Jagdish’s Story: Breaking the Cycle in Nepal

Nearly 25 years ago, Jagdish, an infant in a tiny rural village in Nepal, was born into extreme poverty. With both his parents illiterate, Jagdish and his family faced significant discrimination and extraordinary challenges. They lived in a small, dilapidated mud hut, its walls nearly ready to collapse. Their community had no roads, no electricity, and no sanitary place to go to the restroom. The local school was just as bad. And though Jagdish’s siblings were strong enough to walk to class, he couldn’t keep up with them. When he tried, he fell face first into the dirt and mud.

Like too many children in the developing world, Jagdish had polio. But because his parents were illiterate, they had no idea what was wrong with him or how to help. Jagdish was about to be crushed by the cycle.

This year, buildOn traveled to the site of our first school, located in Hal Pur village in Nepal. When we arrived in Hal Pur 25 years ago, there was only one small classroom on the outskirts of the community. It was a tiny, dirty, and dark room made from buffalo dung, where every day 30 to 40 students packed inside as they tried to learn.

Old Hal Pur School

(Pictured above) The old school in Hal Pur village in Nepal.

We partnered with the community for three and a half months to build a primary school, and after construction was complete we moved on to our next project. But the community kept going.

25 years later, the community of Hal Pur had not only maintained the school that we built, but built a secondary school as well. Then roads. Then an electrical grid. They didn’t stop until they had built a college — a two-year college now amazingly affiliated with Nepal’s premier university. The school buildOn helped to construct for Hal Pur is beautiful, but what happened after we left was magical. The community was empowered. They told us, “you let us build, you let us lead, so we just kept going because we knew we could do it.”

This is how you break the cycle.

Hal Pur College

25 years after the first buildOn school was built in Hal Pur, the village now has a two-year college. Some of the same students from the black-and-white photo of the old school are in above photograph, studying at the college as adults. 

On our visit to Hal Pur we also met a man named Prem. Standing barefoot on the stoop of the buildOn school, Prem was bashful. But we could tell he was anxious to share his story. As he entered the school to sit down, Prem was visibly nervous. He told us he was illiterate and had never been inside a school before, even though he had helped to build this one. He told us that during the school’s construction he came to the worksite one day every two weeks. He said that he wishes he had been able to do more, but he couldn’t because he was Kamaiya.

Kamaiya is the Tharu word for slave.

Prem, with his eyes to the ground, quietly told us that while he was enslaved his owner would only let him off the property every other week to visit his family. But while buildOn was there, he used that day to help build the school. “I have three children,” he explained. “The two oldest are strong, and I knew they would be okay. But my youngest was weak. He couldn’t keep up with the others. Every time he tried, he fell face first into the dirt and the mud.” Prem didn’t know his son had polio, but he knew Jagdish couldn’t walk to another village to go to school. And he knew the only way Jagdish could survive was to receive an education. So he spent his only free day, for three-and-a-half months, helping to build a school.

Jagdish went on to graduate first in his class at the buildOn primary school. Then he went on to secondary school. He wanted to go to the best university in the country, in Kathmandu, to get a degree in commerce.


Jagdish (center) hold hands with his parents. When Jagdish was a boy, his father Prem (left) spent his only free day helping to build a school that Jagdish could attend. 

He worked for three years to save money for tuition, but he still didn’t have enough for even a full year of university. So Jagdish did something bold – he enrolled anyway. He finished his first semester number one in his class, and secured as a result a full scholarship.

Today, Jagdish is graduating from university with two degrees. Not surprisingly, he’s still number one in his class. Born with polio in a mud hut, the son of a former slave, Jagdish faced crushing poverty. With two degrees already under his belt, he is now set to begin his career at the head of a bank. This is the power of education.

Jagdish was not crushed by the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations. He broke the cycle. Because of what his father did, and because of what he did.