For Chuna Devi Pengeni, undoing decades of self-doubt and insecurity began with a simple but bold decision: to learn how to read.
Chuna went through 47 years of her life in rural Nepal never receiving any formal education. Because she was born a girl, her family deemed it unnecessary to send her to school. Chuna was married by 16 and seemed resigned to a life of hard labor and illiteracy.
But then there was an illness in the family. Recalling the difficulty she had trying to seek medical attention, Chuna shares:
When my mother got sick [with cancer], I took her to the hospital. They told me to take her to room 105 to see the doctor, but I didn’t know how to recognize room 105. We couldn’t find the doctor, so mother and I went home.
This episode, along with Chuna’s own long-held desire to learn, compelled her to begin taking literacy classes at her local READ Center. There she learned to read and write, and was also able to study effective agriculture techniques, women’s and health issues, and how to use a mobile phone.
Seeing her own life transformed by education, Chuna decided that she would not keep her newfound knowledge to herself. She would teach others. She now leads a women’s study group to help those who were once in her position–illiterate and unsure of what they could accomplish in life. In her community, Chuna has become a champion of education.
Chuna’s story is a brilliant reminder of the fortitude of women in trying situations—and of the systemic exclusions they still face. Something as simple as being able to make sense of lines and figures on a sheet of paper can make the difference between being able to get medical care or being left helpless, living with self-determination or living under a pall of uncertainty.
Putting an end to gender inequality requires the efforts of legislators, politicians, and cultural leaders among others, but empowerment on the individual level, even if it is as basic as teaching one to read, can have reaches beyond what is first imagined. Chuna is living proof of that.
Thanks to READ Global for sharing this video with APF!