Mehrunessa is the youngest of five daughters. Her father died last year and her house burnt down, so she and her mother are now living with her brother’s family. At age 15, her mother is looking for a good groom so she can be married off.
Through the Nepali Girls Social Service Centre (NGSS) in Darjeeling, India, Mehrunessa receives support for school through MCC’s Global Family program. She is one of about 90 children and their families who receive school fees and food support of just under $200 each year. Mehrunessa walks more than two kilometers to school and back every day.
There are 43 other girls in Mehrunessa’s class at the Ghoom Girls High School. She takes all of the classes that North American girls her age would take and her favorite is geometry. She hopes to continue school through grade 12, but that is five years away. When she gets home from school, she will help her sister-in-law with housework and also carry water up the hill to her house.
We visit Aloo Bari farm, a potato farm and village close by. Here, a hundred children who are students or graduates of MCC’s Global Family program and their families gather to say thank you to MCC. I learn that only about a third of the children in the surrounding villages are able to go to school and MCC has been accompanying children in this village for more than 15 years, from nursery school to becoming nurses. Mothers of some of these children have also received vocational training.
After a celebratory feast the women prepare for us, we meet with a women’s group from this village and the neighboring village of Pubong Fatak. “We are standing here today and talking to you because of the Nepali Girls Social Service,” Pratima Tamang tells us. “Though we are from an economically backward community, we are learning that no matter how poor we are, we can help others.”
The women are learning how to help their family income go further through a savings program. Each month, each woman contributes 50 rupees (just less than a dollar) and the money is then available for loans. One woman tells us how she borrowed money to buy a cow to start her own business. Many of the women tell us they are learning from each other and they are able to help each other in times of need.
Mankumari Thami tells us that our coming to visit encourages the women. “We are happy you have come so far and come to this little place,” she says, “You have eaten our food and that is sacred to us.”
Ron Byler is executive director of Mennonite Central Committee U.S.