Purnima: I'm the first getting education
01:22 - Source: CNN

CNN Films’ “Girl Rising” documents extraordinary girls and the power of education to change the world.

Story highlights

Purnima from Nepal has just finished at the top of her class in secondary school

Room to Read's Girls Education program has helped more than 21,000 girls attend school

Purnima lives with her family in a room above the carpet factory where her older sister works

In Nepal, parents follow tradition of Kamlari, selling daughters into indentured servitude

CNN  — 

Purnima lives in Nepal. She wants to be a nurse. But because she is a girl instead of a boy, she is more likely to go to work than go to school.

In Nepal, government schools start charging tuition in the sixth grade. But Purnima was selected to be part of the Girls Education program with the nonprofit Room to Read and was able to continue her education.

“I am the first person getting an education in my family and my brother and sisters did not get the chance due to our family background … we are from a poor family so we cannot afford to go to school,” says Purnima.

Purnima lives with her family in a room above the carpet factory where her older sister works. Her father is paralyzed. Her mother became blind when Purnima was 2 years old. All her siblings stopped going to school after the fifth grade.

Purnima is 17 and has just finished secondary school at the top of her class. In fact, she was at the top of her class every year.

Purnima is about to start two years of Nepal’s post-secondary school and she plans to go on to college. For a long time, she wanted to be an eye doctor. Now she says she is going to be a nurse and she may have a good chance to do just that. According to Room to Read, about 76% of its graduates go on to some kind of university, college or vocational training after secondary school.

The nonprofit Room to Read start working in Nepal more than 13 years ago. The organization now works for gender equality in education and overall literacy in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Vietnam and Zambia.

“Help them see their dreams and put them on the path to success … with the life skills, drive and understanding, we get girls to the next step,” says Rebecca Hankin of Room to Read.

Room to Read works to develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among all schoolchildren. But it also tries to ensure girls have the skills and support needed to complete their secondary education. More than 7 million children have been given access to education through the nonprofit’s network of libraries and schools.

Kamlari - Nepal’s modern slavery

Another obstacle for girls trying to get an education in Nepal is Kamlari. An illegal but still widely accepted tradition in Nepal, Kamlari is a system in which parents contract their daughters into indentured servitude for several years, often when the girls are as young as 5 or 6. They work long hours and are often physically and emotionally abused. Purnima was never sold as a Kamlari.

In Nepal’s Bardiya district, more than 600 ex-Kamlari girls are enrolled in Room to Read’s Girls Education program.

How you can help Kamlari girls and girls like Purnima in Nepal:


You can help girls like Purnima go to school and chase their dreams by donating to Room to Read’s Girls Education program. Thousands of girls in Nepal and other countries have been helped through school with books, school fees and mentorship. According to Room to Read, 96% of girls in the program advance to the next grade.

Get involved

Volunteer for Room to Read in your community. There are more than 50 chapters in the United States and abroad. Be part of local volunteer activities and fundraising. Even spreading the word in your hometown can raise awareness about the need for girls to be educated. Find a chapter near you.


For even more ways to make an impact on education for girls around the world, check out CNN’s Impact Your World resources or take action with 10x10.

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