Imagine what it feels like to go back to school with heavy bags piled up with books, trudging for an hour down the winding and slippery roads, only with the aid of a walking stick to attend a day in school. Meet Durga Kami, a father-of-six and grandfather-of-eight, a person who throws away all the hardships in his life just to pursue his long-awaited dream of becoming a teacher. Kami became one of Nepal’s oldest students to join the school at such an age.
Now 68, Durga Kami resides in Syangja district, about 250 km west of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. His dream of becoming a teacher back then was shattered because of his financial constraints, as he could not continue his studies further and had to leave.
Kami, whose story is an inspiration to many younger generations, was asked why he joined the school at such an age.
“To forget my sorrow, I go to school,” he said. He attends six days a week to complete his studies.
Following his wife’s death, after which his sons and grandchildren all left his hilltop home, Kami is now an isolated figure and confines himself within a small, one-room home where he cooks food day and night, uses a candle to study late at night during power outages, and wears his uniform early morning to get back to school on time. He thinks going back to school has helped him escape his lonely home life.
He first went to Kaharay primary school where he learned to read and write. He then left after finishing fifth grade. He is currently studying in Shree Kala Bhairab higher secondary school in grade 10, where there are over 200 students in his school. He is studying alongside 14- and 15-year-old classmates, and is — by far — the oldest student.
“If they see an old person with a white beard like me studying in school, they might get motivated as well.”
The 20 children in his grade 10 class have dubbed him “Baa,” which is the Nepalese word for “father.” Age is no barrier to this man. He actively participates in the school activities and even plays volleyball with the kids.
Kami said he wanted to continue studying until death and adding up, he said this might even encourage others to come out from their age barrier and pursue their dream.
“I used to think ‘why is this old man coming to school to study with us?’ but as time passed, I enjoyed his company,” Sagar Thapa, a 14-year-old classmate said. “He is a little bit weak in studies compared to us, but we help him out with that and he never hesitates to ask any things he doesn’t know.”
When Kami’s intention of continuing his education was known, a teacher from Shree Kala Bhairab, D.R Koirala, invited him to his school to join classes. He provided him with stationery and a school uniform, including trousers, a blue striped tie, and white shirt.
“This is my first experience teaching a person who is as senior as my father’s age,” Koirala said. “I feel very excited and happy.”
Navesh Chitrakar, a photojournalist at Reuters who covered the story, told BBC about Kami and his goal.
“He is a very strong and motivational person, also wise but I felt his sadness and loneliness.” He studies by torchlight at night and skips meals as he can’t afford it. At school, he has to sustain with his breakfast of rice with a fermented green vegetable, locally known as Gundruk, until dinner.
When he wanted to become a teacher earlier in his life, he was criticized for being a “Dalit,” Nepal’s lowest group in its caste system.
“The ‘Dalits’ are often criticized and discriminated against because of their class,” Kami said.
In Nepal, where power outages are a major issue with over 10 hours a day without power, the daily life struggles tell how hard is it for 68-year-old Nepal’s oldest student to study during the night even though his ambition and dreams haven’t let him stop. He is truly a remarkable person with a love for studies, and stories like these make people realize how trivial their issues are and what to look forward in life.
[Photo By Paula Bronstein/Getty Images]