KATHMANDU, NEPAL – Anupa Gurung, 12, sits at the back of her classroom in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, and listens attentively to her teacher. Unlike her friends, who are eager to finish the class and return home, Anupa becomes sad when the bell rings to announce the end of the school day.
That is when she must resume her duties as a domestic laborer.
“As I reach home, I have to put away my books and start cleaning the dishes,” she says. “I do not know whether I [will] get any food.”
Anupa moved to Kathmandu three years ago from a village in eastern Nepal, 500 miles away.
Anupa says she was living happily with her family back home, but she wasn’t receiving an education because there was no school in her village. The older girls in her neighborhood advised her mother to send her daughter to Kathmandu, where she would get the chance to go to school if she worked as a baby sitter for a family in the city.
Anupa, 9 at the time, didn’t know where Kathmandu was, but she had experience taking care of her siblings and thought she would be able to manage her studies with her work. With this hope, she left with a neighbor for Kathmandu.
It was difficult for her to leave her family, she says, but she was excited to see large buildings, vehicles and the bustle of the city. Then her neighbor handed her over to a woman who owned a four-story building and told her that if she did everything she asked her to, she would get an opportunity to attend school.
There were eight people in her new “family.” Her employer ordered her to baby-sit the 4-year-old son, sweep the floor, wash clothes, clean the toilet, carry bags home from the market and prepare vegetables for meals.
For her own meals, she says she receives stale leftovers.
“If there are no leftovers, I won’t have anything to eat,” she says.
Her day starts at 5 a.m and ends at 10 p.m. when she finishes all her chores and puts the employer’s son to bed. After that, she starts her homework, finishing around midnight. She sleeps on the kitchen table using a sack as a pillow.
Whenever she asks for school workbooks, returns late from school, drops a utensil or the employer’s son misbehaves, the older daughters of her employer beat her behind the closed door of the storeroom.
“I get hurt while being beaten,” Anupa says. “I sit and cry alone. Nobody comes to console me.”
She hasn’t seen her family in years.
“I have not set foot on my home since I came to Kathmandu, nor has any one of my family members come to visit me,” she says. “I think I have forgotten the home.”
So school has become her oasis. The second-grader says she loves her classmates and teachers and is happy that she is getting the chance to study.