“A population that is not well educated … is a population that decays.” –Pope Francis
In the footsteps of Mother Catherine …
New to the country, people, culture and language, SCNs Cornelia Ekka and Aruna Ekka, both teachers, moved to Lauki, Nepal, to live close to the people of the area in October 2014. With few places to live, they moved into one of the old mud houses.
At first, many of the people were reserved, afraid, and curious about the Sisters’ presence among them. Residents questioned why these two educated Catholic Sisters on bicycles had come to Lauki. Soon, the people came to realize the SCNs were trying to help those in the village improve their lives with classes and empowerment programs. Through dozens of family visits and conversations, Sisters were able to connect with the people. The Sisters became a welcome sight in the area where most of the local people are of Indian origin. Many belong to the Uraon Tribals and have been living in this part of Nepal for generations.
The Sisters began to address the many struggles facing the people. Most of the Tribals are landless or small landholders. They take land on lease from big landowners for growing seasonal vegetables, paddy, and maize. Many of those who possess land do not have proper legal documents. Many of the children do not have the chance to go to school, as they are needed at home to care for grazing animals, or to work as a farmhand.
Unemployment and migration
With little education, job opportunities are few and only a very small percentage of the people are able to get work in any of the government institutions or in the public sector. Most of the able-bodied men work under challenging working conditions away from home, in East Asian countries like Malaysia and Hong Kong.
Very few children are enrolled in the village primary government school, and SCNs identified a need for alternative forms of education. Rita Barla, SCN, a trained social worker, began to organize non-formal classes for children. She also started helping children who attend the regular school, with their studies after school. Around 50 children are learning English, and participate in homework assistance programs.
In addition to challenging living conditions, the people sometimes face political unrest. The recent unrest was tied in part to the request for re-organization of the country into six provinces before the promulgation of the constitution of Nepal in September 2015. The request was mainly connected to the people of Indian origin asking for proportionate representation. During the time of unrest, with no transportation and essential supplies including food, fuel and medicines, the Sisters and the local people struggled together.
After having lived for a year in the old house, which was in need of several major repairs, Sisters decided to construct a new residence with two classrooms for education and coaching classes, and a hall for development programs for women and adolescent girls.
As the Sisters began the construction work, the people voiced their concerns saying that the builders shouldn’t use the only link to their fields – a bamboo bridge – over a stream, to move building supplies. Sister Cornelia helped make the bridge sturdy with concrete before arranging for the materials for the construction to be delivered.
Since arriving in 2014, Sister Cornelia has not only forged a bridge over the stream, she has also forged many other bridges in connecting with the people who looked at her with reservation, initially.
Now, Sisters are welcome guests in the neighborhood as friends and trusted advisers. People often remark that Sisters bring about the presence of God as they humbly walk on the streets among the people and the valleys of the Himalayas.