Laxmi with a friend at a Village in the United Kingdom. Photo from SOS Archives A bright future beckons Laxmi Rajak who, once stigmatized in her community for being the daughter of a wash man, received an opportunity from SOS Children's Villages to study at SOS Hermann Gmeiner School Sanothimi in Nepal. Today, the teenager is pursuing an International Baccalaureate Diploma in Great Britain. Having already carved out a niche for herself, she shares her story which inspired her peers back home in Nepal. “We sometimes think that poverty is only about being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.” - Mother Teresa My name is Laxmi Rajak. I am 18 years old and come from a very poor family in the small town of Sanothimi, Bhaktapur, Nepal. The hardships that my family and I had to face have always been the inspiring factor for my hard work, but I have come a long way. Even after growing up in a family that was not only poor but also treated as untouchable because of our lower caste status (in South Asian countries, caste stigmatization is rampant), I am now studying in the UK on a two-year Pestalozzi scholarship. I wouldn't be where I am today without the help of SOS Children's Villages that sponsored twelve years of my education. I have some unpleasant memories of my childhood. Many people addressed me as 'Dhobi ki chhori' meaning the 'daughter of a washer man'. None of the other children would play with me, or let me enter their houses or eat with me because my surname was from a lower caste. I pleaded my mother to let me change my surname but she scolded me and told me that the only thing that I had to do was to concentrate on my studies. She said that if I got good results and lots of prizes, I would get friends and no one would call me 'Dhobi ki chhori' again. My mother, who is uneducated, was at that time working as a laborer. She had to provide everything our family needed as my father had left us to live with another woman when I was very young. The money she earned, however, was never enough even to fulfil the basic needs of the family. There were times when we used to eat only once a day and buy new clothes only once a year. To support the family, I started teaching the local children when I was in grade seven. I gave classes before and after school and I tried to fit in all my chores and school work around that. My mother could never have afforded my schooling but I was fortunate to get a scholarship from SOS Hermann Gmeiner School, Sanothimi. Through hard work, I started to win prizes at school and got noticed; acceptance came and I gained a few friends. I was grateful for all these blessings. The academic, sporting and social opportunities that I got at my school were amazing and it all helped me grow as a person. I also developed leadership qualities working as vice-captain, house representative, and class leader and as a volunteer for different activities. I enjoyed all these experiences. One of my most special memories of that time was when I notched top slot in the Secondary Level Board examination and, hearing this, my mother started crying. I was presented with the Best Student award. After my SLB examination, my school selected me to sit through the Pestalozzi Scholarship test. I had heard about it but never thought that I might be selected. But I was. I am currently living and studying in the UK doing the second year of the International Baccalaureate Diploma. The opportunities that I have here are amazing. Basketball lessons, swimming lessons, volunteering at St. Michaels Hospice, working as a marketing manager in our student-run fair trade social enterprise entitled Pesta Vision, piano lessons, clubs like United Nations Youth Student Association and Students for Free Tibet in the college, working in the Pestalozzi Organic Garden and many more; these have all made me realise the different potentials within myself. I was very happy when I received an Outstanding Contribution to Pestalozzi Award and the Best Student Award from my college. I am now in the process of applying to study pre-law at a university in the US/UK or Germany. When I reflect back on my life, I can see the difference SOS Children's Villages has brought about in me. The quiet and shy girl has been transformed into a confident, responsible young adult. SOS Children's Villages provided me the opportunity that would otherwise have been denied to someone of my caste and economic status. They have not only supported me but also my older brother and my younger sister. I am proud to say that I belong to the SOS Children's Villages community. Now, the only way I could repay SOS Children's Villages is through helping other people who are in a similar situation to the one I already faced. As I have witnessed discrimination because of being from a lower caste, I intend to devote my life to working for the rights of these people. The so-called Dalit community (downtrodden) of Nepal is very backward. Their literacy rate is very low and parents cannot afford to educate their children. However, I intend to be a role model to uplift them and show them that a Dalit person can do anything if they get the chance. I believe education is the right path to achieve this. I want to show my society that people should not be judged by their surnames, but by what they have to offer as a human being. A system should be established in society so that everyone can enjoy this freedom. No child should ever have to ask their parents for changing their surname as I did when I was once embarrassed to be called Laxmi Rajak.