Hello everyone! Our second interview from Nepal is with Sanju Praja, a girl living at the children’s facility Rising Lotus Children’s Village (RLCV)!
Sanju is 17 years old and currently in Grade 10, her final year of compulsory education.
Sanju was born in Kanda Village in the Chitwan District of southern Nepal, bordering India. Kanda Village is home to the Chepang people, an indigenous ethnic group which used to maintain a semi-nomadic lifestyle. It takes about a day’s journey to reach the village from the foot of the mountain.
When Mr. Hari, the managing director of RLCV, first visited Kanda Village, the poverty he witnessed there almost moved him to tears. The people of the village lived in shack-like homes deep in the mountains. Their clothing was ragged, and villagers fed themselves eating plants foraged from the forest. Mr. Hari decided to invite five children from the village to live at RLCV. He asked the villagers to choose five children most in need of help—one of these children was Sanju.
Never enough food or clothes
Back when she was in Kanda Village, Sanju lived with her father and mother, her two brothers, her three sisters, and her brother’s wife; a household of eleven. Her parents were farmers who engaged in slash-and-burn agriculture. They used their fields to grow corn, millet, and other crops. Since the fields weren’t enough to sustain them, the family would also forage for plants in the woods. They could only eat rice once a year during the Dashain festival.
When Sanju turned six, she began attending school. However, it took about an hour to reach her school and the mountainous path was too dangerous to walk down on her own. Sanju could only attend school once or twice a week. She had only one uniform that the school had given her. The rest of the time she spent following her family’s cows and goats into the forest. All she learned at school was the name of the school and how to introduce herself in Nepali.
Photo (left): Plants foraged in the forest Photo (center): The children wearing their school uniforms Photo (right): The children helping with chores
Age 9, leaving the village
When she was nine, Sanju moved to Kathmandu to begin living at RLCV. Until then, she had never visited the markets or even seen a car. In fact, she had never left Kanda Village!
It was an amazing experience to see the world outside of her village. On the bus to Kathmandu, however, she remembers becoming carsick and throwing up several times.
The beginning of a new life!
Once she arrived at RLCV, Sanju was very happy to find there were clothes, food, and a place to sleep. She was so happy that she nearly forgot about her parents and her village. Before arriving at RLCV, she had been called Rai Maya. Since this was more of a nickname that her parents had called her, the village teacher gave her a new name: Sanju.
Now that she was at RLCV, it was time for Sanju to begin her new life.
Photo (left): The five children from Kanda Village Photo (center): Sanju, age 9, just after arriving at RLCV Photo (right): Sanju, age 17, present day
What’s changed the most?
Until she came to RLCV, Sanju could only speak the Chepang language. She could understand some Nepali, but she could not speak it. Back when she first arrived, she would often close the door by mistake when she was asked to open it. Eventually she managed to learn Nepali, which was a big change for her.
Sanju had a new name. She had learned to speak Nepali. Her complexion improved after she began washing her face every day. Now that she could wash her face and clothes, her living habits were much different than they had been in Kanda Village.
What is life like now?
At the time of our interview in late January, Sanju explained that she wakes up in the morning to do some self-studying before sitting down for online classes from 10 am to 4 pm. Her teacher uses Zoom for the classes. Sanju can look at her classmate’s faces and answer questions from her teacher. She says she has no trouble sitting in front of a computer all day.
Sanju has always enjoyed science class, so she enjoys learning using a computer.
Her hobbies include dancing, singing, drawing pictures, and writing stories. She says that she couldn’t dance at first, but her friends at the facility taught her. She’s very good now!
What are your best memories at Rising Lotus Children’s Village?
After 8 years of living at RLCV, Sanju’s best memories are being with Mr. Hari, meeting various donors, and having the opportunity to study. She says she’ll never forget dancing and taking videos with CheFuKo staff members and other visitors, as well as participating in the sports festival and fitness tests that we organized in April 2019. You can see footage from these events on our YouTube channel.
When asked if she had any sad memories, Sanju quickly answered “No!” She said that she has everything she needs at RLCV, so she was never homesick.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nepal was on lockdown from April to mid-September of 2020. Since the schools were all closed, Sanju returned to Kanda Village to stay with her family. She told us that she spent the time reading her science books and watching her family’s goats while they grazed. Since there is no internet in the village, Sanju couldn’t attend online classes. That’s why Mr. Hari asked the older students to return to RLCV at the end of December when the number of infections had gone down.
What are your future dreams?
Sanju’s dream is to study hard and become a computer teacher to teach children and adults. She would also like to learn Japanese and visit Japan.
The children can stay at RLCV until they reach the end of their compulsory education at Grade 10. After graduating, Sanju wants to move onto a Ten Plus Two course. These are the two years of intermediate education that follow Grade 10. If Sanju returns to Kanda Village, there will be no chance for her to continue her education. That’s why Mr. Hari is planning to support her so that she can live in Kathmandu after graduating.
Sanju will be the first child from Kanda Village to take her SEE (Secondary Education Examination) after studying at a boarding school. She is the pride of her village! The SEE is scheduled for June or July of this year. Sanju will have to study had to make up for the school she missed during the pandemic.
Sanju can only remain at the facility for a few more months. CheFuKo will continue to support her so that she can enjoy the rest of her stay and pursue her future dreams!
The CheFuKo Foster Project supports children who come from difficult family situations so that they can continue their studies. You can find out more about the project here.
Thank you for reading. We will be publishing our next interview in May!