Outside of the tenth grade classroom where she spends most days, Suma seems the picture of a thriving young woman, but her story is one of extraordinary struggle. The only girl of four children born to illiterate parents in Nepal’s Bardiya district, Suma was contracted into indentured servitude at only six years old and sent to work in another family’s home.
Suma endured six years of labor and abuse in three different homes, trapped with thousands of other young girls in Nepal’s Kamlari system. When she returned home at the age of 12, she was unable to communicate even with her family. Sent away at such a young age, Suma had forgotten how to speak her own native language.
Despite her late start and difficult childhood, Suma was determined to get an education. In 2008 she was accepted into our Girls’ Education program, and joined the seventh grade at the age of 16 with the help of some remedial education classes. In addition to material support, Suma was introduced to a social mobilizer (mentor) and invited to attend life skills training to help her transition back into mainstream society.
The life skills training also helped Suma develop the confidence she needed to stand up for herself. “I said to my mother: you gave birth to your sons and you gave birth to me, why discriminate? We are equals and I deserve the same opportunities.” Slowly, she says, her parents’ attitudes and behavior have begun to change.
Now 19, Suma is on track to graduate from secondary school in the spring of 2014 and has set her sights on a career as a health educator so that she can help empower more girls in her community.
Along with Suma, 655 other ex-Kamlari girls are currently enrolled in our Girls’ Education program in Bardiya. Working in partnership with Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation/Friends of Needy Children, who rescue Kamlari girls from bonded labor, Room to Read seeks to help eradicate the now illegal, but still widely culturally-accepted practice.
As part of her healing process, Suma wrote a song about her struggle to pursue an education, and has been invited to perform it—and share her story—at the Women in the World 2012 Summit hosted by Newsweek and The Daily Beast in New York City.
Watch the live stream of her performances Thursday, March 8 at 6:30pm EST and Saturday, March 10 at 11:30am EST. Her story will also be featured in the groundbreaking 10x10 film, which tells the stories of 10 extraordinary girls from 10 countries who have overcome significant challenges in their quest to complete their education.