Fellow Since 1992
Backward Society Education (BASE)
This profile was prepared when Dilli Chaudhary was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1992.
The New Idea
Almost half of Nepal's population consists of tribal groups just now coming to grips with the modern world. Isolated by the country's steep mountains, malaria in the lowlands, and rulers who blocked the creation of schools until the 1950s even for the majority, these groups only now have a critical mass of youngsters recognizing that education is important. Dilli Chaudary is a part of that new generation. A member of the Tharu tribal community, one of the country's largest and most exploited, Dilli negotiated with landowners to let their indentured servants, because of prior debts, come to study after work in the evening. He organized simple night classrooms with a blackboard, pencil, and notebook for each student, a kerosene light, and a teacher (initially volunteers). He supplemented these literacy classes with instruction on how to generate income independent of the landowners, be it through rabbit raising or mushrooms_ important both to build economic independence and to make the benefits of education more immediately obvious, especially to the older generation. Initially, Dilli had to go door-to-door and organize youth groups and events to encourage the Tharu to participate. As his results became clearer, more and more people came. He particularly reached out to young women, who traditionally were even less likely to have the opportunity to become literate than were men. (In Nepal as a whole only eighteen percent of the women are literate; the average is even lower for Tharu women.) Now women constitute the majority of his students. Dilli's organization presently conducts literacy classes in sixty villages in the Dang district and has 120 teachers (chiefly volunteers) and more than 5,000 students. While still working to expand the program in Tharu communities, he eventually plans to spread his approach to other tribal communities.