In earthquake-stricken Nepal, education makes the ugly duckling tale turn true
The red message light on Facebook lit up. “Sister, I m Mina frm Nepal r u rose sister?”
Relief loosed knots that had tied themselves in my gut after the recent, devastating earthquake in Nepal - another orphan accounted for. “Sister we r safe because of ur bless. Hug you sister n love you.”
Growing up during civil unrest, Mina never remembers having a father. Her mother was mentally ill and then disappeared. From a young age she lived with her uncle, earning her keep by washing pots. As a poor farmer, it was difficult for her uncle to feed her and by the age of six she ended up in an orphanage.
That is where we met Mina. To be brutally honest, she was an awkward little girl who lacked charm and cuteness and who’s marks were never high. She was the one near the back of the group that your eyes passed over.
When Mina finished high school and said she wanted to be a nurse, Liesel and I had reservations. She didn’t have high marks, confidence, or even beauty. Even after years of knowing her, Mina rarely had enough confidence to speak to me, or my mother Liesel. What she did have, however, was effort and drive. We decided that if she was willing to work hard, we were willing to take the gamble and fund her.
The last time Liesel and I saw Mina was this winter. Liesel and I watched a beautiful, young woman approach us. She had her hair tied back and moved with the confidence of someone who has accomplished things. Her face was full of happiness and she held her head up, looking at us eagerly. Was this Mina?! It was hard for us to believe. She had transformed.
Mina was no longer awkward and somehow the inner confidence had transformed her physical appearance. She had become beautiful on the outside as well as the inside. Over lunch, Mina described what she had been doing in her nursing program. She spoke about community outreach projects she’d been involved in and her goals and aspirations for nursing. Her face was gentle and her voice often full of excitement and inspiration.
Later, I leaned across the table and asked Mina about whether she’d had any childhood aspirations to be a nurse. She’d been quiet a moment and then admitted she’d never imagined she would be a nurse. Why would she? She had just been a poor girl with no future. Mina explained that growing up she’d thought that only rich and talented people could be nurses. She’d thought nurses knew everything and she admired their kindness and knowledge.
Mina paused and then explained that in addition to her medical knowledge, she had become confident, independent and kind-hearted as a result of her nursing education. Her face lit up as she described a patient she’d helped. It was more than Liesel and I had ever imagined. We’d only hoped to change her standard of living.
As I write this, the death toll in Nepal is 8,250 and rising. Over two million people became displaced, 14,000 injured and eight million, about a quarter of Nepal’s population, affected by the deadly earthquake on April 25.
While the country still reeled from this, a follow-up earthquake hit this Tuesday, killing at least 96 people and injuring more than 2,300.
Like thousands of others, Mina slept outside the night of the first earthquake and she says that the building she is living in is cracked but otherwise OK.
Unlike many others, Mina knows what she needs to do in the wake of the devastation in Nepal. She needs to continue to study and become a fully qualified nurse, something that will happen later this year. Now, more than ever, Nepal needs trained health-care practitioners. In the bittersweet irony that is sometimes life, Mina has been helping new babies enter the world at the same time as rescue workers have been pulling bodies from rubble.
In the winter, as Liesel and I sat with Mina, I asked her if she had any advice for others. Yes, this wise, young woman had something to say. Mina explained that when there is a very difficult task before you, think confidently to yourself that you can do it. In this way you have already completed 50 per cent of the job. The other 50 per cent is the action. With environmental, political, and social crisis in Nepal and around the world, perhaps this advice is more timely than ever.
We all know the old story about an awkward, grey bird becoming a swan but it is stunning to see how the gift of education transformed an ugly little duckling from a poor village in Nepal into a beautiful swan. Never underestimate the power of education.
Hands of Hope is a Yukon-based organization that helps poor children and adults in India and Nepal develop independence and self-reliance. All donations go to our projects. We pay all our expenses. For more information visit http://www.hands-of-hope.ca or www.facebook.com/booksandbasics