During his days as a student in Allahabad University, Kishore Chandra Dhungana was impressed by Mahatma Gandhi's emphasis on helping the most disenfranchised people in society. Dhungana was so inspired he decided to sell a part of his property and launch a school for the indigenous Chepang people of his native Chitwan.
Sri Antyodaya Janajati Awasiya Vidyalaya in Chitwan provides free education, accommodation, food, school supplies, clothing and medication for Chepang children. The Chepang are semi-nomadic farmers and the most underprivileged even among Nepal's indigenous groups. There are no more than 50,000 of these slash-and-burn farmers in Nepal but very few have passed even SLC.
Dhungana's Chitwan school started with just 20 children five years ago and today, 211 Chepang children study and live there. "Every year, 60 parents come to us and ask us to admit their children," says Bachu Shakya, a member of the school's board and Dhungana's niece.
Because of the huge demand, the school is running out of space on the Dhungana family property in Chitwan, Money is also scarce despite help from Friends of Needy Children, Room to Read, SOS and the Chitwan DDC. After her uncle died, Shakya says it has been difficult keeping the school going and is appealing to Nepalis for individual donations. It costs Rs 14,400 a year to sponsor a child at the school.
By starting a vocational training wing the school is trying to make sure Chepang children don't have to go back to their nomadic life in the jungles once they finish school. And as a fund-raising venture the school is starting a dairy farm.
Explains Shakya: "When my uncle started the school he did what he thought was best for Chitwan's neediest community. But today we also have to think of long-term sustainability."
Just down the road in Shaktikhor, Chitwan, Jang Bahadur Chepang has also been running a similar school at his own expense. Chepang\'s school, Mahakali National Primary, has 66 children studying in it at present and is also looking for volunteers and support.