Written by Sing Suen Soon
Edited by Amra Naidoo
Anchal* came into the world, screaming, kicking, and crying. What would have been welcomed by excited mumblings and smiles were quickly replaced by a deafening silence of masked disappointment – Anchal is a girl born into a society that prefers boys.
Anchal’s predicament is not uncommon in Nepal, a country that witnesses on average 50,000 girl abortions every year. The cultural bias ingrained in her people had taught them to value males over females, where boys are seen as contributors to family wealth and lineage, but girls a financial liability that should be relieved through marriage as quickly as possible.
In Nepal, more than a third of the girl population marry before age 18. This makes it one of the countries recording the highest child marriage rate in the world, ranking third, after Bangladesh and India. With social pressures, lack of education, and poverty, girls find themselves down similar paths of arranged marriages, child labour and trafficking. Often times, the vicious cycle of a girl’s life in Nepal stays with her and her future generation.
In 1998, Usha Acharya, co-founder of Little Sisters Fund, knew it was time for change for the girls in Nepal. As a daughter of village parents who could not read nor write, Usha had the opportunity to break away from the cycle to become the first woman from her village to earn a Master’s degree. However, she quickly learnt how unattainable her achievement was for many girls in her home country.
Reflecting on the motivation to do something, Usha remembers an open letter written in 1996, from a mother of three daughters about the struggle to put her girls through education. It made Usha realise that if she could rally supporters to fund education for girls, she could effectively delay marriages, prevent child labour and address trafficking of girls.
It was around the same time when Usha was looking to financially support girls’ education in Nepal was she connected to Trevor Patzer, who would then become her co-founder for Little Sisters Fund. Trevor was searching for opportunities to pay his education forward, made possible by a family friend’s financial support. He took the chance to support one girl’s education through Usha, and from there, their journey for Little Sisters Fund began.
“I give my all for the Little Sisters. I hope, at the end of the day, that our efforts have improved the lives of at least a few girls,” said Trevor. “I remember my benefactor telling me the last time I saw him that, ‘If you [can] make a positive difference in just one person’s life, then your life has been worth living.’ I strive to make that difference in at least one additional life.”
Today, Bindhaya, the girl whose education Trevor first supported, is now a nurse. Bindhaya also pays her education forward, funding another girl’s studies. Bindhaya’s mother who was married young and deprived of education was also able to return to school to complete her School Leaving Certificate in 2011. She now serves Little Sister Fund as a Parent Liaison.
Since their establishment, Little Sisters Fund has grown to support the education of near 2,000 girls in 20 districts of Nepal. Their nine complementary programmes tackle multiple dimensions of injustice. Usha and Trevor remain integrally involved in the day-to-day work of the Little Sisters Fund, with Trevor leading fundraising and management in the United States and Usha leading a team of nine in Nepal to regularly visit villages around Nepal where girls don’t have access to education.
Their hard work is paying off and has been recognised by Project Inspire – an initiative from the Singapore Committee for UN Women and Mastercard. Little Sisters Fund has been selected as a semi-finalist in the competition, to highlight women empowerment projects in Asia and Pacific for the chance to secure a US$25,000 grant. You can support Little Sisters Fund and find out more about the initiative on www.projinspire.com.
*Not a real person