Realizing a Dream

By Brett McNaught, Vice President of International Programs

In December 2007, we put the finishing touches on our 233rd school worldwide in a village by the name of Shishaya, in Nepal.  The other day I had the opportunty to return to Shishaya to visit the Community Education Program graduates who had just finished their  two year buildOn literacy, life skills and community development program.   We have done a lot of work since we finished the school in Shishaya, and in fact the previous day, I had been to the inauguration of our 73rd school in Nepal and our 363rd worldwide.

However, what I found in Shishaya was truly remarkable.  It was a testament to how many people in buildOn villages around the world are taking control of their lives and their struggle to dig themselves out of extreme poverty.  The schools we build and the Community Education Programs we provide are an essential part of a community’s ability to create lasting and positive social change, but it is the efforts of individuals that make the difference.

I went to Shishaya to visit a woman I have come to know well over the past 3 years.  Her name is Jyoeshena and she has been an inspiration to me since we first met in 2007.  I didn’t know what exactly she was doing with her life now but I knew it would be good.  Jyoeshena is originally from Bangladesh and is now 24 years old.  Like so many thousands of boys and girls growing up in extreme poverty she was not able to go to school and instead grew up in the slums of New Delhi, India, working in a restaurant washing dishes and cleaning in order to help her family survive.  It was there that she fell in love with Rup Chandra Chaudhary, a young man from the village of Shishaya who was also forced to go to New Delhi to look for work.  Because they came from different cultures and religions they were forced to elope and she has not spoken to her family since.  They married and moved to his village in  Nepal.  That was 7 years ago, and now Jyoeshena is quite comfortable in her new life in Shishaya.  She has taken on a local name “Rekia” and has become fluent in the local language, Tharu.   They have 1 son and 1 daughter.

By Brett McNaught, Vice President of International Programs

I first met Jyoeshana when we were constructing the 3-classroom school in 2007 and she was mixing concrete for the pillars and beams.  She told me then how excited she was to be getting a school that she could send her children to because she never had the opportunity.  Then in 2008,  I met her again, this time as one of the most outspoken and influential leaders of buildOn’s Community Education Program where she shared with me everything she had learned and how much learning how to read and write meant to her and how it was going to end her family’s long cycle of poverty.

Now she has completed the buildOn Community Education Program, one of more than 11,500 adults worldwide since buildOn began the program in 2000.  She is fluent in Nepali and Tharu literacy and she has recently completed a 4-month training by a partner NGO in Nepal that taught her how to be a tailor.  She and 3 other women from the Community Education Program completed the tailor training and purchased 4 sewing machines.  They are currently each making an average of $3 per day profit on their business, literally bringing themselves out of extreme poverty and they have all the skills and confidence they need to succeed.  This is just the beginning for them.

My wife, Virginia, was also with me on this visit to see Jyoeshena and Virginia lingered on the fact that Jyoeshena had been seperated from her family in Bangledesh for 7 years.  We found out that Jyoeshena was desperate to reunite with her parents and siblings but did not know how.   We asked her if she would like to write them a letter and upon hearing the idea her smile lit up the room.  She wrote to them that she was doing well in Nepal, that she had two children, that she had learned to read and write and she had a good business and that if they loved her she hoped they would call her.  We had it translated from Nepali to her local Bengali language and mailed it to her parents with a couple of photos and her phone number.  I hope that the letter reaches them and that they are overjoyed and relieved to see that their daughter is safe and has accomplished so many great things.  It would be another wonderful story of how literacy can bring families together.

It has been my greatest pleasure over the past 5 years with buildOn to witness stories like these.  The amazing thing is that she is not alone.  I have witnessed many amazing people who have taken the opportunity of education and made lasting change in their life, in their famliy and in their community.