Putting Words into Action for Child Literacy in Nepal
By KEEN Europe Ambassador Jasper Doest
Can you read this? If so, you can count yourself lucky.
The ability to read and write is easily taken for granted. It is something many of us learn at a very young age and use throughout the rest of our lives. Think of all the information you gather through reading. I’m not only talking about when we deliberately decide to read a book, newspaper, or one of the many text messages on your cellphone. I’m also talking about all the information we unintentionally pick up through reading.
Nepal’s education system still has a long way to go. Almost half of the country’s adults are illiterate and roughly 40 percent of the students drop out before graduating from primary school.
I didn’t really think of this until my oldest daughter was diagnosed as being dyslexic, a learning disability that is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. She will have to deal with this the rest of her life, but she’s lucky that she lives in a country with a proper education system. But what about Sona, Kamal and Samita, children I recently met in Nepal? They might not be dyslexic but they never learned how to read as Nepal’s education system still has a long way to go.
Almost half of the country’s adults are illiterate and roughly 40 percent of the students drop out before graduating from primary school for a variety of different reasons. This is why Room to Read seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in low-income communities by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. Working in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments, they develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children to help enable them reach their full potential and contribute to their communities and the world.
A Collab with Sherpa Adventure Gear to Support Nepal
Created from our shared values with Sherpa Adventure Gear, the Innate Sherpa leather boot is made with environmentally preferred leather and features an endless knot that honors Sherpa climbers. Available for men and women.
KEEN teamed up with Sherpa Adventure Gear to develop a new hiking boot for men and women—the Innate Sherpa leather hiking boot—and will donate a portion of the proceeds from each boot sold to Room to Read. They asked me to join on a recent visit to Nepal to see the project in action and see how our funds will make a difference. I’ve always wanted to visit Nepal, so I didn’t have to think long. Last week, Jeroen & Danny from KEEN and my close friend Thomas (videographer) met at Schiphol Airport for an exciting and meaningful adventure.
Soon after landing, we found ourselves strolling through the center of Kathmandu, a city that is as fascinating as it is frantic; as charming as it is chaotic. A melting pot of culture, history and religion surrounded by mountain scenery...a unique atmosphere that will not easily be forgotten. Since it was a public holiday (Teej, a women’s festival) the city proved to be as lively as it could have been. The next day’s visit to the famous "Monkey Temple" and other cultural sights didn’t disappoint either. But that wasn’t the reason why we came here, and after days of anticipation we traveled to Nuwakot, a historic town located 75km west of Kathmandu.
Challenging Conditions for Life and Learning
While traveling 75km would have taken us just around 45 minutes in the Netherlands, we arrived in Nuwakot after 3.5 hours—and according to our driver that was fast. During these 3.5 hours, it became pretty clear that Kathmandu is not representative of the rest of Nepal. While we had seen the remaining results of the 2015 earthquake in the city and noticed the monuments that were still being reconstructed, outside the city it became more apparent what influence the earthquake has had and how the elements make life a challenge for the local people in the rural areas. Mudslides seemed to be quite regular here, and the road conditions were far from good. In between the constant road construction, the honking trucks, and loads of motorcycles, we would see school kids walking in flip-flops or bare feet. Some of them have to walk up to 1.5 hours through the mud to reach school. And although they must have gotten used to it, it doesn’t surprise me that the dropout rate is quite high. But the distance isn’t the only reason.
Unfortunately child marriage is still regular here and many girls leave school before entering secondary school. Having two daughters myself, this remains extremely hard to imagine. It’s great to learn that Room to Read also focuses on gender equality in school and has a special Girls Education Program that continues through secondary school. While still plunged in thought, our driver suddenly hits the brakes. Apparently we’ve almost hit a goat! Although Danny wants to get out and cuddle the shocked animal, we continue on our way and soon we arrive at the school. The kids cover us in flowers and we are warmly welcomed by the principal, staff, and Room to Read representatives.
Let's Give Kids More Room to Read
During the remaining days, Thomas and I documented Room to Read’s literacy project at two different schools. And while I saw the kids struggling to read, you can see they’re making great progress the older they get. I tried to pick up some Nepali language but it ain’t easy. The kids laughed about my efforts, and it was clear that they enjoyed outcompeting me. They showed off with a few English words and laughed in front of our cameras. As Thomas flew his drone over the school, we waved goodbye. It sure was a privilege to visit this project and to see firsthand that Room to Read is doing such a great job here in Nepal.
In Nepal, Room to Read supports 368 schools and benefits over 90,000 students.
From a distance I look at Jeroen and Danny, the KEEN team clearly has enjoyed it just as much as I have. It’s great to see KEEN continuing to be a company that tries to make a difference. It was why I wanted to join as an ambassador almost a decade ago, and today I’m still immensely proud to be part of this family.
Buy a pair of KEEN Innate Sherpa boots! For all those kids we met along the way—and who knows where these boots will take you—as long as you keep moving your feet, good things can happen!
KEEN Europe Ambassador and photographer Jasper Doest
This trip has been way too short, but long enough to make me fall in love with Nepal. I surely hope to be back one day and check on the progress that Room to Read has made…and it’s a great feeling that we can actually help with that.
I know the following sentence sounds incredibly commercial. But having seen Room to Read’s efforts firsthand, I can’t say anything but: Buy a pair of KEEN Innate Sherpa boots! For all those kids we met along the way—and who knows where these boots will take you—as long as you keep moving your feet, good things can happen!
Room to Read seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in low-income communities by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. Working in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments, they develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school with the relevant life skills to succeed in school and beyond. Learn more at www.roomtoread.org.