% of the Nepali adult population (15 years+) is literate, less than 50% of adult women are literate. There are huge gaps amongst rural and urban residents when it comes to education, however, most of Nepal’s population live in rural areas.
So my question is, what can we do that hasn’t already been done to increase access to education, especially adult women who have never been to school or left at a young age? I know that are many programs and non profits dedicated to helping younger girls but what about the mothers and grandmothers? How can we inspire them like Chameli does?