Rain or shine, nine-year old Dipesh Rai has to set out for his schools by seven in the morning everyday. If he doesn't he'll miss the first class that begins at 10AM. After a long uphill climb, he reaches his school where he spends six hours and comes back home, another two-hour walk. This has been his way of life for three years: a five hour roundtrip every day to go to school. Dipesh is now in grade four. His story is not unique in this part of Ilam. Even tiny tots in primary schools walk for hours to reach their school and back.
Compared to their elder siblings, they are lucky. As students reach higher classes, their parents expect them to help them out with household chores and in the fields. As a result, many of them end up dropping out of school. "That is how many students in these areas never get to see the inside of a school in their lifetime," says villager Mani Kumar Rai.
It is a pattern shared by more than 50 students from 20 families at Ranbhede. Many parents don't even send their small children to schools, saying the distances are far too great. When the children are finally old enough to go to school on their own, they are embarrassed to attend junior classes with much younger students. Dal Bahadur Rai's youngest daughter is already seven but her parents have not yet thought about sending her to school. Maita Singh Rai wishes the villagers had a primary school in the same village. "That would lessen the burden on our children," he says.