Our inspirational woman of the week, Mira Shah has inspired us with her passion and commitment to giving all adults, whether female or male an equal opportunity to receive an education after being considered adults. Her journey started with hardships of her own, when realized that she wasn’t able to complete her high school career in Nepal. Shah, enrolled in a school which allowed her to receive an education even after being an adult and having her own problems to tend to. With a few other passionate individuals, Shah opened up the Jeevan Jyoti School. This institution allows adults to receive an education.
Could you tell us more about the work you do and about your journey?
I started working in Jajarkot at the United Mission Nepal. While I was working there, I had a problem in my family- my husband married again and brought the second wife home. After the job at UNM, I came to Kathmandu with my children. I hadn’t completed sophomore year of high school, so I joined a school named “Prerana” in Satdobato at grade 9. I took the SLC exam (grade 10 board exam) in the year 2002, with my eldest son. While I was studying there, I didn’t like the environment because the women there were dominated and looked down on. I am a Christian and I used to pray to God asking for his help to start a school for adults. Then, I decided to open a school to provide education to the adult community. The only problem that I face was that there were no funds. I used to go to the “Mayalu group” where there were women working at foreigners’ houses for adult literacy classes. I put my proposal of the new school in front of the women and they were very interested. We started collecting fees from the members on monthly basis and raised some more funds. By receiving some loans and with the help of the funds raised, we opened the “Jeevan Jyoti School”. There were just two students and four teachers when we first started. At first, our services were only available for women, but after a few years, we expanded our grounds to provide education for men as well. Our institution is the only school that provides adult education to men in the Kathmandu valley.
Your school opened with two students for an entire year… So, what motivated you to keep going and running the schools?
For a year, we just had just two students and four teachers, but I never felt disappointed. I patiently did what I had to. I felt as if it was my calling to do much more for women. I knew that in life we have to keep struggling to be successful. For a year, we just had those two students and three to four teachers. Then slowly, the number of students stared increasing. I think it’s a great thing to be able to study at such a late age and I wanted to give as many people as I could the opportunity to be educated.
How would you describe the women at your school? Their potential? Passion for education?
The women at my school are very hardworking. They have a lot of problems managing household responsibilities with their studies. It’s challenging for a housewife with all the household responsibilities to be a student at the same time- to do homework and study for tests. Due to problems at home, some of them have irregular attendance. They know the importance of education but they can’t manage to come to school for some days. Some of them even come secretly and some even lie that they are going to the office. Whenever the women are at school, they are focused and study hard. Our students never talk and make noise in the class. They value education and know the importance of money, because for many it is hard to pay their fees.
How much has it changed for women who come to these classes?
Before the women study at our school, they are not well informed about a lot of the things we teach. They are very satisfied with the education that they get. Some of them do not even know how to write basic Nepali letters. I’ve seen a lot of changes in them after being here- they learn to read books, write and gain a lot of knowledge. We ask them to keep their notebooks from the time they start coming to the school so they can see for themselves how far they come.
What is your best achievement so far?
Seeing the students change themselves through education is a big achievement. Two weeks ago, my school got permission to conduct secondary level. The students in my school are now eligible to take their SLC exam from my school. I feel so happy and proud that my students can take their SLC exams this year. Achievements like these make me forget many sorrows in life.
Could you describe women who have inspired and encouraged you in your life?
I’m very inspired by my mother. In spite of being illiterate, she wanted her children to study and be successful. She always motivated us to study. Even when I was appearing for the SLC, she encouraged me a lot. It is sad that she wasn’t there to see me passing the SLC exam. She wanted to study even when she was very old. I would have admitted her to the school I went to, but she was so old that she was immobile. Because of her, I’m still inspired to study further. I had a friend from Norway, Helen, who also inspired me to continue my education. She told me about “Prerana” school, gave me its location and encouraged me to study there. I am also inspired by Jhamak Kumari Ghimire because in spite of her disabilities, she has such passion for education and writing- she writes with her leg, but her writings and books are awesome! Barbara Naylor is also a very good friend of mine who has always encouraged and supported me.
What are your plans for this year? For the future?
My biggest plan for the year is to prepare my students for SLC. I need to inspire them and help them pass it. There are a few students who aren’t very confident about passing the exam. I need to encourage and motivate them. I am currently doing my Bachelor’s degree in Rural Development. So this year I will be preparing for my bachelor’s first year’s exam as well. I’m also planning to prepare funding proposals for my school.
If everything goes well, after a few years, I also want to provide computer training at my school. This is the age of computer and technology. So I want my students to be equipped with knowledge about computers. If possible, I want to add classes until grade 12. If I cannot, I want to make the education that I’m providing even better. Sometime in the future, I’d love to have a school building of my own-now we are in a rented place.
What would you like to say to the next generation of Nepali girls?
The youth have many opportunities and options these days. You should never fall in for peer pressure or addictions. Focus on your goal, work hard for it and never give up. You can be successful and make a difference. Never stop teaching and learning. Whenever you get a chance to gain new knowledge and skills, grab it. Life is full of ups and downs- you never know when the skill that you learnt could be useful.