Fighting Slavery with Literacy in Nepal

When Ram was a baby, her family’s home and land were seized. They were forced into slavery by the “Zamindar,” the tribal aristocrats who stole their property. Throughout her childhood, Ram’s family was bought and sold like cattle. They were forced to do hard labor seven days a week. If they refused to work, the Zamindars would starve them. Other families were beaten for disobeying their masters.

When Ram was five years old, the same age that my own son began kindergarten, she would rise before the sun to be sent out into the fields. Along with her parents, sisters and brothers, she was forced to work fourteen hours–straight.

Many of the Tharu families of Pakariya Village and the generations before them were enslaved like Ram. Then they began teaching each other how to read and write to the light of candles when their Zamindar captors were asleep. Once literate, they united and began petitioning for their rights and after a long struggle, they won their freedom.

The Tharu people were liberated through the power of education. Now youth from the Bronx are working side-by-side with Ram and all the families here in Pakariya to build its first school. For 20 years we have been relentless in our effort to build schools for the Tharu people. So far we have built 78 schools here in Nepal. All are the first schools these children have ever attended.

Yesterday Ram told me that because of this school, “No one will ever enslave our children the way we were enslaved.” She was emphatic and I am convinced that she is right.