Reported by Jamuna Barsha Sharma
“Sitting on the banks of Fewa Lake, I look back upon my past and feel whether it’s a dream or reality. During my childhood, I had to struggle even to wear a pair of slippers. How can I forget the moment when I succeeded in wearing them for half an hour after I handed a piece of paper from my copy? My journey of struggle that began with a desire to wear slippers continues even today.”
Shanti was filled with emotions as she began recalling her past. Shanti, who was born in Kaku, a remote village of Solukhumbu district, home to Mount Everest, has worked hard to reach new heights in her career. Shanti was the eighth among ten children from the family of Chhabeman Rai and Asare Maya Rai. She has three brothers and six sisters. As the children of farmers, they never went hungry, but the family couldn’t provide them with education and good clothes. It took two days to arrive in the district headquarters of Salleri; they couldn’t even sell their millet because the market was too far away.
Shanti was admitted to a lower secondary school in her village. As a Rai, she was not conversant with the medium of teaching—Nepali–so she had to learn the national language for a year. “We neither had books nor copies for exercise. We used to carry a slate to learn alphabets. My father bought some chalks from a nearby market, which he tied in a rope and attached to the slate. That’s how I learned alphabets. We used to plaster the slate with charcoal from maize cob. Later, our father was able to buy a book and pen,” Shanti recalled.
One of Shanti’s nieces used to arrive at school wearing her slippers. Shanti and her friends would tear a page from their copies and pay it as rent for wearing the slippers for half an hour or one hour. One day, Shanti told her mother how much she wanted to have a pair of slippers. Her mother suggested her to sell millet and buy slippers using the money. At age 11, Shanti tagging along with her aunt and carrying a sack of millet, left for Naya Bazar of Salleri to buy slippers. On the way, she spent overnight in a cave inside dense forests. From home, she had carried food such as boiled arum and fried maize for the trip. She arrived in the market only at 11 am the next day. She sold the millet for 20 rupees and bought slippers for 18 rupees. The day marked the first time Shanti was brimming with joy.
Shanti continued to trade farm products to support her education until grade seven. She left for a neighboring village called Mukli, a seven hour walk, to continue with her secondary education. She rented a room at the village and enrolled at Birendra Secondary School. The move led to more financial burden. “My father would travel to Namche Bazaar to sell millet and my mother would make liquor at home to support my education. On my vacations, I travelled home and saved money for my studies from trading millet and orange,” Shanti said.
Shanti took the SLC exam in 2000 but she failed in science. She sat for the exam again, but failed it. Then, she began her study from grade 10 and appeared in SLC again. This time, she failed in English. But she was undeterred. She took the exam and passed SLC. This made her very happy.
Her family was also very happy. Her elder brother had dropped out after studying seventh grade and left for India to work. Her younger brother had passed SLC while her younger sister has studied only till grade eight. Others didn’t go to school. This made Shanti the one with the highest level of education in the family. Now she wanted to go for higher education. But her family was still mired in poverty and hardship. While her father looked after their cattle, her mother spent time in household chores with her children helping.
Although Chhabeman and Asare Maya were illiterate, they had been aware of the significance of education. But they didn’t have resources to educate their children. Her parents suggested to her to find her own way to support for her education. Shanti moved to Kathmandu. Her elder sister was living Kathmandu. So she stayed with her. But she couldn’t admit at the college. Her sister had provided her with food and accommodation, but couldn’t support her education. She searched everywhere for a job, but couldn’t get one. Her brother in law was against jobs at hotels, suggesting that it was no good for women. There wasn’t anywhere she could turn to.
Shanti felt agony over the destitution of her family. One of her brothers and sisters were disabled. She was worried about how to lessen the burden of her mother. An elder sister had already died.
She often found herself in the midst of poverty sadness and anxiety, but Shanti never lost her heart. One day she met Nar Bahadur Rai in Kathmandu. Rai was from Pokhara and worked as a trekking guide at Three Sisters. He gave some information on guiding trekkers. She was excited. For the first time, she travelled to Pokhara with her in-law in 2002. The presence of two women from her village—Sita and Nirma—at the company further encouraged her. She learned everything about the job, but deadline to enroll on training had passed. She returned to Kathmandu.
She came back to Pokhara in 2003 after hearing that training had begun. She stayed at Three Sisters’ hostel and received the training. She found it difficult as the training was conducted in English language. But women from far away had arrived for the course. She would think that they were also on the same boat. Then, she would concentrate on the training.
Shanti, a hardworking and diligent person, completed a one-month training course for trekking guides. In 2003 and 2004, she completed another set of training courses that ran twice a year. In 2005, she received a license as a trekking guide issued by Tourism Ministry.
Shanti’s life took a new turn. She enrolled at PN Campus in the Intermediate Level in 2005 and completed the degree in 2008. Then, she enrolled on BA and is now studying in its third year.
In 2003, she went on a trek to Jomsom for the first time. Her work as a porter in the 11-day trek increased her self-esteem and she gained more confidence. She spoke English whether she knew it or not. She now works as a trekking guide for trekkers from various countries. She received 300 rupees a day when she started off, but now she make 1400 rupees daily. This not only made her self-reliant, but also achieved a lot.
Published in Annapurna Post National Daily Newspaper.
Dated on:9th April, 2016.