Basanti Chaudhary is a solar CEO in Kailali, where three solar businesses in the Empower Generation network were founded as part of the STEM programme – a 1.7 million GBP DFID funded, Mercy Corps Nepal implemented programme working to ‘Support the Education of Marginalised Girls in Kailali District’ where project work includes making solar light accessible to improve girls study time and improve their learning outcomes, and training girls in business skills, towards the goal of improving girls’ life chances.


 

Basanti Chaudhary, the oldest daughter of Mr. Janak Lal Chaudhary and Mrs. Sunchiriya Chaudhary was born in 1982. She was raised along with her two sisters in a village located in Dhangadhi, Kailali District in Far Western Nepal. This area of Nepal has some of the worst literacy rates for girls in the country.

Traditionally, girls’ education is not prioritized in Nepali families, especially in rural and remote areas like Kailali. Only 41% of girls receive education and only 36% of girls that attend primary school make it into secondary school in Kailali. The result is that over 50% of girls (ages 15-19) in Kailali do not attend school, compared to only a 23% non-attendance rate for boys. Like most of the rural population in Nepal, Basanti’s father did not believe in educating his girls. However, Basanti’s mother had a strong desire to educate her daughters. Unlike her husband, she believed educating her daughters would give them a chance to live a happy life and be respected, especially after marriage, in Nepal’s male-dominated society.

Basanti started school at age 10, when her mother was finally able to save enough money, working as a day laborer in a construction site to send her daughter to school. Basanti appreciated her mother’s hard work, sacrifice, and support, which made education possible for her, as this opportunity is impossible for many girls in Nepal. Basanti was a conscientious student and did not take this chance for granted. She did well until Grade 10 but was unable to pass her final secondary school examination, known as the SLC (School Leaving Certificate). The SLC examination is known as “an iron gate,” a difficult test that one must pass in order to further one’s education.

The SLC exam passing rates in rural parts of Nepal are as low as 27% on average. The failure rate is comparatively higher for girls because of the low priority placed on their education. Basanti, like so many girls before her, failed her SLC and was disappointed by her failure.

Basanti’s mother was supporting her other children’s education and was unable to enroll Basanti in a private tutoring course, so that she could study to retake the SLC exam. Within a year of failing the test at the age of 21, Basanti married a man with a large family. In Nepali culture, women are expected to move out of their parents’ house and live with and care for their husband’s family.

Basanti spent the next five years of her life taking care of her husband and his extended family and raising their son. When her son was three years old, Basanti started to look for a job only to realize that without basic education and her SLC, she would struggle to find a position. With great difficulty, Basanti finally got a job packaging take-out noodles in the market. For each pack of noodles she made, she earned 30 paisa, which is equivalent to USD 0.03. After working in this job for sometime, she saved enough money to open a small shop that sold beauty products and accessories. Basanti’s business was not earning enough to support her family’s needs.

Basanti_01In 2014, Basanti heard about Empower Generation and filled out an application to join the distribution network as a solar CEO. Though she was certain that her incomplete schooling would be a barrier, Basanti still applied hoping to be part of the team. To her surprise, Basanti was selected to attend a business skills training course at Empower Generation in Kathmandu. This was the first time she traveled to the capital city and flew on an airplane. It was the first step in Basanti’s long journey to become the owner and CEO of her own solar distribution company, Namuna Sourya Urjah in Dhangadhi.

As a solar CEO and business owner, Basanti now earns enough income to support her family. With her extra income and new-found confidence, Basanti now leads a happy life. Today, Basanti’s mother is proud of her daughter and encourages Basanti to keep shining as a leader in her community. Basanti is a participant of Empower Generation’s STEM program in Kailali and her target market and customers are students.

The STEM program is a GBP 1.7 million UK Department for International Development (DFID) funded, Mercy Corps implemented program, working to support the education of marginalized girls in Kailali District. Basanti’s biggest satisfaction, as a businesswoman, is to sell solar lights to students, so they can continue studying during the long hours of power cuts in Nepal. She states, “I am glad that the solar lights I sell help students to study. It not only brightens their rooms but also their futures.”

Like all of the solar CEOs in Empower Generation’s network, Basanti’s accomplishments to date are just the beginning of what she wants to achieve.

After 15 years, she decided to use her surplus income to pay for a tutoring course, so she can retake the SLC examination. Basanti strongly believes that passing the SLC and crossing this “iron gate” will open more doors for her as a businesswoman and increase her social status in her community even further. Because of the poverty she faced while growing up, Basanti was denied a second chance to pass her SLC. As a brave and motivated adult, she has worked hard to provide this opportunity for herself, earning enough power in her family to decide to use her hard-earned income for her personal development as well as for her family’s needs.

Basanti_03It has been 15 years since Basanti left school. She was worried about re-adjusting to student life, fitting in with the rest of the students after such a long gap, and balancing her work and family responsibilities. She believes more education will help her reach new horizons in her business. She wants to become a role model for her son, the young women who work for her as solar sales agents, and her student customers. She wants to show them that if one is determined enough, anything is possible.

Basanti is working extremely hard to retake the SLC exam this month. We at Empower Generation, support Basanti, admire her for never giving up, and are certain that she will pass with flying colors. We are already so proud of Basanti’s efforts and achievements and appreciate her indomitable spirit. Determined women like Basanti make our distribution network thrive by pushing forward our mission to empower women to power the world. Thank you Basanti for your exceptional work and for taking our impact to the next level.

We wish you the very best for your SLC examination!