Girl Power... in Nepal
Magic Bus’ Ross Marshall reports on the charity’s success in Nepal, where they are working to improve the lives of young women.
Back in 1999, Magic Bus – a small charity based in Mumbai (Bombay) India – began its work helping local children living in poverty. Forced out of school into work or marriage, these children were given the opportunity to have some fun – in the form of team sports and games. These physical activities laid a strong foundation for personal growth and development, empowering these children to take their lives into their own hands and rewrite their destinies. In the following 18 years Magic Bus has grown immeasurably. From that small group of children in Mumbai, we now work in 22 of India's 36 states and territories, applying a specially developed curriculum of physical activity and mentoring to awaken over 400,000 children's personal and professional potential.
Recently we have taken our activity-based curriculum beyond India into neighbouring Nepal. Since mid-2016, with the incredible support of Cox & Kings, Magic Bus has begun to deliver its Childhood to Livelihood programme directly to primary schools in the Nawalparasi district of southern Nepal. Why Nepal? It is one of the most deprived countries in the world, ranked just 144 out of 188 countries by the United Nations Development Programme. Over 25% of the predominantly rural population live below the national poverty line. While the situation has improved over the last 20 years, Nepal has a long way to go if it is to tackle the problems it faces. One such problem is education.
Currently 97% of primary aged children are enrolled in school, half of whom are girls, and almost all will go on to start secondary school. This emphasis on primary education is reflected in Nepal's youth literacy rate of 85% (compared to just 60% for adults). However, a major problem develops once children begin secondary education. While 80% of children will start secondary school, half will drop out before graduating. Right now, there are over 1 million children and young adults not attending secondary school in Nepal, half of whom are girls. Why such a rapid drop off in school attendance? For many children, the need to work to support their families will have to come first. Child marriage also continues to haunt Nepal, with 37% of girls married off before the age of 18. In addition, many parents view the school system as poor; that their children are better off working than continuing to attend school.
Working with children aged 12 to 14, Magic Bus is seeking to make a positive impact during the key transition from primary to secondary school. With the new Childhood to Livelihood Programme, we are providing positive lessons to children about the need to stay in school, to stay healthy and to respect one another. We are especially focusing on girls, helping to empower them to stand up for their own futures in a country where females are still viewed as second class citizens. By ensuring that children stay in school, we safeguard their route out of poverty and their ability to make positive decisions about their future.
With just over a year working on the ground, Magic Bus is already making an impact. Neha, a 14-year-old resident of Bardaghat, a small town in southern Nepal, is attending the Adarsha Secondary School. Her father, who dropped out of school to become a sailor in India, makes around £90 to £100 a month to support his family of six. Neha's mother manages the home, as is common in Nepal. The family is Madhesh – a minority group in Nepal whose discrimination against women is deeply rooted. Growing up with this background of entrenched gender discrimination, Neha unsurprisingly had little interest in going to school and her grades were poor. Instead she chose to help looking after the family home. But with the arrival of Magic Bus at her school, Neha was quick to take part in our sessions and actively enjoyed them. She began to appreciate the importance of attending school and receiving an education. As a result, Neha developed a genuine interest in her studies, engages with teachers during lessons and has improved her academic performance. According to Neha, this is all thanks to the motivation and lessons brought to her by Magic Bus.
Thanks to the support of Cox & Kings and the generosity of Magic Bus' supporters, many more young people in Nepal, just like Neha, will have a chance for a brighter future, free from poverty and discrimination.
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