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A letter from Sunita: Keeping our promises on girls’ education

During the 51st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, held at UN headquarters in New York, youth delegate Sunita Tamang participates in the ‘Girls Speak Out’ panel on 2 March.

By Sunita Tamang

Sunita Tamang, 15, recently participated in the 51st session of the Commission on the Status of Women, held at UN headquarters in New York. She has written the following letter to participants in the High Level Conference on ‘Keeping Our Promises on Education’ in Brussels on 2 May 2007.

BIRATNAGAR, Nepal – My name is Sunita and I am 15 years old. I live with my mother and sister in Biratnagar in eastern Nepal. When I was still a young child my father abandoned us, leaving us even poorer than we had been before. To make ends meet, my mother took a job in a jute mill, and I started working at matchstick factory.

School for me was out of the question – we simply couldn’t afford it.

But that changed in 1999, when I found out about a UNICEF-supported programme offering catch-up classes for out-of-school children like me. I signed up and started taking classes, two hours a day. It was not always easy, but I was motivated to learn and worked really hard. After two years, I caught up to Grade 5. Now I am awaiting the results of my Grade 10 final exams, which for us is the last year of high school; it seems that my motivation and hard work have paid off.

Helping others get an education

I still have my job at the match factory. I mostly bring work home. I make the boxes and fill them with matches, then take them back to the factory and fetch more materials. I work a total of five to six hours a day. Every two days, when I make 1,000 matchboxes, I get paid 20 rupees – or 30 cents. It is not much, but it is enough for me to buy school supplies for myself and my younger sister.

So I am still a working child, but nonetheless an educated one. And I hope to go on to university some day.

I am also helping other children like me to get an education. Together with friends I set up a club for working children in our community. We try to teach them about their rights and how to fight discrimination and HIV/AIDS. Although these children may be forced to work, we believe they should also have a chance to go to school so that their future is better than their present. There are 22 working children clubs in my town, and I was recently selected as Chairperson of the Municipal-Level Working Children’s Network.

Time to keep your promises

I am writing to you today to remind you of a certain promise you made seven years ago. By telling you first-hand how education changed my life, maybe you will feel moved to commit to education for all children. I was only a little girl when the international community pledged to send all the world’s children to school by 2015. That deadline approaches and we are still lagging behind. I don’t understand why. If countries have enough money to go to war, they must have enough to send their children to school.

Children who do not go to school may never know anything about their rights. They may never have a chance to climb above poverty or learn to protect themselves from abuse and disease. They may not be able to help their own countries develop.

That is why on behalf of the millions of girls and boys who are not as fortunate as I have been, I urge you to set things right. The decisions you make today will affect the lives of many children worldwide. The time to keep your promises on education is NOW!

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