11/14/2011, 00.00
NEPAL
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Catholic school opens for marginalised indigenous group

by Kalpit Parajuli
The Navodaya School opened on Saturday. It is funded by local and foreign Catholic groups. It caters to the Chepang community, the poorest of Nepal’s indigenous communities, which has a 70 per cent dropout rate.
Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – “Learning to fulfil life” is the motto of Navodaya, the new Catholic school that opened to serve the Chepang, one of Nepal’s poorest and remotes mountain ethnic indigenous groups. Inaugurated on Saturday by Mgr Anthony Sharma, bishop of Kathmandu, the school is located in Chitwan District (central Nepal) and was built thanks to contributions from local and foreign associations. The latter include the Centro di Cooperazione Sviluppo Italia (CCS Italia). At present, 173 students are registered.

The Chepang are one of Nepal’s 59 indigenous groups. The community numbers around 52,000 people, living in some of the most inaccessible mountain regions of the country at 4,500 feet above sea level, far from cities and main roads, with a 70 per cent dropout rate. They live off the forest and its products.

In recent years, a few families have left behind their traditional nomadic lifestyle, finding work as farm workers. However, the land and the weather allow only seasonal farming.

For the rest of the year, the Chepang eat wild fruit, fish and hunt. Children often help their parents in the field and cannot go to school.

Principal Chirendra Satyal hopes that his school can help the community become emancipated. Only a few dozens of youth have been able to attend public schools, some 15 hours away from traditional Chepang settlements.

Navodaya was created to help such marginalised communities, and offer children free schooling and board.

Nepal’s Catholic community is around 10,000 (0.10 per cent of the total population).

The Catholic Church is active in education and runs 31 educational facilities, eight in Kathmandu alone, employing some 65 priests, 17 men religious and more than 160 nuns.
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