It’s quite common to spot a young woman wearing a pink kurta along with a graceful white shawl that may remind you of a school teacher’s outfit, across the 60 schools in Jaimini Municipality and Kathekhola Rural Municipality in Baglung district. However, it’s important to note that these individuals are not school teachers. They are community volunteers known as ‘Big Sisters.’
These Big Sisters play multiple roles as educators, mentors, and guides, not just for teachers and students, but also for parents and the entire community. They hold social positions within the community and generously offer their time, whether it’s in community, schools, or local government offices, all with the goal of improving children’s education and promoting awareness about eliminating harmful practices that exist in society.
Over the course of two years, these 60 Big Sisters have orchestrated noticeable transformations in 60 community schools, impacting both education and societal dynamics. Their remarkable efforts have garnered widespread recognition and admiration. These Big Sisters are volunteers who have been enlisted by the “SIKAI Project,” which seeks to enhance inclusive and high-quality education for disadvantaged children, reintegrate students who had dropped out of school, and create a favorable learning environment.
Additionally, each Big Sister is supported by a team of 10 youthful volunteers who actively support them in addressing local needs and fostering social change.The Big Sisters receive assistance from these social volunteers and reciprocate by offering home visits and other support when required. Local residents have come to understand that these outstanding endeavors demonstrate the possibility of achieving community-driven accomplishments, propelling localized social transformation and positive progress. The Big Sisters assume a pivotal role in elevating the educational standards for every child within the schools. They cultivate close relationships with the students, fostering an atmosphere in which children feel at ease sharing their concerns. Subsequently, the Big Sisters promptly engage with parents, teachers, and relevant stakeholders to address these issues and find immediate solutions. To accomplish this, all Big Sisters collaborate closely with their respective community schools, facilitating connections and communication among teachers, parents, School Management Committee and Parents Teachers Association.
A compelling illustration of the influence of Big Sisters can be observed through the case of Pabitra (name changed), a student at one of the secondary schools in Jaimini Municipality. Pabitra and some of her friends had discontinued their school attendance due to physical mistreatment in school. Big Sister intervened and successfully resolved this issue by discussing the issue with the principal and concerned committee. After this incident the school and teachers have ensured to create a fostered learning environment for all students. Pabitra now feels at ease and secure while at school, and she no longer hesitates to seek assistance from teachers when faced with difficulties. This serves as a representative example of how a child-friendly learning environment, initiated by a Big Sister, can have a profound impact.
The impact of the Big Sisters in their respective areas is so significant that they are now regarded as the first responders to various social issues within their communities.
According to Bimal Sharma, the monitoring and evaluation officer at BYC, a local organization partnering with the SIKAI Project, over the last two years, Big Sisters have played a central role in motivating more than 200 students on the brink of dropout to rejoin the school. Even children who previously attended school irregularly have now established a regular attendance pattern.
Devi Sharma, serving as a Big Sister at Dalit Utthan Basic School in Jaimini Municipality, emphasizes her dedicated efforts in visiting students’ homes and engaging with their parents. Through patient explanations and effective communication, they successfully convinced the children to return to school.
The impact of these Big Sisters in their respective areas is so significant that they are now regarded as the first responders to various social issues within their communities. Parents have come to believe that they can also play a crucial role as first responders, particularly in cases where their children require regular counseling at school. The Big Sisters collaborate with parents, resulting in increased attendance of students in their respective schools. Additionally, proactive participation in extracurricular activities and evidence led by the Child Clubs has seen a rise.
Despite their impactful work, the Big Sisters face numerous challenges, including the geographical remoteness of some areas. “To reach certain parents, they endure arduous journeys lasting two to three hours, crossing rivers, hills, and forests, with the constant fear of encountering wild animals. Moreover, during the rainy season, the path becomes slippery, further complicating their efforts,” explains Big Sister Srijana BK from Unique Aadharbhut School.
Devi Sharma, another Big Sister, shares her own initial challenges. “Parents initially didn’t seem to care whether their children attended school,” she said. “They would often shut their doors when we visited their homes and accused me of lecturing them.” Devi Sharma remembers unfortunate incidents, including facing physical attacks such as being pelted with stones while walking on the road. However, by patiently explaining the importance of education, emphasizing future benefits, and highlighting the services provided by the school, they gradually earned the trust of the community, resulting in a positive transformation.Despite the hardships they face, the Big Sisters find fulfillment in their work, which has become an integral part of their identity within the community. People of all ages affectionately refer to them as “Thulididi” (Big Sisters). Devi Sharma states, “Nowadays, I myself feel like my name is Thulididi because that’s how it feels.” All the Big Sisters share a common sentiment that the challenges encountered during their volunteer work are overshadowed by the visible positive changes in their surroundings, inspiring them to continue their efforts in the days to come.