Reflections By Board Member Sarah Andrews
I can’t remember where I first saw the photo below of three young girls in rural Nepal using a frightening, trapeze-like pulley to cross a river on their way to school, but I do remember having a visceral reaction to it of disbelief and awe. In addition to being blown away by the peril that these girls have to face every day in order to get an education, I was impressed by their courage and determination. Not a personal fan of treacherous heights, I cannot honestly say where I might be today if as a child I had to face a tightrope above a raging river twice daily just to get to school. I can imagine, though, that blowing it all off and staying home would have sounded like a very appealing option.
This past March when visiting the village of Basa in the Solukhumbu District of Nepal, where Edge of Seven is currently working with local organizations and members of the community to build a new higher secondary school, I had the opportunity to witness this kind of resolve in person. Arriving at the project site one very windy morning, I saw a cluster of girls gathered under a tree with their teacher. Because the village lacks enough classroom space for all the students, this lesson was taking place outdoors. It was a workable arrangement on that particular day, with skies sunny and temperatures cool, but one that would be completely impossible during monsoon season or the region’s extremely cold winters. (Edge of Seven’s new higher secondary school will provide enough classroom space for all of the students in the village.)
But the lack of legitimate desks and basic walls to block out the wind that ruffled the pages of their workbooks didn’t seem to bother the girls. They remained hunched, pencils-down over their papers, intent on absorbing all the information they could on this day when conditions were right for class to take place at all. In a country that is rife with weather inconsistencies and political strikes that close down schools, people learn to take full advantage of those moments where everything is in working order.
I’ve served on Edge of Seven’s board since its founding, and during that time I’ve been fortunate enough to volunteer on three of the organization’s projects, all of which have been initiated and driven by the communities themselves. For the past eight months, I have lived in Nepal and was able to assist on the Basa school project and the primary school that Edge of Seven and our local partner, The Small World, recently completed in the village of Phuleli. Despite the lack of electricity and consistently running water, I loved living in Nepal and am grateful for the opportunity it provided me to gain a wider understanding of a beautiful country that has over the years come to be like my second home.
While I can’t say that this wider understanding has led me to complete comprehension of how one might tackle all of the challenges facing people in Nepal, I can say that I feel more certain than ever that creating opportunities for education and empowerment, particularly for girls, is the best way toward progress and positive change in the country. That’s why I am proud to work with Edge of Seven and our local partners like The Small World who are tackling the issue at its roots by providing classroom infrastructure, scholarship assistance, additional teaching staff, and direct support to community-driven initiatives in rural Nepal.
I have been humbled more times than I can count by the determined spirits of the many young Nepali girls I’ve been blessed to meet over the years. And I’ve been inspired by the dreams that they have for their futures and the sacrifices they’re willing to make to make those dreams come true. I often wish I could have met these girls when I was their age. My younger self could have surely benefitted from the lessons my older self has learned from them.
I’m going to go ahead and risk sounding cheesy here by quoting a lyric from one of my favorite Arcade Fire songs, which says, “Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home.” I thought of it often in Nepal, because I think the same could be said about dreams. The dreams these girls have for their lives need to be nurtured and supported in order for them to become reality. When I see a completed Edge of Seven school or hostel, I don’t just see a building. I see a home for the hopes that the girls we work with have inside of them – a place where they can come out into the world and flourish.
You can follow Sarah on Twitter @atxsarah.