“When I received my first salary, my eyes nearly shed tears”

June 30, 2022
By Kerri Whelan
June 30, 2022
~3 min read

When Urmila thinks about her childhood, she remembers the briny porridge her mother would make for her family — usually the only meal they could afford to eat every day — and the drips of rainwater that would leak through their thatched roof and dribble against the kitchen table. “Difficult” is how she describes her life as a girl in rural Nepal.

The hardest part, she says, was staying in school.

Urmila is the youngest of her parents’ four children. Two of her brothers are disabled, and both her parents started facing a slew of health complications once she entered her teenage years. Despite all her family’s challenges, she managed to finish high school. But when she graduated, she felt a responsibility to find work and take care of her family. Continuing her education was a dream she forced herself to give up on.

Urmila’s journey toward a career wasn’t as straightforward as she hoped. She moved to a city seeking more job opportunities, but since she didn’t have much professional experience, she was often turned away. And when Urmila would plead in interviews for a chance after explaining her family’s situation, instead of giving her that opportunity, employers would try to take advantage of her.

[Read — Forced to sleep with the boss: 3 women share their stories]

But Urmila didn’t give up. She kept looking for safe and reliable work, and eventually heard about an initiative that helps young women become teachers — a program run in collaboration with Plan International. Urmila applied and eagerly waited to hear back.

“A month later, I received the call and was enrolled in the early childhood development training course,” Urmila says, smiling. “Through the training, I realized it is not only about teaching children, but understanding their habits and behaviors. ECD training helped me to understand students better.”

Through the training, Urmila also learned computer skills, something she wanted to pursue after high school. And, she learned about managing stress, confidence, gender equality and child protection.

“I remember my instructor for gender and protection advising us to present ourselves confidently in an interview and not to disclose or reflect on our family circumstances, as they might take advantage of the situation,” she says. “This touched me. I had experienced this and understood what she meant. This helped me to discover myself.”

After Urmila graduated from the training, she landed a job as a teaching apprentice — back at the same high school she went to herself. She worked at the school for three months before being offered a permanent position, due to her standout dedication and hard work.

Urmila, age 20, learns child care skills during an early childhood development training.
Urmila, age 20, learns child care skills during an early childhood development training.

“When I received my first salary, my eyes nearly shed tears,” she says. “It was the best day of my life. I kept some and handed the rest over to my parents. The happiness was doubled as my parents were so proud of me.”

It would’ve been easy for Urmila to give up. Not just once, many times. But her belief in her own potential kept her going. Now, another girl like her will sit at a school desk in that small town in Nepal and know that even if things are hard right now, she can grow up and change her story. Just like her teacher did.