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Blind woman beats odds to earn degree

Laura Bailey
Fort Collins Coloradoan
Vail, CO Colorado
AP Photos Coloradoan, Sherri BarberNirmala Gyawali, 23, talks about her experiences and challenges growing up blind in Nepal. Gyawali graduated May 12 with a bachelors degree in sociology from Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
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FORT COLLINS (AP) ” As a young blind girl, Nirmala Gyawali seemed destined to a life of begging on the streets of Nepal. Instead, the 23-year-old woman earned a degree from Colorado State University.

Born one of five children to a poor family in Nepal ” three of the children were born blind ” Gyawali had little hope for receiving a higher education, let alone completing elementary school. As one of nearly 4,000 CSU students who graduated May 12, Gyawali plans to use her degree to share the wealth she unexpectedly found with other Nepalese people with disabilities.

“It was frustrating, but if that’s the only way you can do it, you just do it,” said Gyawali.

Even with the opportunity to go to school, Gyawali had to work diligently to keep up with sighted students. As a grade-school student, she would travel 2 1/2 hours to reach relatives or friends who could read her assigned texts to her.

Once at CSU, Gyawali continued to work hard. Getting through a course meant bringing a note-taker provided by the university. Reading assignments meant having to have her texts scanned and printed into Braille. Navigating the Internet was possible through a special software program that reads Web pages, but sorting through a Web page without being able to look at it was time consuming.

The Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation, a California-based nonprofit organization, started paying for Gyawali to attend school when she was 7. The group also paid for Gyawali’s older sister to attend school.

“If they had not saved me, I might be begging on the streets for survival,” she said. “For most people with disabilities, they’re either confined to the four walls of their home or to begging.”

“We are just so very proud of (Nirmala). She is an amazing young woman” said Janis Olson, executive director of the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation.

Olson said her organization has paid for 4,000 destitute Nepalese children to attend school this year. Gyawali, she said, is an example of what they can achieve.

With the scholarship, Gyawali was able to make it from her rural village to Katmandu, where she went through high school and on to college before eventually receiving a Fulbright Scholarship to study sociology at CSU, where she received her second bachelor’s degree.

Getting such an opportunity is extremely rare in Nepal, where few schools exist for the disabled and religious views stigmatize blindness as a punishment for sins of a past life, Gyawali said.

Gyawali plans to return to her home country to be a social worker. She hopes to eventually raise awareness and create job opportunities for people with disabilities.

While the cost of educating a child is prohibitively expensive for many Nepalese, disabled women are especially at a disadvantage in the male-dominated caste system, Olson said.

“There’s a limited amount of resources, so the male child will always get the food and the education first,” she said. “If you have anything at all wrong with you, you’re at the bottom of the spectrum.”

Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation: http://www.nyof.org


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