Surya Karki, a 2014 YouthActionNet® fellow from rural Nepal, knows firsthand the power of making education relevant and accessible. The 28-year-old social entrepreneur co-founded the Diyalo Foundation, providing meaningful education that incorporates agriculture and sustainable energy; United World Schools Nepal, which has 27 schools in operation; and Bloom Nepal School, the country's only entity providing interest-based learning.

As we near International Youth Day, which this year focuses on transforming education, hear Surya's personal story trying to access schooling, the profound changes it made on his and his family's lives, and other reflections on the Youth Day theme.

What was or has been your biggest barrier to education?

Being born into poverty in a far away rural village of Nepal was the first barrier. The second barrier was the lack of importance of education, because nobody in my family had ever gone past grade 8. The third one and the main one was the lack of a very good school and options of schools close to home. Being born in a village, the only option for schooling was a dysfunctional school 3 hours to school and back home. The long walks only discouraged me to miss out on school. Furthermore, education in dysfunctional schools never showed why education was important or what education did to a person's life. The only thing a student ever knew was if ever education went well, one could become a teacher. These were a few of the barriers that dropped out my as well as my villagers' families out of school and forced them to a life that has kept them in the poverty cycle that generations of our families have been in. Had I not had the opportunity to study in the capital of Nepal away from my village where I walked 3 hours to be taught by teachers that never cared for us, I'd not have had a future that I have now.
 
What’s one thing you wish you had learned about in school?

I wished the teachers in my village were winners. I wished to have seen them excited to teach us and show us that education actually is the most important thing one could ever have. I wished education opened possibilities for me to make mistakes and not be judged on the simple errors of mathematics or a spelling. The interesting thing I have seen having had the opportunity to learn in different education systems in Venezuela, USA, China, and Nepal is the care provided by teacher and the education system within the county. I wished my upbringing in my village in Nepal had a school closer to home, a school that provided education balanced between the advancing century and the culture that I had to hold on to. I wished education was a fun thing to do rather than a building, class, and desk to go to. I wished I was given the choice to choose from an early age.
 
How would you define education?

Education is the only foundation that can sustain and withhold solutions to worlds problems. It is the most readily available tool to solving extreme poverty and hunger. It is, when available equitably to all, the only accessible solution to creating understanding and harmony. Without doubt, education and its types is what allows imagination to exist in this world. Education is not all about a text book in a class, but also lessons outside the class in the forest or in the wild. It has a start but not an end.
 
Why is education important to you?

Had it not been for education, I'd not have had the opportunities I have today. Being born and raised in poverty with a future bound to end in the Gulf states as a laborer, I ended the cycle of all my family finding jobs abroad by going to school. Education has brought rational and critical thinking in me, thus helping me shape the way I see problem-solving. Had it not been for the scholarships provided by generous people in different parts of the world, I would not have the opportunity to create educational opportunities for thousands of children in Nepal. This is simply because education showed me possibilities, and being educated in different education systems made me believe in my ability to deliver.
 

Photo courtesy Surya Karki