KATHMANDU, NEPAL – On the banks of the Aagra River in Dhading, a neighboring district of Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, sits a small hut with a grass roof. There are no windows or airflow, just heaps of stones, big and small, piled in one corner.
Among these heaps stands 13-year-old Manita Magar with a hammer in her hand, ready to crush the stones into small pieces.
“I help my mother in her works because her income alone is not enough for subsistence,” she says as she reveals the boils and calluses covering her hands.
Her mother, Aruna Magar, goes out early every morning to collect stones near the riverbank, returning at 8 a.m. to prepare food for her children. Manita then gets to work crushing the stones.
She then helps her siblings to get ready before walking the half an hour to Janjagriti School, where she is in fifth grade. After school, she eats an afternoon snack if there is any food left and then is back to crushing stones.
“I want to go to school,” she says. “But then, I have to work to make our ends meet.”
The government provides free tuition in government schools until 10 th grade. But students have to buy their own books and uniforms.
“We cannot afford school uniform and exercise books,” Manita says.
So Manita says she must work to help generate income for her family.
“My siblings are young,” Manita says. “My mother has to collect the stones and crush them. If I help her, we are able to crush 115 to 150 kilos [up to 330 pounds] of stones every day.”
She says this earns them 100 rupees ($1) to 200 rupees ($2) per day.
Originally from Baglung, a small town in western Nepal, Manita has been living in the hut on the banks of the Aagra River with her mother and her younger brother and sister for the past nine years. A flood destroyed the Magars’ home and land in Baglung in 1993. So Manita’s mother says that the family moved in 1995 to Dhading, where her husband and Manita’s father worked as a porter.
But then Magar's husband left her to marry another woman in the village in 2003. With no other alternative, Magar moved with her children to the banks of Aagra River, where she could support her children by crushing stone.
The same flood that had destroyed their home had also swept away the bridges over the Aagra, Belkhu and Malekhu rivers in Dhading. When the floodwaters receded, large stones littered the banks of the rivers. People from other districts of Nepal migrated to these banks to earn a living by crushing the stones to make material for the construction of buildings, roads, bridges and canals.
In addition to Manita’s struggle to balance school and crushing stone, her family lives under constant fear in the small hut. From March to May, they fear that storms might uproot their shelter. From May to July, they