How a man born into poverty in Nepal inspired thousands of children to finish school

Harriet Barber


An education pioneer born into rural poverty in Nepal has opened 30 schools in a bid to boost prospects for his country’s children.

The World Bank ranks Nepal as the globe’s 31st poorest country, with almost 10 million people living on daily incomes between £1.48 and £2.50. Many rural villages remain unreached by government schooling and adult literacy stood at just 60 per cent in 2011.

Surya Karki and his charity United World Schools Nepal (UWS) are tackling high illiteracy and poverty rates by funding and improving education.

The first school opened in 2015 – since then 92 per cent of children have completed primary education, which finishes at age eight, and continued into secondary education with UWS schools. In comparison to 39 per cent of students continuing education who attended government schools.

Mr Karki was born into poverty in rural Nepal. Speaking to the Telegraph he said: “School is the only solution to the poverty cycle that we live in. I was raised by a single mother in a male-dominated society.

“The school that I went to was approximately two hours walk away. My house was on top of a hill and my mother had to drag me across rivers. We used to walk 10 miles a day. The schooling was really bad.”

Of the students who would go to school, he said: “They would end up in the same place, as cheap migrant workers in Qatar, Saudi, or Dubai. There was no value in education – no success stories.”

Karki’s mother was a firm believer in education, and at age eight Karki secured a scholarship to study in the capital, Kathmandu. From there he won scholarships and completed masters degrees in China and the United States. He returned to Nepal in 2015 and decided to stay and develop the education system.

“It really boggled me that there had been no transformation in education,” Karki said. “Inequalities in a country can only be decreased if there is access to knowledge.”

The devastating earthquake in 2015 damaged 9,300 schools, displacing hundreds of thousands of families and pushing 700,000 people into poverty. As of January 2018, only 2,891 schools had been rebuilt. Karki said: “We came at a crucial time, where we could redo or undo what had been done badly. Education was really bad in terms of infrastructure, quality of teachers, training. It was an opportunity for us to really make things better.”

The UWS Nepal focus is on primary education. Karki said: “We lose approximately 75 per cent of children that enrol in grade one before they reach grade eight. The ones that make it into grade eight make it to a good life. That’s when they can think rationally for themselves and whether it’s a good idea to drop out or move on.”

UWS Nepal has so far built 30 schools and has seven more in construction. The schools run between 10am and 3:30pm, and have an 86 per cent average attendance rate, which Karki says is almost double the attendance rates for government schools in the vicinity. Sexual health classes are taught to the children in the later years.

“We brought in technology and computer education,” Karki continued. “We have dedicated trainers who go every week in a month to these schools and monitor how the teachers teach, and look at how we can improve.”

As an undergraduate at the time of founding the UWS Nepal, Karki said: “Initially as a 22-year-old telling the government that this was how we could transform education was really difficult. It was not seen positively, but with perseverance, the government came round to believing we could transform it.”

The charity is funded by donors in the UK and around the globe, including schools like Churcher’s College, Fitzwilliam College Cambridge, St. Christopher’s, Dubai College. Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever, is an individual donor, and the organisation’s biggest financial backing comes from Educate a Child, an international foundation based in Qatar.

Karki concludes with his mission: “At the moment we drag our children to school, we want our children to run to school, wanting to learn.”

Source: The Telegraph

Published on 30 October 2019