To honour the International Day of the Girl, Canadian International Council’s (CIC) featured the widely acclaimed film – Girl Rising: a film that presents the story of nine resilient young girls from nine different parts of the world (Cambodia, Haiti, Nepal, Sierra Leone, India, Peru, Ethiopia, Egypt and Afghanistan) who in spite of the personal and cultural constraints obtained an education. Celebrated writers told their stories from the respective countries. Foregrounding Suma – the Nepalese teenager, this event screened the Nepalese chapter of the film.
As early as age of 6, Suma was bonded to her first Master whom she served as a Kamlari – slave. In contrast to her four brothers who were sent to school, life for Suma involved waking up at 4 a.m. to clean the house, wash the dishes and collect firewood in the forest. She also had to mind the goats and when not doing that, she minded the children. By age 11, Suma was already with her third master. It was at this point that she met Bemusa – a schoolteacher who exposed her to education and convinced her Master to allow her enrol in a night school taught by social workers. At the night school, Suma met other Kamlaris. They shared their stories with each other and the social workers. Over time, Suma started to grow in her confidence and came to the realization that she can be her own master. As she explains in the film, “I am my own master now, I have no mistress, I was the last bonded worker in my family, after me, everyone will be free..… I feel like I have power… I can do anything… and I have important things to do.”
Armed with this power and the songs she wrote to keep sane while enslaved, Suma started advocating for other Kamlari girls to be released from their slave masters. Suma’s advocacy efforts have reached the national level where she and other Nepalese youth are asking the Nepalese government for a complete ban on Kamlari and the provision of education for girls affected by the slave trade.
Suma’s inspiring story was written and told by celebrated Nepalese writer – Manjushree Thapa. Manjushree was present at the event to shed light on Suma’s story and the girl experience in Nepal.
Putting a local face on the issue, Katherine Govier, Director of the Shoe Project at the Bata museum reminded audience members that there are local manifestations of similar injustice in Toronto. Female immigrants who do not speak English as a first language face serious barriers to entry in the workforce and even in daily social participation. For example, many of the women, explains Katherine, are unable to speak at their children’s parent teachers board meetings. When training is offered to immigrants, it is most often the husband who gets the training. Katherine’s work at Bata shoe museum – The Shoe Project – provides training for immigrant women in public speaking, writing, business development and mentoring support.
Evident in this story, education gives girls and young women courage and bravery. Education for Suma and young girls like her inspired a “Bravery in the Collective” which enabled the collective fight for change.
Suma’s story suggests and reaffirms that a girl with transformative education, a sense of purpose and courage is a revolution. For more inspiring articles and videos on girls’ empowerment and the role of education, visit www.girlrising.org.
Guest Blogger – Canadian International Council, Toronto Branch