Nepali Times
Nepali Society
Keshari’s children

The 8-year-old-boy was walking home from school when a gang of older children blindfolded him, marched him off and robbed him, before offering him drugs. After the older children left, the terrified boy stumbled back to the one place where he felt safe-his school.

This incident was the last straw for Keshari Ghale, principal of Bal Bikash at Chettrapati. She set up a ground-breaking after-school program to protect her students from harm even when school is officially over for the day. It was yet another in a long line of challenges that Keshari has risen to in the 12 years since she became principal of the primary school in inner-city Kathmandu. This used to be a typical government school-under-funded and uncared for- but today Bal Bikash is a beacon to students and staff all over the capital.

Keshari explains her vision with simple logic: "I have spent a lot of years in the school, so it's as if the children are my children. They are the future. If the children are spoilt, how will the country be protected? If I protect the children and give them knowledge, then maybe one day they can become our country's leaders."

When Keshari became school principal, the first challenge were the school buildings themselves: crumbling, dark and dangerous. Now, Bal Bikash is a bright and airy place with walls covered in murals and children's drawings.

This brightness is reflected in the happy attitude of both the children and the teachers. The teachers were, at Keshari's initiation, the first to receive training from the organisation, Educate the Children. Keshari's efforts have been noted by the Ministry of Education, which has awarded her with a medal.

But Keshari refuses to rest on her laurels. She is obsessed with saving her children from the bad influences in the area. "Their parents are very busy, and it is after school that I want to protect the children from bad company." With her brother, Keshari also runs Education Development for Underprivileged Children of Nepal and raises money for her after-school activities, although funding remains difficult to find.

On a typical afternoon in Bal Bikash you can find grade four and five children working with great dedication on their wood craftwork. Grade two plays board games, and grade three is even learning Japanese. The program doesn't just protect the children but gives them an opportunity to do fun activities for which there is no time during normal school hours.

When we asked Keshari what motivates her, she seemed surprised at the question, her dedication is completely natural. "I still have much to do, the children need a lot of help," she says. (Natalie Toms)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)