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By Bikki Gurung

Poverty and Illiteracy Kills Nepalese

I was fourteen years old when I first came to the realization that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I can simply say this because I was provided with proper education, nutritious foods to eat, clean water to drink, and money to burn.

However, this is not the case for many of the people who share the same bloodline as me. The people who belong to my ethnic group are called "Gurungs." They live in Dhading, Nepal. Most of the people who share my ethnicity still live in the pre-modern community. They live to eat, unlike modern people, who eat to live. They do not desire to be materialistic, because they only have time to accumulate and consume food.

I learned about the people and their lifestyle when my father took me to Dhading, the village where he was born. One summer, we traveled in a bus for three hours, then walked for three more hours under the eye of heaven, which shone too bright that day. As we paced under the sun, I wondered why the place had no transportation facilities.

After reaching our destination, I felt as if I had traveled in a bus that transports you into the past. Children were working for their daily bread instead of vesting their precious time in school, while older people were gathering timber and food. Later, I learned from my father that people in this region lived on less than a dollar a day. For many days, I mused on the conditions that made the Gurungs poor, and why they still lived like people of medieval times. The answer I have arrived at is that it is because they are deprived of enlightenment. Gurungs do not have schools to attend. Even if they had one, the children would not be able to afford to go to school as they have to contribute to making sure there is food on the table.

After learning that the Gurungs suffered in a vicious circle of poverty, I also came to think about hundreds of other ethnic groups that resided in Nepal; their conditions were no better, if not worse than that of the Gurungs. Because of that summer, I started to wonder how I could possibly leave my country a better place than what I saw. I decided to play the role of a responsible citizen. I wanted to mitigate the sufferings of the people by doing whatever I could to aid them.

You might wonder why I did not have to live a life like the people of my ethnic group, or like other people in my country. It is because my grandfather served the Anglos in World War II, from which he made enough money to afford an education for my father.

It was because my father was educated that I did not have to spend my life in Dhading, where certain conditions like poverty and illiteracy oblige you to live under the dark shadows of isolation, not having much knowledge about the outer world and things around you. I gained the chance to study in the U.S., which is so far away both in time and distance, only because my father was educated. I maintain that if you are educated, you and the people around you can live a happy and meaningful life.

After finishing high school, I became involved in an organization that provided education to the people of rural places who were formally uneducated. The organization is named "Praudh Sikchya," which literally means "elderly education" in Nepali. After graduating from high school, I was searching for an ideal college while I was also involved in the organization. I, along with some of my school friends, used to go to different districts of Nepal every weekend. We used to educate people who did not even know how to write their own names. The main objective of the organization that we were involved with was to provide general education to underprivileged people so that they could read, write and calculate their daily work more efficiently.

I still remember the first time I went to the village named Humla (a district in Nepal) to educate people. Some of my colleagues and I were sent there to educate the people about the epidemic of cholera, which was taking hundreds of lives a day in a village of only a few thousand. To reach this village, we took five buses, then walked for more days than the number of buses we took. By the time we reached the village, hundreds more had died. The epidemic was devastating and needed an urgent remedy.

After reaching the village we decided to search for the causes that were making the disease to spread so rapidly. The first thing we did was check people's latrines. After checking a few, we had not found any soaps or sanitizers. When I questioned some people as to why they were not using soaps in the rest rooms, they did not respond. They were looking at me with such wonder – the kind of wonder from which you can tell that people do not even know what you were talking about.

I was yet again reminded that the people in my country lived a primitive lifestyle, with the dark clouds of illiteracy lurking over their heads. So, after finding out that people did not even know what soap was and why they should be using it, we decided to teach people to use soaps from those that we had brought for personal use, and asked the organization to send more soaps for the villagers.

I taught people generally how to apply soap, and I also taught children differently in a group. Children seemed more eager to learn than adults. Saurav was one of those children. You could see the ecstasy in him from his smile when he was going to apply soap for the first time. He was as bright and healthy as his smile that day, but unfortunately the next day I couldn't see his smile, as his face was covered in a pall.

After seeing an innocent boy die an untimely death, I couldn't help but blame poverty, which was one of the many consequences of illiteracy. I couldn't believe people were dying from a disease whose remedy was found almost a century ago. I couldn't believe that my 2074-year-old country is still less evolved than most of the younger nations.

After a few months, with the help of organizations that we were involved in and from a few other national and international agencies, we were able to control the cholera epidemic. People began living normally again, but the event still haunts me today. The epidemic due to which a hopeless child lost his mom, or the opposite, developed a sense of nationalism in me. I wanted to eradicate the problems arising from poverty and illiteracy so that people would not have to suffer from minor problems due to lack of money or knowledge.

After the task that the organization assigned to me was over, I have not really done anything good for my country. I am far away from my country for higher education, but I have promised myself that I'll try my best to take the people of my nation out of the ditch that illiteracy and poverty have dug together. The knowledge that I am acquiring now is the knowledge I will be using to help underprivileged people. As a responsible, privileged citizen, I know I must try my best to educate people of my nation, so that they do not have to live on an expenditure of less than a dollar a day or die an untimely death from a curable disease.

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