We’re COMMITTED: Education is Freedom

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COMMITTED, with help from Capital Grill, WFS, DECC, Kathmandu Post and visiting artists Kellee Maize, from the US, and Feyago, from India, is conducting an awareness and fundraiser campaign: We’re COMMITTED. As the face of the campaign, I gave a short speech at the January 3 ticketed dinner event at Capital Grill. Reproduced below is that speech. I basically gave the same speech at yesterday evening’s dinner at Radisson Hotel but with some minor but obvious changes.

Education is Freedom

Good evening! How are you all?

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Dorje Gurung.

I am the Nepalese Science Teacher who found himself in hot water in Qatar way back in May 2013.

Since leaving Qatar, I have given up teaching and have started working as Education Program Director for COMMITTED with my good friend Jayjeev who you just heard.

I am standing here, in front of you to tell you why COMMITTED is doing this fundraiser and why we are appealing for your support!

People in Nepal can be divided into two groups…based on how they live. The first group consists of those who live in comfort. The second group consists of those who live…on a dream…those that are sustained by dreams.

Prominent in the second group are young children from low socio-economic backgrounds. I know dreams sustain these children.

I know because I was one of them…I was one of those children from a low socio-economic background sustained by a dream to accomplish something beyond the imagination of those from background similar to myself.

And, it turns out, the dreams of children from low socio-economic background is more often than not about being educated.

My dream to educate myself, and make something of myself and my family, kept me in school. It helped me to cope with all the issues and problems I faced as a child growing up in Nepal.

I believed that education—specifically a degree from an American educational institution–was my ticket—my only ticket–out.

In spite of odds stacked against me, I realized my dreams. The privilege of attending St. Xavier’s School was followed by attendance at a United World College in Italy, which was then followed by the realization of my dream: going to the United States of America for tertiary education.

I left Nepal to go abroad for the first time in 1988, and since then I have had extraordinary opportunities to live, work and study in 10 different countries, spanning five different continents, and travel in about 50 countries.

After over 15 years of working as an international science teacher, I ended up in Qatar in August 2011.

Eight months ago, two months before the end of my second year contract at Qatar Academy, I was jailed for allegedly insulting Islam.

But following a massive international campaign to get me free, I was released and allowed to travel home less than two weeks into my stay in the holding cell.

Had I been one of the hundreds of thousands of uneducated Nepalese migrant laborers, I would still be in that holding cell, in limbo, being shuttled back and forth periodically between it and the court, with no end in sight.

Had I been one of them, I would have had no, or very little, help from the Qatar judicial system, from others in the country and from those outside the country.

I know because I met a number of our countrymen exactly in that kind of situation, Nepalese who neither were able to enlist the help of others nor had anyone coming forward to help them.

What made the difference was my education. The friends I had made as a student both in Nepal and abroad, the friends I had made and the students I had taught during my professional career, and people I had met in my travels around the world–came to my rescue. They came from all over the world. Apparently, people from 168 countries signed the Change.org campaign!

In other words, education won me my freedom…twice: freedom from the shackles of birth in a low socio-economic background at home, and freedom from potential 7-year jail sentence in Qatar!

It’s clear to me that the root of the problems of exploitation and abuse of Nepalese migrant laborers both at home and abroad is lack of education.

It’s lack of education that limits their opportunities in Nepal.

It’s their lack of education that unscrupulous agents and recruitment companies take advantage of when they are sent abroad.

It’s the lack of education that the employers and their line managers in the destination country exploit.

Migrant laborers who travel abroad, in addition to being exploited and abused, are, in increasing numbers, also being returned home in coffins.

According to the most recent article in Kathmandu Post, three return DAILY in coffins on average. Lack of education, I am certain contributes to their death as well.

The death of the breadwinner in a family of low socioeconomic background means the death of the dreams of the victim’s younger siblings and/or their children.

When the dreams of a young child from a poor family dies, his/her sustenance dies…all their hopes and promises of a future dies…a part of the child dies…I am certain.

With COMMITTED’s program of supporting these innocent and silent victims, through the funds we raise today and the two other fundraiser events—tomorrow at Radisson Hotel and on January 11 at Durbar Square–we hope to provide them with the freedom I have enjoyed.

We hope to keep the dreams of these children alive by providing for their educational needs.

We hope to provide them with the freedom to continue to dream and ultimately to chart their own destinies, instead of being dictated by circumstances and others, unlike their parents and older siblings, and suffer as a result!

Thank you and have a great evening!

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