The team behind Samaanta is young, dynamic, and- perhaps most significantly- has benefited greatly from the educational opportunities they were afforded in their formative years. We believe in the potential power of education, but recognize that it is a particular kind and quality of education that leads to effective and powerful transformation.
Members of our team have been friends for many years, and share a strong passion for higher education. Shrochis has been researching education issues for a few years now, and has most recently been involved with a superlative community school, introduced below. He was touched by the potential and plight of some of the students there, and wrote about it in a national daily. Vidhan had already been involved with Shanti School Project to rejuvenate the education system, so when the two caught up over a public function, he provided the initial impetus and boldness to make our vision for higher education a reality. The two pledged their own money to get this initiative off the ground. Trina, who has extensive experience working with children and young people, was excited by the project and enthusiastically joined to steer the ship in the right direction. The discussion to support a few students started taking shape and spiralled out of control (in a good way) to ultimately give birth to Samaanta.
Bishwamitra Ganesh Secondary school, a local community school in rural Lalitpur, has established itself as one of the best public schools in the country. The systemic strength of this school, particularly the dedication of most teachers, is exemplary, and sets the platform for further gains in education. Unfortunately, these successes have not translated as effectively into everyday student practices because of the harsh socio-economic backgrounds they face. Nonetheless, against all odds, of the twenty students who appeared for the SLC in 2012 (ten janajatis, four dalits, and six alleged higher castes, but from poor families) four achieved distinction and the school secured a 100% success rate.
However, the euphoria of this unprecedented result in the community barely lasted, because their future remained in uncertainty. These students could not afford to attend good, proven schools, as most of them do not have the financial means to pay for their education.
The Higher Secondary Education Board does provide some scholarships to talented students from community schools, but these scholarships only waive admission and tuition fees. The process itself is fraught with personal and political manipulations, thereby raising serious questions about transparency. Nonetheless, the HSEB scholarship provides a first step in the right direction.
Only two years ago, when the school’s star pupil scored the highest mark among girls in community schools in Nepal, HSEB’s scholarship helped her continue her education. Last year, all the applying graduates from the school relied on HSEB scholarships to continue their education. However, even with HSEB support, the best case scenario remained that these students complete their degrees from sub-par schools in the valley. Past students have expressed concern over disappearing into oblivion because of their ‘bad’ education. Yet, in addition to being uncertain about whether HSEB would really nominate their names to good schools, these students did not have the confidence to dare to dream big enough, so they continued to seek solace in the same schools that have failed to excite earlier students.
Education holds the potential to change peoples’ lives for the better, as we have found from personal experience, but it is unlikely that the kind of education these students appeared destined to receive would transform their lives as effectively. Given the difficulties they have overcome to achieve these results, we were convinced that these students have the potential to learn and lead their communities, if provided with the right opportunities and support. Over informal and formal discussions, we decided to help set up Samaanta Foundation to provide these opportunities and support. The rest, as they say, is evolving history.