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Sajha Sawal: A life-changing TV show


Kathmandu, April 25, 2016

I had first met Ujeli on a chilly morning outside a temporary shelter on top of a hill in Selang, Sindhupalchowk, just northeast of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.

The encampment of rickety houses was home to 300 families, displaced from nearby villages by Nepal’s 2015 earthquake. Ujeli, a 15-year old girl, was one of the residents.

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We’d spotted her playing with her friends while we were filming a special episode of Sajha Sawal (Common Questions), about improving accountability in Nepal’s post-earthquake reconstruction efforts. The programme featured a Q&A between a government minister and villagers, who noted that the provision of adequate education and clean water had been slow. The minister promised he would highlight their issues in cabinet.

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During an interview outside her destroyed home Ujeli asked me, “how long will people in my village have to suffer?” I had no answer for her, holding her instead and sharing her grief in silence.


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I found Ujeli very clever and full of dreams. She aspired to complete her education but was deeply worried she’d be married off before she had the chance.

She hoped, one day, of visiting the ‘tall buildings’ of the city. Her story touched thousands once the episode had broadcast and as a direct result of the programme, a benefactor offered her a scholarship to study at a school in Kathmandu.

I met Ujeli again last week, one year on from the earthquake that had destroyed her home and so many others.

This time Ujeli was different, in a different place, among different people and of course, fully charged with even more hopes and dreams. She hugged me. I shared her happiness in silence, but unlike last time, I felt content and happy inside.


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She now lives in one of those ‘tall buildings’ she had dreamed of visiting. “Is the city like you imagined?” I asked. “I’m really happy here, but also surprised to see Kathmandu so narrow and congested” she replied. “The Dhahara [a historic nine story tower in Nepal] hasn’t been re-built yet.”

Living in a city still recovering from the earthquake, her thoughts would often return to the plight of her family in the country.

“I wonder when my father and mother will be able rebuild our house,” she said, worriedly looking out into the crowded streets from the balcony where she lives.

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When we’d first met, Ujeli had expressed a wish to use her education to help her village recover from the earthquake. “I want to read more and help my family and villagers live a better life”, she told me. Now, through her new-found schooling, she has the chance to turn her dreams into reality.


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She seems ready to face what life has to offer and is now concentrating on ways to improve her studies. Encountering difficulties in English and science, she’s even taking extra classes.

Ujeli has new friends in school and they’re helping her study. Nima, her mentor, told me Ujeli is a source of inspiration. “Through her I know about the life and hardships of young girls far in the village” she said.

Ujeli is planning to return to her village during her vacation with her teachers and new friends, to raise awareness about the importance of education for girls and the pitfalls of early marriage.


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Now strong and confident, Ujeli has gathered courage to fight for what she believes in.

There are many girls in Nepal like Ujeli who haven’t had a life-changing opportunity as a result of being featured in a TV show. Nonetheless I hope her story inspires many more girls who are passionate about education to hold onto their dreams. More than anything, I’m glad she’s using her education as a platform to better herself, and her community around her.

BBC Sajha Sawal is playing a key role in holding leaders to account during the ongoing Nepal reconstruction efforts. In a recent episode, audience members were able to question the CEO of the National Reconstruction Authority about access to a 200,000 Nepalese Rupee grant (around £2,000) aimed at helping people affected by the earthquake to rebuild their homes.

By Bidhya Chapagain

The writer is the presenter of Sajha Sawal, the most popular TV Show in Nepal.