By Chandra S. Karki
Mugu district, Nepal, 17 February 2016: Fifteen year old Sarita Jaisi is a role model in Gamtha village of Nepal’s remote district of Mugu. Other adolescent girls look up to her and her family really feels proud of her.
As a peer educator trained on UNICEF’s social and financial skills package, Sarita has been regularly championing for girls education, menstrual hygiene and most importantly, against child marriage - which is very common in her village.
It was not easy for Sarita to make these achievements but with her strong willpower, hard work and perseverance, and the knowledge and skills received from the training, Sarita succeeded in stopping her own marriage.
She still remembers the evening when her father said, “The time has come for you to get married.” She felt helpless while her parents started looking for potential grooms. Getting married at that age was the last thing she had expected for herself. But she did not have the courage to speak against her parents’ decision. Sarita felt as helpless as other girls in her village who were forced into child marriages by their parents and caretakers.
Her parents did not encourage her to go to school as she would be getting married soon and she also gradually started losing interest in many things. She constantly feared that she would be married off all of a sudden and would have to go live with strangers. She somehow managed to join the social and financial skills training programme supported by UNICEF through its partner, Nepal Red Cross Society. She was trained as a peer educator and was entrusted with the responsibility of providing training to her peers.
At the training, she was quite surprised to see that one of the participants was the boy with whom her parents were 'plotting' her imminent marriage. Seeing him there, she said, was frightening at the time.
As the training kicked off, all the 18 peer educators including Sarita, got engaged in various learning activities. Her fears were then replaced by confidence. The training was rich in content, covering multidimensional issues pertaining to adolescents and were delivered in a fun and friendly manner.
After learning various life skills, Sarita’s life and daily routine changed for the better. The first thing she did with her newly acquired negotiation skills was to convince her parents to drop the idea of her marriage. With the knowledge learned on rights, she was able to point out the negative aspects of being a child bride. “It was like winning my first battle,” she smiled. “This encouraged me to speak up for others in my community as well.”
Her parents were surprised then, but they now welcome the positive changes in Sarita following the training. “We are glad she prevented us from committing a huge mistake by marrying her off so early,” said her mother. “I have also realized that because I was married off at the age of 11, we were deprived of many things."
“She has become a learned, practical and mature person after receiving the training. She has now become our guardian,” said her father with a laugh. “I am very proud of my daughter."
Nira Devi Sanjyal, 21, one of Sarita’s neighbours, is full of praises for Sarita as well.
“After the training, she told us about the right practices to adopt during menstruation like proper sanitation, nutrition, non-discrimination etc.,” said Nira, who added that Sarita has become even more knowledgeable and helpful than before. “She also speaks so eloquently. Time just flies when you listen to her. She is a different person now.”
12-year-old Pragati who goes to the same school as Sarita wants to be just like her. “I am eager to take the training like Sarita Didi (elder sister in Nepali),” said Pragati.
Sarita has more responsibilities too now.
“As more people know me and put their trust on me now, I feel more obliged to work on championing for the rights and development of adolescents and become a catalyst for social change,” said Sarita as she prepares to cook the morning meal for the family. “When I grow up I want to be a social worker and help others."