"Lead me from darkness towards light."
Translation of a brief news report from Kantipur (Aug 30).
Five visually challenged students from remote VDCs of Jumla district in mid-Western part of the country are deprived of higher education due to financial constraints.
The five visually challenged students -- Amrita Budthapa, Shanti Bahttarai, Kasmiri Budha, Rajana Bun and Parsuram Acharya-- passed their School Level Certificate examinations two years ago from Bhairav Higher Secondary School in Narkot. However, they couldn't pursue higher education owing to lack of any kind of financial assistance from anyone.
"There are so many non-government organizations in the district, but nobody listened to our voices. Our desire to pursue to carry on with our studies remained a distant dream," one of the five students, Amrita, moaned failing to control her tears.
Now, it has become a routine job for them to hunt non-government organizations, various associations and government offices looking for people who could at least sponsor their admission charges in the local Jumla Multiple Campus.
"We don't have money even for that," they said.
Baburam Kharel writes in "Visually challenged Bhutanese refugee tops TU exam (TKP, Aug 18).
SCORING distinction grades and leaving behind all his colleagues at TU campus in Political Science Master's level exam recently has far from ended the superhuman struggle for visually challenged Indra Rijal, 27.
"Passing in flying colors makes no difference to me. The road ahead is quite uncertain in comparison to my visually able Nepali colleagues," Rijal said, while fiddling with his walking stick.
Visually challenged since birth, Rijal has no idea what the world and the people around him actually look like. "I just feel things around me and store them in the landscape of my mind. Tactile skills and conversations with people help," he said.
Rijal, who topped BA in English from Mechi Campus, Jhapa, plans to do a Ph D. Rijal was educated till class five at ZMLS Blind School of Bhutan, after which he, along with his family fled to Nepal during the 'ethnic cleansing'. He then studied till class eight in Kalimpong Blind School with financial assistance from an NGO, and thereafter was educated till BA in Jhapa.
Rijal could have easily chosen to live a passive life at Timai refugee camp in Jhapa. He did not. In fact, he never stood second in class. He chose to study political science at TU because he was offered the course for free. Rijal wrote a Master's Thesis entitled 'Durable Solution for Bhutanese Refugee Problem: A Case Study of Timai Refugee Camp.' The thesis was prepared with the personal financial assistance of the Australian ambassador to Nepal.
However, even after completing the degree with results that would leave many others jealous, Rijal is haunted by an emptiness in his life, owing to his physical handicap and his being in a foreign land. These two indelible facts of his life bar him from exploiting his potential.
"Whenever I achieve something in my life, a nostalgia for my country Bhutan and the village where I grew up keeps me from being happy," he said.
"The discrimination and ordeal I have to put up with for not having a home and a country always trouble me. For people like me, it is really difficult to keep our heads high," he added.
After what he achieved at Masters level, Rijal tried many times to get a job in an attempt to make ends meet in the capital, but to no avail. He said most prospective employers demanded a citizenship certificate, while others rejected his applications outright just because he was Bhutanese, and above all a visually challenged person.
All this after a hard academic journey that fetched him success after success!
When most people were asleep, and neighbors thought Rijal too was asleep as there was no light in his room, he would be running his fingers over his notebooks written in Braille. This would continue till late at night in complete darkness.
"With what my wife earns by teaching at a school, I cannot afford to buy Braille books, so I prepared Braille notes for myself," he said. He married Yashoda, also a refugee, at Timai camp in Jhapa. She is not visually challenged.
When Rijal was just a 12-year-old child studying in fifth grade in Bhutan, he was totally unaware of what was going to befall him. "Even in my wildest of dreams, I had never imagined that one day I would be deprived of my homeland and loving Drukpa friends," he said. "I often dream of my village and friends with the image I have prepared in my mind to represent them."
Apart from his lifelong struggle as a visually challenged person, Rijal has been coping with refugee life for 15 long years, and now another curse has descended upon him: an unappreciated academic feat. Of late, he has been placing his hopes on the proposed third country resettlement.
When Bhutanese people revolted against the Bhutanese monarch for democracy in 1990, Rijal's father participated in the revolt. Eventually, the family had to flee the country.