In 2014, READ Global staff member Shannon Kimball visited Nepal to see READ’s work for the first time. Below she writes about the READ Center that inspired her the most.
As I approached the Fulbari READ Center, a dozen women rushed me inside. I had learned to handle the heat in Nepal’s Terai region—which was about 100 degrees in the shade—but the dust storm was another thing entirely. The smiling faces inside told me that the Center wasn’t just a haven for me.
It was my fourth site visit of the day, and my seventh in the last two days. This exciting pace helped me overcome the learning curve. I quickly grew accustomed to READ Centers and their resources, so I wasn’t expecting to see much that I hadn’t seen before—a beautiful building filled with books, brightly-colored toys, computers, and smiling villagers of all ages. The Fulbari Center had only opened one week prior to my visit, so I expected it to be quieter than the others I had seen.
Grateful to be inside, the next, surprising, challenge was finding a place to stand. The Women’s Section was bursting at the seams with women in pink and green colored saris. As a million questions swirled in my head, a woman named Chuna Devi grabbed my hand and began to lead me around the room.
I had already heard a lot about the resilient Chuna Devi, who once said that she grew up believing that she was worthless because she was a girl.
Chuna herself is from Fulbari, and didn’t have a READ Center in her village. But she became a regular Center visitor in the neighboring village of Agyauli, where she learned to read and started a women’s study group. Eventually, she campaigned to build a Center in Fulbari so that the women in her village could have the same opportunities.
As Chuna led me around the room, I heard so many more stories of villagers like her: of Fulkumari Mahoto, a widowed mother of two who learned to read at the nearby Agyauli READ Center, and is now earning an income through her farming; of a grandmother who told me she couldn’t wait to learn to read; of new mothers, many of whom are teenagers, who are enrolled in a maternal health class.
Chuna told me that these women didn’t have confidence, and that the Center’s upcoming women’s empowerment trainings would help them immensely. But as they all spoke over each other, applauding and laughing and smiling, I knew that the Center was already having an impact.
Just having a safe space for the women to gather was empowering them.
Chuna’s story is indeed remarkable—she’s now the Vice President of the new Fulbari Center. But this trip made me realize that there are so many more women just like Chuna in Fulbari, in Nepal, and in South Asia, waiting for the opportunity to be heard. Our work depends on women like Chuna, who use their newfound opportunity lift up their community.
About the author:
Shannon Kimball, READ Global Development Associate
Shannon joined READ in April 2013 as Development Associate. Prior to joining READ, she interned in the correspondence department of the Obama for America reelection headquarters in Chicago. She also interned at World Sport Chicago, a non-profit associated with the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid, where she helped establish a city-wide track and field program for inner-city youth. She spent a semester abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. She holds a B.A. in International Development and Psychology from McGill University, where she was Editor-in-Chief of the campus newspaper, the McGill Tribune.