From an aspiring trekking guide to the next Steve Jobs, here are the exceptional young women we chose to join the 2016 LEAD Course.
Photos by Leena Dahal.
Since her early teens, 2016 LEADer Aayusha has dreamt of seeing a cleaner and greener Nepal. “The rate at which the environment is being polluted will certainly create more problems and if we do not sort the little problems now,” she wrote in her Women LEAD application. “We have to leave things for our future generation.” Aayusha wants to turn her passion into her career and dedicate her life to wildlife and environmental conservation in Nepal, which she sees as essential to developing Nepal’s flourishing tourism sector.
Art might not usually be seen as a way to create social impact, but Aksha aspires to link her passion for theater and social activism to bring tough topics to the forefront of Nepali society. Using her love of theater, art, and literature, Aksha wants to become a voice for some of Nepal’s most marginalized groups, including women and children. When asked what makes her unique, Aksha’s answer was simple, yet powerful: “I am a woman and I am a leader.”
The Outspoken One
From a young age, Anukriti’s parents have encouraged her to speak up for what is right even when it makes her uncomfortable. Now, as a young woman, this lesson has stuck with her and she sees her voice as a key way to make her community and country a better place. “To create change, I must be the initiator and voice out when I see someone doing something wrong to me or anyone else,” she says. This valor comes a long way, especially when it comes to one of the topics Anukriti is most passionate about—street harassment. While this topic is largely seen as taboo, she is encouraging women and girls to speak about their experience and find ways to make sure street harassment is no longer as common. Anukriti wants to study law and help improve the current political situation in Nepal.
The Aspiring Journalist
Prior to joining Women LEAD, Baruna was an active member of Nepal Scouts. Through this program, Baruna got her first taste of what it means to be a leader and change-maker in her community. “I love to raise my hand against the wrong things,” says Baruna. As a Scout, Baruna has “motivated a lot of people in different ways.” She recently organized a blood donation program in her community where she motivated youth to donate blood and explained why it’s important. In the future, Baruna aspires to become a successful woman journalist in Nepal.
The Future Steve Jobs
Belina learned what gender discrimination meant at a young age. Growing up, she recalls constantly seeing friends and family members chastising her parents for having only two daughters and no sons. Her parents, however, did not give up on Belina and continued to invest in her education. In the sixth grade, Belina’s life was changed for the better when she was taught QBasic, a very basic computer language, and developed an interest in programming. Today, Belina is part of a small group of aspiring young women in Nepal who studies computer science. She looks up to Apple-founder Steve Jobs and hopes to work in Silicon Valley one day.
The Free Speech Advocate
Bindiya, 17, wants to study media and advocate for what she sees as a basic right of every person—the freedom of expression. For her, the mass media “is the best [way] for society to exercise its rights to freedom of expression.” “Media has become essential for women’s rights groups to push for greater accountability to exercise their right to freedom of expression,” says Bindiya. As a future media personality, Bindiya hopes to use her voice to speak out and empower adolescent girls.
Ishani clearly remembers one of the first times she applied for a club leadership opportunity at her school. She excitedly completed her application, vying for one of the few leadership spots in the club, only to find out that the positions had already been pre-reserved for the class “toppers.” Ishani felt the impact of this incident long after, saying that the event caused her to start feeling shy and decreased her confidence. Today, Ishani is trying to change that—by joining Women LEAD. “I know that Women LEAD is the best platform for me because they don’t look at grades and select girls based on their passion,” she says. After completing her education, Ishani wants to become a chef in the male-dominated culinary scene and “make people happy with her food.”
Following Nepal’s devastating earthquakes in 2015, many youth found themselves overwhelmed by the present situation. Mallika, instead, chose to act. Mallika and a few other youths took initiative to help others in need, gathering volunteers, collecting supplies for people, and distributing them in the areas where they were need the most. Her positive attitude and optimism are what make her such a powerful emerging leader. “Being a teenager with what is called an “unrealistic” dream, I’d rather label my dreams as ‘visionary,’” says Mallika. “I aspire to bring positivity in myself, Nepal, and eventually make the world [more] optimistic.” Mallika plans to pursue a career as a chartered accountant (CA).
Twelve months years ago, Pema made the treacherous 250 mile journey to Kathmandu from Humla, a remote and isolated region in the far west of Nepal. While girls in her village rarely study beyond Class 10, Pema is continuing her education with the help of a scholarship she received from the Samaanta Foundation. During her interview, Pema talked about a Nepal where everyone—regardless of class, caste, and gender—is able to move forward and achieve his or her dreams. Good leaders, she said, did not simply work for their own benefit. “I am from a rural area and I have seen the situation of women there. I have seen how they struggle,” she told her interviewers. “I want to be a leader to help all the young women and girls in my community achieve their dreams.”
The Next Great Investment Banker
With a youth unemployment rate of approximately 20%, every day Nepal sees its youngsters leaving their homeland in hopes of one dream: improving their standard of living. While most young Nepalis long to study and settle abroad, seventeen-year-old Prashamsa fears that the outpour of young talent from Nepal to the West—known as the “brain drain”—is creating a labor crisis in the country. “The problem is not that people go abroad and study, but rather that they don’t come back,” says Prashamsa. “They’re not using the skills they learned abroad to make their country better.” To solve this, Prashamsa wants to become an investment banker and inspire youths to work in and for Nepal. “By becoming an investment banker, I want to provide funds with nominal interest to [youth] so they can open up their own venture and create employment in Nepal,” she says.
The Media Personality
For Prastuti—who hopes to one day work in the media—Nepal’s radio, newspaper, and television channels play a key role in creating social change. “I want to be a media personality and a social activist for bringing a revolution in my country,” she says. “In my opinion, the media is the strongest and most powerful sector in Nepal today [and] I want to use it to change the view of the people regarding women.” Prastuti is taking steps to this this dream a reality. She recently completed a 30-Day Basic Course on Radio Anchoring, Radio Programme Production, News and Current Affairs and Personality Development organized by Classic Media Training & Research Institute. As a participant in our program, she hopes to continue her build on her public speaking skills and gain the tools she needs to create change in society.
The Social Activist
If there’s one issue that Prishtina, 17, is passionate about, it’s ending child labor. Prishtina grew up seeing her mother fight for this issue, and now longs to become a social activist in her own right and work for a Nepal that is free of child labor. As a LEADer in our program, she wants to spend the next year improving her public speaking skills so she can speak out about the issues she is so passionate about.
The Future Bank Manager
While Nepal makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone based on their caste, many individuals who are considered “lower caste” still find that they are not seen as equal in the eyes of their fellow citizens. 2016 LEADer Rabina experienced this first hand when, at the age of 8, she was forbidden from entering the home of a friend simply because she was “lower caste.” To end this grotesque discrimination, Rabina hopes to arrange educational programs to show others that everyone—regardless of their caste—is equal. Rabina wants to earn a Bachelor’s in Business Administration and become the manager of a bank.
The Up and Coming Women’s Rights Activist
Rajani has seen first-hand the opportunities young women and girls miss simply because of their gender, and she is motivated to change that. “Girls in my village have to face a lot of discrimination only because they are girls,” Rajani wrote in her application. “I want to make myself capable so that I can speak for myself and fight against these social issues.” By becoming a leader, Rajani hopes she can become a role model for the girls in her village and dedicate her life to social work.
The Passionate One
2016 LEADer Rashila thinks leadership is not just about commanding others —it’s about leading oneself. She is deeply concerned about the issue of child labour. She hopes to run a business in future and finance the education of at least one girl so that they have a bright future.
The “Brave Personality”
For Reezma, leadership isn’t about ruling over someone. “In my opinion, leadership is not only about having power… it is a brave personality who can give the right guide and show the way to succeed.” As a “brave personality,” Reezma wants to talk about an issue that is rarely openly discussed in Nepali society: sex education. As a young woman, she wants her female peers to have a safe space where they can talk about these issues. “We need to talk to young adults about contraceptives and why it’s important,” she believes. Reezma wants to study media in the future.
The Proud Humanities Student
Ruma’s decision to study Humanities is one that many people do not understand. As a student, she has heard others question the usefulness of this faculty, but despite these criticisms, she remains proud of the educational path she has chosen. “I want to change the narrow mind of people who don’t really think of Humanities as a subject,” she says. “People who study different subjects would be here without the Humanities faculty!” With her Humanities background, Ruma wants to work toward making Nepal’s future better and brighter.
The Humanitarian Trekker
Nepal’s snow-capped mountain ranges are filled with trekking guides willing to take you across your desired destination, but if you try finding a woman in the profession, you will have to search long and hard. Seventeen-year-old Sabina wants to combine her dream of becoming a trekking guide with her passion for social change. “While trekking I can visit different places of our country, even rural areas, and during those visits and stays along the way, I can give knowledge to the people on child labor, trafficking, deforestation, polygamy, etc,”she says while explaining her unconventional profession. “Knowledge can change their lives and any flawed systems.” Sabina wants to be an example for other girls in her community and show them that they can do anything they want to do.
The Children’s Rights Activist
Determined to enjoy her life to the fullest, Sajju harbors the dream of becoming a social worker and be involved in development of the nation. She lives by the belief that one person can make a difference and she aspires to bring change through her action. She has been involved with Child Club at her school from a young age and is passionate about making sure that all children in Nepal can have a free and equal life.
The Future Banker
Samika always looks at grabbing the opportunities in her life. A leader since her school days, Samika considers the development of her leadership skills as one of the greatest achievements in her life thus far. She describes leadership as the capacity of translating vision into reality. Unafraid of raising her voice against what she sees as wrong, she believes that we should not let corruption darken our future and hamper development. “Corruption has chewed up the prosperity of the country,” she says. Samika wants to pursue her career in banking sector and contribute in the development of the country.
The Black Belt
Growing up in Kathmandu, Sangam has observed how girls encounter sexual harassment on almost a daily basis. But as a black belt in karate, Sangam strongly feels that girls must learn to protect themselves against all kinds of harassment. By sharing her self-defense skills with other girls, the young martial arts experts feels more confident and stronger. Sangam aspires to represent her country in international tournaments and bring glory to her home. She wants to become an epitome of independent girl and inspiration for others.
The Social Leader
“Unless women are treated equally to the level of men in the context of career aspiration, freedom, and participation, we cannot achieve a state of civilization and development,” says 2016 LEADer Sapana. With over 30% of the country’s population living under the poverty line, Sapana is motivated to work for the people who are deprived access to quality education because she believes education is the most important weapon to fight poverty. As an aspiring social leader, Sapana aims to restore the dignity and respect of the poor in the society.
Shalina’s mantra is simple: “Learn something new every day.” This motto is directly reflective of Shalina’s passion, education. Growing up she has looked up to her teachers because they “teach us to be human and, most importantly, teach us the meaning of life.” She aspires to “kindle the lamp of education to beat the darkness the poor are living in.”
The Next CEO
Shreya has displayed the sense of responsibility she feels towards her community through her active involvement in scouting and volunteering activities since her school days. She sees the leadership potential in everyone, and believes that everyone has the ability to be a leader if they are given the proper support and encouragement. After completing her studies, Shreya will set off to become a CEO in order to contribute to the economic development of Nepal.
The Next Foreign Minister
While other youth in Nepal can’t be bothered by the subject, history and politics are great matters of interest for 2016 LEADer Shweta. Shweta finds herself distressed by the unstable political situation of Nepal and how frequent changes in leadership have disrupted Nepal’s progress. Shweta has a deep faith in herself and wants pursue a career in foreign affairs and drive the country to the strata of developed nations.
The Media Leader
Once a month, menstrual taboos disrupt the daily routine of many young Nepali women, preventing them from entering the kitchen or even forcing them to sleep outside. Like many other girls her age, 2016 LEADer Smirti finds the restrictions women have to go through while on their periods “suffocating.” “Menstruation is considered to be impure in our society and women are treated like prisoners when they are on their period” says Smriti. Because of this, Smriti thinks media offers a unique medium to create positive change among people. Alongside media, she wants to pursue a career in law and dispense justice to the people. “As a leader we should be able to keep such an impact in the people that they will feel proud to be led by us,” says Smriti.
The Next Finance Leader
Stuti believes that everyone is blessed with leadership potential, and that it only needs to be polished for it to sparkle. She has been in leadership positions since her early days in school as a class and house captain and these positions have helped her not only as a leader, but also as a person. Her major concern is to bring out the best in people and in nation. “I do not want Nepalese to be bound by certain standards. I want Nepal to lead,” she says. Stuti wants pursue her career in finance so that she can dispense funds to start enterprises in Nepal.
Seventeen-year-old Swastika finds herself worried about the future of young women and girls in Nepal. “Women are not allowed to work for herself, to speak against the wrong, to contribute to the development of the nation” says Swastika. Despite this concern, Swastika sees the potential to improve the status of women in her country. For Swastika, the appalling condition of women and girls will change if and when they become aware of their rights. She aims to become a lawyer and become independent because she believes that if women are confident they can make their community a better place.
Every year, thousands of young women are trafficked in and across South Asia for prostitution. After becoming victims of severe sexual exploitation, many of them return home with HIV/AIDS, and the social stigma these women have to face makes their life more miserable. Whusear wants to alleviate their pain and sufferings by becoming a counsellor. She hopes to focus her work in rural parts and help survivors better deal with their trauma.