One School at a Time Project-
According to estimates by the International Labor Organization, close to 250 million children worldwide are victims of forced child labor. These children, some as young as four years old, are subjected to 12 hour days of harsh, unhealthy, and hazardous work in quarries, brickyards, and carpet-weaving factories. Frequently these children must work to support their families and even to pay off their parents debts. In exchange they are paid little and exposed to physical, emotional, and sometimes even sexual abuse. Not only is their health and well-being sacrificed so is their education and childhood.
In Nepal approximately 45.8% of children ages 10 to 14 are involved in the child labor force. Over one million of these children work in difficult and sometimes even slave-like conditions. However, Minnesota Advocates in partnership with the Sankhu Village Development Committee in Nepal has instituted the One School at a Time Project to give children in that area an alternative to entering into the child labor force.
Preliminary research in the village of Sankhu, which is about an hour bus ride Northeast of Kathmandu, found that nearly 200 of the villages children were not receiving an education. Since over 50% of the villages 10,000 residents are unemployed and even public schools in Nepal require tuition, many children cannot afford to go to school. As a result of the high unemployment and the lack of free education in their village, 20% of children between age nine and fourteen leave Sankhu and their families to enter into child labor in Kathmandu.
Therefore, through this partnership with the Sankhu Village Development Committee, a free school opened its doors on September 9, 1999 to all disadvantaged children in the area, including girls who normally are expected to give up school in favor of domestic work. While it is open to students ages five to fifteen, the Sankhu School is currently comprised of 50 students who range in age from five to ten. From September to December classes met on a half-day basis. In December a second teacher joined the staff and classes were extended to full days with a free lunch provided by the school.
Currently the school is divided into kindergarten and first grade classes but plans to increase the number of grade levels, the number of teachers, and student enrollment to 200 are in the process of being implemented. Also in the future the school intends to provide each student with free immunizations. The curriculum consists of basic classes, however the teachers, who have been trained in human rights awareness, eventually plan to incorporate human rights into their lesson plans.
In the partnership agreement Minnesota Advocates will provide the funding needed to establish and sustain the school over a five year period. Thus far almost $50,000 has been raised to meet that commitment. The use of these funds is overseen by a local business woman and advocate against child labor, Ms. Sulo Shrestha Shah who chairs Hoste Hainse, a non-profit NGO. Ms. Shah received the 1997 Minnesota Advocates Annual Human Rights Award for her work as president of RUGMARK-Nepal, a coalition of South Asian carpet makers and international organizations who monitor and label rugs produced without child labor.
Long term planning is now underway between the Sankhu Village Development Committee and Minnesota Advocates to devise local funding strategies to maintain and expand the school after Minnesota Advocates five year commitment ends in 2004.
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