Shailee Basnet on education, empowerment & environment in Nepali communities

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For many in Nepal, living well below the poverty level, life is hard. For women this is all too often magnified. Yet Shailee Basnet and Maya Gurung, along with the rest of The Seven Summits Women refused to be told that their dreams were off limits. In 2008 they became the first female team to summit Everest, followed by summiting the tallest mountain on every continent.

Shailee Basnet delivering a motivational speech

Since then they have been working to educate and empower Nepali communities that have been ravaged by earthquakes and the subsequent trafficking of young girls. They teamed up with Real Medicine Foundation and Bojana Novakovic to create THE B PROJECT.

How was The B Project born?

Seven Summits Women Team were on a mission; we became the first female group in the world to climb the seven summits in late 2014. Just as we were about to celebrate the success and make new plans, Nepal suffered a major earthquake in April 2015. Our team mate Maya Gurung’s home district Sindhupalchok was the worst hit. Without any resources we started with relief supplies. Our close friend in LA, Bojana Novakovic, started providing financial assistance.

The schools were completely destroyed and the students did not have a safe place to go to. Even before the earthquake, Sindhupalchok had been infamous as a hub for girl trafficking. Most of the men had to seek employment as migrant labours in the gulf region. Lack of quality education has been one of the major reasons.

Earthquake, photography by Bojana Novakovic

So we decided to support recovery of the schools so they become centers for quality education. The work is centered around Maya’s village Bhotenamlang, which gives the project its name.

It is a female led initiative in an otherwise patriarchally dominated environment.

Currently we focus on school reconstruction, quality education and community development initiatives.

What is your long term goal or mission?

To help the region become prosperous, which would also result in diminishing poachers who lead young girls away with the promise of better lives. For that we have identified that education, community empowerment and gender education are the most important factors.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

There are many. It has been a journey of learning by doing. To fight century old ills in a disaster hit region brings a multitude of challenges. Physically we are up against the remoteness of the region, difficulty in transport and lack of infrastructure. Culturally, both at the village level and even at the national policy level, many practices such as child marriage and early school dropout are still quietly accepted. We need to change this to bring real transformation. And of course, resources are always limited.

Photography by Bojana Novakovic

How are education, the environment and empowerment connected?

Education, empowerment and environment are tools for true change. Any change without inclusion of all of these will result in a flawed outcome.

Education is an investment towards the youth for the future, not just intellectually but culturally and socially.

Gender equality and female reproductive health are one of our major targets. Empowerment comes with education, so we are also including adults in our vision. And environment needs to be a built-in factor in both of these to function — since the environment is what holds it all together. Not to mention, Bhotenamlang is an extraordinary place to be, and Nepal itself depends on the preservation of the environment for its survival.

What are you most proud of?

When the students tell us they like the new school because it is safe, it brings me to tears. When we see women from the village working hard as teachers, doing everything from sharing the gift of education with young children from marginalized communities to cleaning the toilets, it feels empowering. But this is only the beginning of the journey. When we see a generation of educated and empowered youth leading changes in the village, that will be a moment to be proud of.

School, photography by Bojana Novakovic

How can people get involved and support you?

Aside from the obvious financial donations, which are crucial for the continuance of this project, people can visit the schools and volunteer. We’ve had volunteers teaching music, English language lessons and sports amongst others. Professionals like doctors or agriculture experts could also volunteer their skills. People can help by donating supplies like microscopes, computers, stationary. People can even help by spreading the word and keeping our work relevant.

Learn more about the achievements of The B Project and how you can help on their website.