I promised to write more about Doma, the Nepali girl for whose USA college applications so many of you gave such helpful advice. She submitted the last of 16 applications a couple of days ago and just got her first acceptance!
Doma has amazed me in the six years I have been her education sponsor. Her low-caste, very poor background is a great handicap in Nepal, especially for females. She has made extraordinary progress and will go far beyond what she has already achieved.
I met Doma’s mother, Niran, at the Kathmandu hotel where I began visiting in 2003. She had been working there since soon after her husband brought her from her village in the high hills. It was an arranged marriage and she was only 15 when Doma was born. She had no schooling, spoke only Tamang tribal language, and her husband soon abandoned her. The only job she could get was as a hotel maid. She learned Nepali and the hotel owner, Norkyel, helped her get a divorce. Her first few years were extremely difficult, especially because although she earned barely enough for necessities, she was determined to give Doma a good education. Remarriage is not an option for a Nepali woman with a child.
I chatted with Niran each time I visited because by then she had taught herself English. She also speaks Hindi and was learning Tibetan from a book left by a guest. When Nepal’s civil war ended in 2006, the Maoists began unionizing. I was friendly with Norkyel and he told me he had been giving Niran extra money for Doma’s schooling but he must stop. His staff was unionized now, so he must treat everyone the same. He asked if I would like to take over.
My wife had met Niran and was also attracted by her intelligence, humor and good work so I took over and began getting to know Doma. She was very shy. Tamang are close to the low end of the caste structure, her mom had only ever worked as a maid and Doma expected her future would be the same. I told her she could do better and must try because her mother had made great sacrifices to get her an education.
Doma did try, she slowly gained confidence, and her exam results improved. From her usual place in the middle, she reached 6th place, then 3rd. She said she could never do better because the top two students were wealthy and had tutors. The next year she came 2nd. That made a decisive difference. She had succeeded to a degree she hadn’t believed possible. Now she knew she might surprise herself still more.
Doma was 2nd again in 10th grade then transferred to a new school. Norkyel took her to several of the best ones, including Budhanilkantha (BNKS), the traditional choice of Nepal’s kings. Math was her strongest subject but she preferred arts and did not want to go to BNKS because they teach only science. We told her she should try. At last she told me: “I realized I am not a child now, so I should not be stubborn. Everybody says I should do this. Probably they are right.” She did try, and she was accepted.
How would she get on with high-caste kids from wealthy families who live in a way she had never imagined? It took a lot of courage at first, but she did fine. The only problem, she said, was her friends always had to pay for her when they went out from school. The school didn’t let kids out very often so it wasn’t a big problem.
Doma’s 10th grade results had been 85% in English and in the mid-90% range for math and science. In Junior year, she was 10th in her class of 40 with a mix of As and Bs despite having to navigate a very new environment. Then she grew over-confident and greatly over-committed to extracurricular activities. She was also sick during her final exams.
In Senior year, Doma led many cultural programs and did much volunteer work for school clubs. She was also selected for the annual ‘Quanta’ competition at City Montessori School, Lucknow, India. While taking part in the math competition, she led students from other countries in Nepali dance performance.
What Doma discovered about herself and her potential in two intensive years at BNKS is great preparation to overcome challenges she will meet in college and later.
Doma’s Math SAT 2 result is 730. Her spoken English is excellent but even the best Nepali schools do not provide good training in written English. Her best results so far are 89 for TOEFL, 490 for reading SAT and 410 for writing. While we wait for more admission decisions, she will continue to improve her written English and track her progress with more TOEFL tests.
In college, Doma will learn how to succeed with her dream. The Vice-Principal at her school before BNKS told me, “Doma is relentless. If she doesn’t understand something she will keep coming back with questions, more and more questions until she’s certain she does understand.” Her aspiration is to build a business in Nepal to provide good jobs for people like her and good services for customers. Nepal has very weak infrastructure in government, law and utilities. Doma believes that building a business will enable her to make the greatest contribution to transform her country.
Doma choreographed this dance shortly before she graduated from Budhanilkantha. It is, she told me: “Like Sherpa but not exactly. It’s a dance for people who live high in the mountains.” Sherpas and Doma’s Tamang people both came from Tibet long ago. Doma is the shorter of the two girls in red tops who enter from the left. She then dances in the center.
Over the next few weeks I will post some essays Doma wrote as part of her college applications. I’m so lucky to have found someone who is so worthwhile to help.