The hard life and lack of education has forced many men to migrate. Among those who remain alcohol consumption is high, even children drink chhang in the morning because milk is neither available nor affordable. The girls are married as early as 12 and by the time they are 20, they may have up to three children.
The boy usually asks for the hand of the girl by bringing a bottle of raksi ("don") and tie it to the door of the girl's house. If the father accepts the raksi and drinks from the bottle, the marriage is on. Sarita was only 11 when her parents were offered the "don". She refused the proposal.
That year, the local group ISARD (Integrated Self-help Association for Rural Development) started work in the village by setting up a small school. Sarita convinced her parents to send her to school, and was the eldest girl enrolled.
When I first saw Sarita five years ago, she was the tallest and oldest girl sitting on a small bench in between other children six and eight years old. At that time I was not aware of her thirst for education, and I suspected she may soon think herself too old to be in school and drop out.
In March this year, I visited Mulabari again. With ISARD's help, villagers had replaced the small school building dangerously located near an overhang with a newer, bigger and safer building. The school is now supported by the government, the first ever outlay made by Kathmandu in this remote village.
Sarita was now 17, studying in Grade 8 at a secondary school in the nearby town of Piskar. She is still determined not to get married until she finishes her studies. She was in Mulbari that day, and gave a welcome speech.
Later, she told us she wants to finish SLC and then learn to become a teacher so that she can help other Thami children in her village. She has already set up a self-help youth club in Mulabari to discuss amongst themselves issues like education, health, sanitation, village development and social issues like child marriage.
Every month, each of the 15 club members contribute Rs 5 and from this money they rent a piece of land where they grow onions to sell and raise money for club activities. I was glad to see that Sarita was leading the children of Mulabari to make their own destiny.
When I return to Mulabari in a few years, I am sure Sarita will be a motivated teacher in the school where she first learnt to read and write. She may also have married by then and have children of her own, living happily in a village that will have learnt to be self-reliant.
Wilko Verbakel is president of the Dutch group, ICFON (International Council for Friends of Nepal) and coordinates the ISARD project as a volunteer.
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