‘The cow is there but the pot is empty of whey.
There's no one to speak on behalf of poor Chameli.’
Lines from the famous song featured in the movie Balidan tell the story of poor Chameli, who was born, lived and died in poverty and hardship. But another Chameli - Chameli Waiba of Sattar village, Makawanpur has managed through perseverance and struggle to reverse the theme of this song. Like the Chameli in the song, this Chameli was poor; she had no formal education, but she ended up a leader and problem-solver her village .
Chameli wasn’t always so strong. She was a woman without confidence, facing an endless stream of problems. Because she was the oldest daughter in the family, she had to help her mother with housework, even when she was a small child. An early marriage added to her tension. Then when her husband took a second wife, her life became even harder. At the time she thought 'That’s life. So many other women suffer the same problems, so I’ll just have to get on with it'. She had no dream – just an endless round of collecting firewood and cutting grass in village. In this way, she passed 23 springs, but for her, life was just one long, cold winter. Then one day, a woman in the village asked her to join an adult literacy class. This proved to be a turning point. Where others might not have even seen the opportunity, Chameli saw her chance and seized it.
'Villagers used to say my name was spelt ‘C-H-A-M-I-L-I, but my teacher told me it was spelt C-H-A- M-E-L-I'. That’s was what she remembers from her first day at the adult literacy class 'My name was not spelt M-I, but M-E.’. After six month, the adult literacy class finished, but she never stopped reading. When she went to the jungle for firewood and grass, with her sickle and basket, she took her book with her too. With practice and hard work she found she could read The Ramayana.
'Sita was abducted by Ravan but when she returned, she was ignored by her husband Ram who said it was all her fault.' . This one incident in the Ramayana reminded her that women have been discriminated against since the beginning of time. So, she made education a education and started going to other adult education classes. She realized that education is power. After all, opportunity had knocked on her door, something she could never have imagined before, and she wanted to make the most of it.
Chameli's name was put forward for teacher’s training, after her own teacher left the job to get married. Short on confidence, she set off for Banepa to do the training . She arrived in the evening and over dinner tried to get to know her trainer. The next day, when the course began the trainer put the same question to every trainee.
'How many student do you have in your class ?'
Everyone told him how many. When it was Chameli’s turn to speak, she said, 'It was 30, but now I’m here it’s only 29 sir'
'Why only 29?'
'Because I was one of the students, but now I’ve been upgraded to the position of teacher.'
Chameli said her words created a sense of excitement and happiness in the class. Chameli soon found that all the other trainees had better qualifications than her, but she also found the she was just as confident as them. After three days training, Chameli returned to the village and her role there changed. Now she was the teacher in the adult education class. Later on she established a Child Development Centre, which helped prepare every child before starting school.
But while she was teaching adults, the young children of the village were often unable to go to school. The reason was that the summer rains made the Palung stream swollen and impossible to cross. There was not bridge. The only other way to the school took 2-3 hours. Chameli decided to solve this problem. She applied for funds from a Non-Governmental Organization and was successful. But the money was only enough for the materials to build the bridge. So her next move was to convince the villagers to help build the bridge, giving their labour for free. The bridge was built and now, farmers as well as students can get to where they need to even in the heaviest rain.
In the past, Chameli couldn't even define her problems, let alone solve them, but now she is able to empower others. The people of Sattar village say, 'With Chameli , we can face any challenge.’