Dear friends,

Happy new year! Hope you are having a wonderful day, and here’s wishing you and your loved ones a very happy, prosperous, peaceful, and healthy year ahead.

Now that we have truly left 2020 behind us, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your love, support, and guidance during a difficult year. We have been particularly busy at Samaanta, and I am excited to share some of our stories.

Samaanta’s 9th cohort of fellows (2020); details below

COVID-19 update:

The pandemic has become more devastating in recent months in Nepal. Thankfully, none of our fellows have been diagnosed with COVID-19 so far. Orienting our fellows about pandemic safety has served a dual purpose: ensuring their own good health as well as helping them share this knowledge with others in their communities.

Following government advice, all our fellows went home from their residential hostels in March/April this year. We continue to provide constant holistic support: we have reoriented our programming to reassure that each fellow is physically and mentally well, has access to phone and internet facilities where possible, and can attend online classes. Even though most of our fellows do not own their own laptops, and online learning has exacerbated education inequity, we have done our best to alleviate these concerns.

Beginning in August, as many fellows faced substantial challenges in accessing courses online, we have permitted many of them to return to Kathmandu to their hostels, where they have to follow strict protocols to ensure their safety.

Our fellows have remained busy in their communities over the last year. For instance, Hishila Danuwar (7th cohort) got trained from the organisation Her Turn, on child marriage and other social issues. Hishila then facilitated sessions on these issues with young women aged 15-24, and shared her own story with facilitators from 145 countries around the world. Based on her contribution, she has also been inducted as a Board Member of Her Turn this year! You can read more about her experiences here.

Hishila(right) during her training of trainers

Samaanta recruitment 2020 goes virtual

Every year, Samaanta Foundation goes through a rigorous selection process to select deserving meritorious students from disadvantaged backgrounds to receive comprehensive higher education fellowships.

The travel restrictions and the cancellations of the qualifying school education exams (SEE) required us to get creative about recruitment. Our current fellows stepped up to coordinate the process on the ground to run a mostly-virtual recruitment this year.

One of the teachers helping conduct an initial written exam

Over July and August, we interviewed 72 final candidates from 35 schools in Lalitpur, Sindhupalchowk, Kavre, Lamjung, Dang, Dhanusha, and Humla districts.

After this comprehensive process, we are delighted to introduce our 9th cohort of 11 fellows (8 of whom are girls!) who have been selected as a part of our largest cohort ever this year.

Samaanta Team conducting an interview

Each of these fellows impressed us with their academic performance, incredible resilience, and potential for and commitment to service, leadership, and growth.

While we were not able to welcome our new fellows in person, we are committed to supporting them through what is going to be another challenging academic year. So far, we have conducted a virtual orientation, and have already placed all the fellows into appropriate colleges, where they are attending classes remotely. Each new fellow is also paired with a senior Samaanta fellow so that they get additional mentorship during their transition into higher education.

With the induction of the 9th cohort, Samaanta has now supported 62 fellows (24 boys and 38 girls) in total over the course of 9 years, with each fellow receiving up to 7 years of comprehensive funding and support for their higher education. We currently have 42 active fellows, including 4 fellows on international scholarships.

Every year during selections, we have to make some agonizing decisions and end up in the unfortunate position of not being able to reward many talented and deserving students.  This year was the same, as there were many students who just missed out. This reminds us that what we do is very important, and we have a long way to go to realise our vision of a level playing field for all.

Continued International Success

Samaanta fellows have extended their fantastic track record of international success, proving time and again that it is the lack of opportunity, not ability, that limits the potential of so many deserving students from disadvantaged backgrounds. We highlight here some news from two of our fellows: Asmita Mandal and Biwastha Khadka.

Asmita received a full scholarship from UWC Norway to pursue a two-year International Baccalaureate Diploma. She has celebrated many firsts: she is our first fellow from Southern Nepal; is the first person in her family to pursue higher education, and now becomes the first person from her community to travel abroad for her studies!

Asmita with her parents before her flight

COVID-19 significantly affected Asmita’s plans: she had to take her initial courses online, but due to access issues, we had to make arrangements for her to travel to Kathmandu. Our sincere thanks to Bhushan Tuladhar and Shriju Pradhan, who were her amazing host family during this time! After a laborious process, Asmita finally received her visa in late November, and flew (for the first time) within two days! After two weeks of quarantine in Flekke, Norway, she is settling in and is enjoying getting to know her surroundings and her new friends from around the world!

Asmita, in the centre in red, with her new international friends during her first Christmas celebrations

Biwastha, who also received the international UWC scholarship, is the first Samaanta fellow to receive a full scholarship to pursue her Bachelor’s degree in the US. This summer, she was selected as one of 25 young people from around the world to attend Quaker United Nations Summer School (QUNNS) in summer 2020. It provided her an ‘all expenses paid’ trip to Geneva for a residential programme. Although the physical trip was cancelled because of COVID, QUNNS turned it into a virtual programme this year.

In her own words, “My greatest takeaway from the summer school was to learn about Human Rights, the UN system and the thematic areas of their work, along with some personal inspiration from Quaker UN Staff who have worked with Human Rights and Refugee teams.”

She also learned about Peace and Disarmament, the Human Impacts of Climate Change, and Sustainable and Economic Systems. You can read more about her experiences here.

Biwastha (top row, second from left) attending QUNNS virtually

Biwastha is now completing her senior year with a major in Social Work, overcoming her initial first-year difficulties to now obtain a 4.0 GPA in her latest results! She is looking for work opportunities in public health in the US upon her graduation in summer 2021, in preparation for a postgraduate degree in the same field in the future.

COVID 19 has, predictably, had a profound impact on the lives of all our fellows in different ways. However, we have been there to support each other as one big family, and found ways to persevere and thrive during these difficult times. I am particularly pleased and proud of how all our fellows have stepped up to support their communities during this time of immense need. Through their everyday actions, they continue to demonstrate their commitment to service, leadership, and paying it forward.

None of our work would be possible without the help and support of our fantastic team, as well as the generous engagement and contributions from so many friends and well-wishers around the world. I would like to thank each and every one of you, as well as our institutional partners Foundation Care for All, Home Loan Experts, Franks Family Foundation, and friends at Rotary Clubs in the Netherlands for making it possible for us to do this work.

We know it has been a difficult year for many people, but if you are in a position to support our work, you can make a donation on our website. You can also stay up to date with our work on our website and our Samaanta Facebook page.

On behalf of the entire Samaanta Foundation family, I wish you a very happy new year. May the year 2021 be filled with love, peace, prosperity, and happiness for all of us.

Best wishes,

Shrochis Karki, PhD
Executive Director
Samaanta Foundation