I was part of the Marginalised No More project, led by Street Child, from November 2018 until its completion in March 2022. By the end of the project, I was the Programme Manager, based in the regional office in Janakpur.
Our focus was obviously on the education of some of the region’s most marginalised girls, but we also wanted to bring change to the lives of the whole community, including parents and schools.
The outbreak of COVID-19 also brought challenges. However, the adaptations we had to make to ensure girls were safe and could continue learning have resulted in valuable resources and processes, and some new and positive partnerships. When schools closed and we had to introduce distance learning mechanisms it quickly became clear that at least half of the girls we were supporting had no access to mobile phones or suitable technology – so online learning was not an option. Instead, we used radio programming and pre-recorded lessons. We also produced and distributed printed educational materials that the students could use on their own, at times when it suited them. These resources are now being shared and developed with other organisations, including UNICEF.
COVID-19 also had an impact on the vocational training and work experience that we were providing for some of the girls. Before the pandemic, linking to employment services had already proved to be difficult as many employers had requirements that the girls without certification could not meet. Nonetheless, the project had identified enterprises and trainings which were due to begin in May 2020. As lockdowns were put in place, this list – and the training on offer – had to be adapted. The training sessions were shorter term – but the impact was felt more widely as more girls were able to benefit from them: a lesson we will take into the future.
One of the best decisions we made was to work with a number of partners to deliver out project. These included, Aasaman Nepal, Group of Helping Hands Nepal and Janaki Women Awareness Society. We were a well-matched group, and each organisation brought a different level of expertise, along with fresh ideas and perspectives. When we faced concerns and challenges, we had lots of skills to draw on, and the local organisations in particular had good relationships with the communities and a sound understanding of different government levels and functions which we were able to leverage.
Beyond the original consortium, we have also worked with other like-minded organisations, especially during COVID-19. Coordination with these organisations meant that we could support the wellbeing of girls and their families as well as their education, including food distribution where needed. We worked with the Trans-cultural Psychosocial Organisation and the Centre for Mental Health and Counselling Nepal on mental health support and National Nepal Musahar Sangh for food distribution and data enumeration.
Being part of the Girls’ Education Challenge has also been beneficial. It has helped our organisation develop its capacity and skills, especially educational specialisms. It has also given us a platform from which we have been able to connect with other donors and develop further pilot schemes and programmes. These include low-tech intervention for education (LIFE) aimed at improving numeracy through phone intervention and an in-school teaching at the right level (TaRL) pilot which is contributing towards addressing COVID-19 learning loss in government schools – both with the World Bank.
Based on this experience, my advice to other organisations planning or implementing similar programmes is to really focus on the design of the project and ensure that it is truly inclusive and representative. Make sure that there is genuine engagement with the marginalised communities from the outset. Listen to what they have to say and adapt accordingly. It is also important to have a wide understanding of the girls you are supporting. Arguably, we should have included more married girls, as they are less likely to emigrate and therefore able to consistently engage in the programme. And consider the balance between quality and quantity. What is the optimum number of girls you can support? Is it better to provide more focused and effective support to a fewer number? And can this actually be more sustainable and impactful within the community in the longer term?
In terms of our overall impact, I am particularly proud of the way in which we worked with the Musahar community and how the field supervisors, community educators and social workers (especially female) we recruited are now working in their communities, inspiring others and bringing hope and confidence to girls and young women. On a personal note, I have been privileged to work with a young and energetic team who have encouraged professional and personal growth which I will take with me to future projects.
Further resources from the MnM project:
Short film: Supporting and securing livelihoods
Short film: Distance teaching and learning
Short film: Amplifying voices that matter