Nurture in her natureSchool teacher Sarala Basnet wants students to avoid the same struggles she faced in life
When Nepalis are leaving the country in droves, there are unsung heroes providing selfless services in isolated parts of the country.
Teachers like Sarala Basnet do not crave wealth or fame but work one day at a time to meet their ideal of bringing up the next generation of motivated and compassionate Nepalis.
Sarala, as her name suggests, values simplicty and is guided by a straightforward attitude towards life: integrity, diligence and decency.
After working her way up from a small village in Baglung, Sarala, at age 35, is the first female principal of Chandrodaya Secondary School in Abu Khaireni of Tanahu district.
Back in Baglung, she was also the first female student to pass SLC from high school two decades ago at a time when very few girls attended school in such far-flung villages.
“The mindset was that if the girl is educated, she will contaminate traditional culture,” recalls Basnet. “But I had my heart set from an early age to being an educator.”
Her father was in the military, and Basnet was the youngest of many siblings. Luckily, the family valued education and sent her to school, unlike many of her childhood mates.
But it was not an easy path. When she raised her young voice against prevailing gender inequality, neighbours scoffed at her. This only made her more determined to be a teacher.
After school, she graduated with a Bachelor of Education from Gorkha Campus, which was an accomplishment on its own at a time when families married off their daughters instead of sending them to colleges.
She traveled to Butwal for an internship as a maths instructor but seeing the need in her own hometown, returned to Baglung and was a teacher for 17 years.
Eight years ago she was transferred to Abu Khaireni and made principal in recognition of her dedication and commitment.
During this time, she got married to musician Krishna Prasad Bhatta, who works as a music teacher in Kathmandu. The couple has two children, 13 and 8.
Abu Khaireni is a small picturesque farming town mostly inhabited by families whose men serve in the British, Indian or Nepali armies. The rest of the young men have migrated for work to the Gulf or Malaysia.
There are not a lot of jobs for young people here and child marriage is common. Which is why one of the first things Sarala did when she became a teacher was to counsel parents about the importance of schooling girls.
It used to be the girl students who dropped out in Grade 5 when their parents married them off, but interestingly these days it is the boys who are dropping out.
“The boys are leaving to work in the cities or to try to get into the military,” says Sarala. “This is worrying, it is not good for the future of this village.”
Schools in rural Nepal have insufficient amenities, instruction is impractical and curriculum outdated. During the Covid-19 pandemic, students at Chandrodaya School did not have access to the Internet, and were deprived of online classes for nearly a year.
To fill the gap, Basnet organised physical sessions with varying schedules for the students. By the time the second Covid wave hit in 2021, the school was prepared for remote classes.
Even so, parents still make students complete their household chores before or after school, and there is not much time for the children to play and have fun.
Sarala remembers her own childhood and how she had to struggle to balance home work with homework. She had to finish her assignment under the faint light of a kerosene tuki lamp.
“We had to walk an hour every day to get to school, the path was steep and through forests with wild animals,” she recalls.
All 160 students at Chandrodaya now have access to extracurricular activities including basic computer classes, sports, and other contests, including arts and crafts. It is extraordinary for a government school to have activities that are much better than neighbouring private schools.
After having spent over two decades shaping young minds, Basnet believes that age or circumstance should not affect the process of learning. She says: “We should never stop learning, it is a lifelong process. My biggest sense of fulfilment comes from seeing my students do well in life.”