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Since 2006, Global Press has built and maintained over 40 independent news bureaus in some of the world’s least-covered places, where citizens lack credible access to accurate information. Global Press Journal, the award winning international news publication is staffed by professional female journalists who are from the coverage community. Their feature and investigative journalism is published in six languages and reaches audiences across 190 countries.
How I Made Homeschooling Work For My Mexican Family
Aline Suárez del Real

How I Made Homeschooling Work For My Mexican Family

Educating children at home is rarely accepted in Mexico, but Global Press Journal reporter Aline Suárez del Real's family has committed to daily experiential learning.

TECÁMAC, MEXICO — Fifteen years ago, before I became a mother, I first heard about someone who did not send her child to school and instead educated him herself at home. It seemed extreme. How could anyone deny their child the development that school provides and the companionship of other students? I wrote it off as absurd and thought nothing more of it.

Today, my 7-year-old son does not attend school. Since August of last year, he has received his education at home, a practice known as home-schooling.

There is a widespread idea that most families who home-school do so for religious reasons. But that is not my case, nor is it the case for a large swath of families I am acquainted with in Mexico.

When the time came for my son, Cosme Damián Peña Suárez del Real, who at the time was 3 years old, to begin preschool, my husband and I faced the dilemma of deciding which school to choose. We searched for one with green areas and expansive spaces ideal for free play. We found one 75 kilometers (47 miles) from our house and decided to move to pursue what we thought was the best educational option.

It was a Waldorf school, which employs a pedagogy that does not fall within the parameters established by Mexico’s Ministry of Public Education (SEP). It opened our family up to a new educational landscape. We learned about other types of schools and other forms of organization and learning. And we became acquainted with families that practiced home-schooling and pursued alternative pedagogies.

Home-schooling in Mexico

Getting to know them, seeing how their children developed and observing their lifestyles made me want to learn more about home-schooling. I discovered that, in Mexico, this form of teaching is not prohibited, but nor is it regulated, meaning that the number of families practicing it in the country is unknown.

In 2016, the Home School Legal Defense Association, a nonprofit organization in the United States — where home-schooling is legal and widespread — estimated that 5,000 families in Mexico home-schooled.

Here, one of the few organizations focused on understanding the phenomenon of home-schooling and supporting the families that practice it is ABP Sustenta, founded by Martha Rebolledo, who herself educates her 14-year-old son at home. In 2018, the organization conducted a survey in an effort to analyze the situation in Mexico.

Only 620 families answered the call, of which 360 said they had chosen this alternative to give their children a tailored education. Meanwhile, 125 said they had taken their children out of school due to situations involving bullying, almost on par with families who home-school for religious reasons. Another 75 said they do it because their children have special needs that are not addressed in their schools, and 68 because they do not have enough money to pay for private school and do not want their children to attend public school. Survey participants were able to choose more than one reason.

Dania Urias, originally from Chile, home-schooled in her country, where this form of teaching is permitted with regulations for validating learning that has taken place outside the formal education system. When she moved to Mexico, she discovered that it’s not a common practice here. She wondered if she was doing something illegal. “I met with the surprise that it was much more difficult to get your child’s certification here and that people attach more of a stigma to home-schooling,” says Urias, who educates both of her children at home.

After several months went by, it hit me that my daughter went back to being the way she was before what she went through at school.

Ema Paredes started to home-school her 11-year-old daughter three years ago, when the girl went through a bullying situation at school. “Although I offered to switch her to another school, she didn’t want to,” says Paredes. “I decided not to take her anymore. And after several months went by, it hit me that my daughter went back to being the way she was before what she went through at school. So, I didn’t want her to go back anymore.”

Rebolledo suspects that the practice has been growing in Mexico since the coronavirus pandemic, which highlights the need to regulate it. “Some didn’t want to continue paying for private school, others didn’t like the online classes and others simply could not participate in the online classes,” she says. “So, they discovered they could obtain a certification through the National Institute for Adult Education, and they preferred to keep doing it that way, even when in-person classes had returned.”

Mexico’s National Institute for Adult Education, better known as INEA, was created to provide alternatives to people who, due to various circumstances, were not able to complete their studies. Through exams, short classes and counseling sessions, adults, adolescents and children aged 10 or older can obtain their certificate for primary and secondary school in a shorter period of time. Through INEA, families in Mexico could successfully validate their home-schooled children’s education.

Cosme Damián Peña Suárez del Real learns math and fractions through daily activities, such as buying fruits and vegetables at the supermarket and helping in the kitchen.


Education in real life

In June 2022, due to financial reasons, my partner and I had to move back to our old house. The schools in our area did not offer the type of education Cosme was receiving. This was in addition to anxiety he had developed after being bullied at school by a group of older students. We had been unable to handle the situation in such a way that he could overcome it. Cosme was refusing to go to school.

By that time, we already knew home-schooling was a viable possibility, and we decided to employ it temporarily until, with the help of a therapist, we could confirm that Cosme had sufficiently mastered the skills necessary for a proper transition. We also considered a local alternative school, which was scheduled to open soon.

Concern over the social aspect caused most of my anxiety. Although my son is sociable and easily approaches people to chat, conflict resolution, learning to share and cultivating tolerance are difficult skills to develop in an atmosphere outside of school.

We came up with the idea to meet my son’s socialization needs by joining a group of home-schooling families that held educational and recreational activities and free play. After we were unable to find such a group in our area, I created one. Through social media and flyers we distributed in the streets, we found eight families.

Educating a child at home is a challenge when a job is thrown into the mix. For the most part, it is the mothers in home-schooling families who take on the responsibility of educating the children, according to the ABP Sustenta survey. Fifty-seven percent of the families surveyed reported that the father was responsible for the entire household income. Nearly 22% of them reported that both parents had jobs, and in only 6% of cases were mothers both breadwinner and home-school teacher.

In my case, we both work, and combining that work with educating Cosme would be impossible without a robust support network. He accompanies me in my journalism work when it is both possible and safe. When I work at home, I sometimes organize academic activities for him, but most of the time, his learning has occurred through real-life experiences.

Daily life has become my best tool for teaching Cosme mathematics. The things I used to do on autopilot now have me counting, adding, subtracting, dividing. Going to the greengrocer to purchase fruits and vegetables is an activity he enjoys, and I put that learning opportunity to good use. I ask him to bring five apples to the shopping cart; to gather 1 kilogram of lemons; to help me figure out how much the items cost and add them together; to count the money, give it to the cashier and calculate how much change they owe us.

Another great educational opportunity is preparing food. Cosme has learned how different types of matter transform when combined or when force, heat and cold are applied — from making soup to witnessing how a hard grain like rice softens, or how flour goes from powder to dough.

Cosme wants to learn how the things we buy are made. He spent a long period of time recreating the frozen desserts he so enjoys, making them from scratch at home. He deduced how he needed to grind up the hard ice from the freezer and add flavoring. Each time he tries a recipe, I have him record it.

Caring for household plants has taught him about their various parts and life cycles. He has found enjoyment in germinating seeds and growing plants. But we did not expect this activity to also help him understand the seasons of the year and the lunar phases, which then gave him his start in understanding the movements of rotation and revolution.

Every item we see around the house or out on the street transforms into an opportunity to talk a little about the history of Mexico or science. We had never noticed how rich our surroundings are with elements of pre-Hispanic culture! But Cosme always asks, “What’s that figurine? What does it mean?” And that leads us to run home to conduct thorough research that will enable us to explain it to him. We almost always rely on books, but we also use YouTube videos. For now, he is interested in pre-Hispanic history and outer space, and he draws, writes and tells stories on those subjects.

The challenge of certification

Getting approval for home-schooling education has become more difficult as pandemic-related restrictions end, some families tell me. Educational institutions have zeroed in on ensuring that the population between the ages of 6 and 15 returns to the classroom in order to bring truancy rates down from the levels observed during quarantines. The INEA offices have grown stricter about accepting children who apply for certification.

INEA declined to be interviewed for this article. Marisela Calderón, head of the institute’s media and information department, told me they did not have authorization to speak about the issue because “there is no official with knowledge of home-schooling in Mexico due to that modality not being operated for SEP or INEA.”

However, an INEA official who is not authorized to speak with the press and wishes to remain anonymous, says the institute has knowledge that families who home-school come to the institute for certification, and there is a possibility that some justify absence from school with excuses such as illness. It is up to each INEA center to accept or deny the reasons presented to them, the official says.

Another option is enrollment in an umbrella school, which provides the content and evaluations to accredit the student’s education. This way, families can prove they are being educated through an institution. However, it is possible these schools are exploiting a loophole in the law because they do not require students to attend classes. Plus, home-schooling families cannot always afford them.

“The possibility exists that there are children receiving home-schooling who are suffering some sort of violence, and nobody is aware of it.”

These alternatives are no substitute for regulation. Not being able to get a student’s home-school education approved can create roadblocks, such as difficulty in obtaining a passport — for children over the age of 7, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requires documentation of the school they attend — and missing out on discounts for museums and cultural institutions.

Rebolledo says the lack of regulation and oversight can also put children at risk. “The possibility exists that there are children receiving home-schooling who are suffering some sort of violence, and nobody is aware of it,” she says while also admitting that most families are not interested in such oversight because they could lose their freedom in teaching and evaluating their children.

In October of last year, home-school parents and activists created the Red Nacional de Apoyo a la Educación en el Hogar, a national support network, the first of its kind in Mexico. The goal is to build a community. “It’s good to know we’re not the only ones who do home-schooling. We felt like oddballs,” Paredes says. “Knowing there is a network makes me feel supported when confronted by those who question my way of educating.”

I understand Paredes, and I appreciate the support networks and the enthusiastic and caring home-schooling families we have met along the way. But this does not erase the worry of knowing that in this country there is no legitimate means of certification and of proving that our son is learning as much as or more than any other child his age.

After having children, you find yourself doing and saying things you would not have imagined prior. I never thought of home-schooling as an option. But it is something I have found in my search for tools for an uncertain future. And this form of education is what has worked for us as a family.

Aline Suárez del Real is a Global Press Journal reporter based in Tecámac, in the state of Mexico.

Photograoph of four female bodybuilders holding their country's flags on stage.
Yam Kumari Kandel

Flexing Against Sexism: Meet The Women Bodybuilders Of Nepal

Women bodybuilders are rare in a society that prefers them thin, soft — and fully clothed. But with sports, gold-medal winners like Rajani Shrestha are helping inspire change.

KATHMANDU — Rajani Shrestha exercises at a gym near Baneshwor Height, a neighborhood in Kathmandu, as she prepares for a major bodybuilding championship. As the 42-year-old lifts around 50 kilograms (110 pounds) in a deadlift, her veiny arms and neck muscles bulge out. A woman with “muscles like a man,” she says, is a very rare sight here.

The men bodybuilders in the club stare at her. “I don’t care what anyone says or does. I must win the competition anyway,” Shrestha says. As the day progresses, she is the only one left in the club. For Shrestha, there is no time to waste. On this August weekday, it’s only a month to go till the 55th Asian Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Championship.

In 2019, Shrestha won silver medals at the 12th South Asian Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Championship, held in Kathmandu, and the 53rd Asian Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Championship, in Batam, Indonesia. The National Sports Council also recognized her for excellence.

Shrestha does not fit the normative definition of an ideal woman in Nepal. In a society where a thin body is considered beautiful, women bodybuilders with brawny bodies are labeled “men” and are often the target of ridicule and derision.

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Stinkin’ Sunset? A Mexican Coastal Paradise Has A Major Sanitation Problem
Maya Piedra

Stinkin’ Sunset? A Mexican Coastal Paradise Has A Major Sanitation Problem

As a paramunicipal organization takes over water services from local councils, residents face high costs, shortages, contamination — and a foul odor that’s sullying the area’s reputation as a coastal paradise.

SAN FRANCISCO, MEXICO — Tourists from many corners of the world gather here to watch one of the region’s most beautiful sunsets. In this town in the municipality of Bahía de Banderas, in the state of Nayarit, they take photographs and applaud as the very last trace of the sun disappears.

But when darkness envelops the beach and the visitors gradually depart, the festive atmosphere gives way to fetid odors that roll in from the south, where the motors of the treatment plant start. The wastewater discharge flows into the town’s estuary, which, during the rainy season, fills with enough water to connect with the sea.

Wastewater treatment in San Francisco is currently overseen by Organismo Operador Municipal de Agua Potable, Alcantarillado y Saneamiento, which is also referred to as OROMAPAS. The legal status of OROMAPAS gives it a certain amount of autonomy, and among other subsidies, it has received funding from the Inter-American Development Bank.

Over the past 25 years, OROMAPAS has gradually acquired control over the administration of drinking water and sewage throughout more and more territory in the municipality of Bahía de Banderas. However, residents in the north of the municipality say the results have been disastrous. Gray water flowing through the streets, drinking water shortages and contaminated bodies of water are just three issues they have experienced daily.

The pollution directly affects residents who enter the sea each day.

Jorge Alexis Castellón, a San Francisco local, is a commercial diver and avid surfer. He says he once had to sign a form authorizing the amputation of his foot after a bacterial infection from the ocean had developed into gangrene. The amputation turned out to be unnecessary.

“I was about to lose my foot. It seemed like it was going to happen, so I had to do it so the doctors could treat me,” says Castellón, who received a minor wound when he hit a rock while surfing in front of the estuary. The infection developed rapidly, and by the third day he could not walk.

The Bahía de Banderas region has been developed as one of the main international tourist centers for beaches in Mexico. The project took shape in the 1970s, under the federal government of then-President Luis Echeverría, which expropriated areas intended for tourism development from farming communities on the Pacific coast.

A nauseating odor

As part of the compensation for expropriating the coastal land, the Echeverría government implemented a process of urbanization and the provision of basic services to the affected populations. This included leaving the administration of drinking water, sewage and sanitation to local water management councils, which are autonomous entities made up of town residents.

However, since 1998, OROMAPAS, which is a paramunicipal agency according to the state of Nayarit’s drinking water and sewage law, has gradually taken over the management of water and sanitation services within the municipality.

Paramunicipal agencies are public, but they also utilize private budgets, even receiving international funding from entities like the Inter-American Development Bank.

Awarding the management of drinking water and sanitation in Bahía de Banderas to the paramunicipal agency has not been a smooth process. One of the most recent handovers happened in the north of the municipality, in the town of Sayulita. Here, the appointment of OROMAPAS as the service administrator went through amid protests.

The protests were held because, in a town north of Sayulita called San Ignacio, a nauseating odor permeates the environment. The source is the gray water flowing through the streets on its way to El Guamúchil creek, which meets the sea at Sayulita’s shore during the rainy season.

The tank used to supply drinking water to the town.


Troubled waters

San Ignacio was one of the first towns to relinquish administration of its water and sanitation services to OROMAPAS. “They’ve been in operation for 25 years now,” says J. Isabel López González, an auxiliary judge in San Ignacio. He adds that a treatment plant and drainage infrastructure were built for the town in 2009, but they have yet to operate due to a lack of interest in further investment in the plant.

“It’s affecting all of us. … The smell is stronger when the weather is hot,” says a resident who was born in San Ignacio, and who, like other residents, requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.

The pollution affects more than the air quality. Underground drinking water sources that the population relies on during droughts have also been impacted.

“There are wells near the creek, and you can’t bathe with the water from them because it smells very bad and makes you break out in a rash,” says the San Ignacio resident.

It is not as if there are only artisanal wells near the creek, either; there is also a waterwheel for potable water, López says. “Many people started saying that, when they washed themselves, rashes started appearing and they felt itchy.”

A magical town ?

A constant stream of reports has been sent to the authorities responsible for addressing deficiencies, residents say, but no solutions have arrived. “We’ve reported this to everyone, but no one is taking responsibility. No one wants to grab the bull by the horns,” López says. OROMAPAS approached the town with promises to fix the problem, but nothing has been resolved.

Global Press Journal received no response from OROMAPAS to its multiple requests for comment.

Downriver lies Sayulita. The town has been designated a “Magical Town,” and since then its streets having been graced by the footsteps of show-business personalities this past year. In 2021, OROMAPAS took over the functions of Sayulita’s drinking water, sewage and sanitation council.

“A lot of people from here didn’t want to [hand over the water]. However, as with any place where development starts happening, things change and the original residents become the odd ones out,” another Sayulita resident says.

The council was an autonomous entity that relied on payments from those who used its services for revenue. It therefore did not have the budget that a public institution has.

A man walks on the beach at sunset next to the San Francisco estuary.


Water mismanagement

Sayulita residents say that under OROMAPAS, services immediately became less personal. Customers say they went from being people to just being numbers. They say technical problems took longer than usual to resolve, water pressure decreased, the supply of water to neighboring towns was permitted, and billing rates for the service grew exponentially.

"When the old administration was there, it cost 900 [Mexican] pesos [50 United States dollars] per year. Today, with the current administration, the cost is 2,000 or 3,000 pesos [110 or 165 dollars] per month. That’s a staggering difference,” the same Sayulita resident says.

In response to the cost increases, residents have requested that the potable water supply networks be examined, but it has taken between two and three months for such reviews to occur. Plus, when action is taken to resolve issues, it often fails because the technicians are not sufficiently trained, residents say.

“They connected my meter to my neighbor’s house,” the resident says, adding that resolving the problem has trapped her in a bureaucratic quagmire that has cost her several months without success. Meanwhile, her bill continues to increase because of the interest the agency charges for nonpayment, except that her bills are based on readings from the wrong meter, she says. Regardless, OROMAPAS has warned her that, if she does not pay, they will cut off her service.

The provision of water to neighboring towns is new to Sayulita residents as well. “The service was 100% for the community. They were only allowed to make an exception when civil protection needed a water truck to handle an emergency,” another resident says. But now residents say they have seen water trucks leave pumping stations to deliver water to neighboring communities while the town is left without complete service.

“It’s gotten to the point where I’ve seen as many as four trucks a day leaving one of the pumping stations,” the resident says.

A community losing control

San Francisco lies 7 kilometers (4.5 miles) north of Sayulita. While it has suffered foul odors in the night from the discharge of residential wastewater, it is also where an exclusive hotel company recently purchased land for its next tourism development project. This is the only town in northern Bahía de Banderas that still has its own council, or Consejo de Agua Potable, Alcantarillado y Saneamiento. The sanitation services, however, are in the hands of OROMAPAS.

Claudio Vázquez Madrigal, director of San Francisco’s Consejo de Agua Potable, Alcantarillado y Saneamiento, says the town has two water treatment plants: one next to the estuary, built 50 years ago by the Echeverría government, and another 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) to the north, which began operations three years ago. However, after four months of use, it broke down. The two plants might be operating at 50% of their capacity, and the semi-treated water could be running directly into the estuary, Vázquez says.

At the same time, the Consejo de Agua Potable, Alcantarillado y Saneamiento has been under pressure to relinquish administration of their services to OROMAPAS for some months now. The people oppose such a move. And resistance is not easy, Vázquez explains, because no coercive authority exists to compel people who do not pay their water bill to do so — and those funds represent all of the local water management agency’s funding. Customers must go to the offices in person to settle their bill — and some don’t.

There are people who register for one intake, but they might be renting out several living spaces on the same property, says Elvia García Palomera, a San Francisco resident.

The council’s service has its own challenges, García says, but it shares a closeness with the people, and the community can organize to find solutions.

When administration passes into the hands of third parties, the community loses the control it had over the service. San Francisco residents say the problems they are already facing with the treatment plants’ service quality, combined with the experiences of neighboring towns, paint a vivid picture of the circumstances that await them with a change in leadership.

Support should be given to the local water council to make people pay their bills, García says. That way, San Francisco could retain independent control of its water system.

“We need a support committee,” she says, “so the water council can take inventory.”

Photo of a bed bug
Khorloo Khukhnokhoi

Not Just Paris! Mongolia Is Also Battling Bedbugs (And Cockroaches... And Centipedes...)

Public extermination services were halted during the pandemic. Residents have embraced cheaper DIY solutions — but there are risks.

ERDENET, ORKHON PROVINCE, MONGOLIA — Oyuka dresses for domestic battle. Mask. Gloves. Hair shrouded under a black hood. A disposable white gown reminiscent of a surgeon. It’s 2 p.m. on a Tuesday; her husband is at work and their two young children are at school. She shoves the oven, freezer and washing machine away from the kitchen walls and grabs a lime-green spray can from behind the bathtub, where it’s out of the children’s reach. “Magic Cleaner,” the bottle says in Chinese. A pesticide.

Oyuka — who asked to be referred to only by her nickname, out of fear of being criticized by her neighbors — lives on the eighth floor of a 10-story building in Erdenet, Mongolia’s second-largest city, where towering apartments cram together like subway riders. Lots of people means lots of trash, which means lots and lots of bugs. Cockroaches. Bedbugs. Centipedes. And what Mongolians call black bugs, speck-like insects that Oyuka fears will bite her children and make them sick.

Over the past year, Oyuka started noticing them in corners, under furniture, on windowsills. She increased how often she sprayed Magic Cleaner, from occasionally to every three months — even though the smell makes her stomach lurch. “Because I don’t know any other good poison, I use this poison often,” she says.

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Photo of a person practicing bone-breaking
Khorloo Khukhnokhoi

Breaking Bones: The Herding Tradition Trending On Mongolia’s Social Media

The nomadic pastime, in which people compete to break thick animal bones in half with only their hand, carries dire risks for the untrained. That hasn’t slowed its popularity.

ORKHON PROVINCE — On a warm, sunny Saturday, 16-year-old Telmen stood on a concrete field, clutching a thick beef bone in his left hand. About 100 onlookers circled him as he pinched his face in concentration, hiked up the sleeves of his green traditional robe and tapped the bone multiple times with his right fist. He paused. Then Telmen arced his right arm back, as if wielding a hammer, and struck the bone hard: Thwack! The bone snapped in half as cleanly as a twig.

This is Mongolian bone-breaking, a modern version of a centuries-old herding pastime and, as of the coronavirus pandemic, a social media sensation. During lockdown, videos of people shattering cows’ thoracic vertebrae with their bare hands notched tens of thousands of views and made some viewers wonder: What if I struck a bone? Could I break it? Bone-breaking nods to a kind of rugged manliness revered in Mongolian culture, as evinced by its inclusion in what Mongolians consider the 10 attributes of a good man, alongside being a strong student and skillful speaker. However, rookies quickly learn that the game is not without risk.

At the hand injury ward of one of the country’s largest hospitals, the Mongolian National Trauma and Orthopedic Research Center in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, roughly 1 in 2 recent surgical patients have suffered injuries from trying the game themselves. Sometimes doctors must amputate fingers.

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They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home
Migrant Lives
Adriana Alcázar González

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

An orchid rehabilitation project is turning a small Mexican community into a tourist magnet — and attracting far-flung locals back to their hometown.

MAPASTEPEC — Sweat cascades down Candelaria Salas Gómez’s forehead as she separates the bulbs of one of the orchids she and the other members of the Santa Rita Las Flores Community Ecotourism group have rescued from the rainforest. The group houses and protects over 1,000 orchids recovered from El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, after powerful storms.

“When the storms and heavy rains end, we climb to the vicinity of the mountains and collect the orchids that have fallen from the trees. We bring them to Santa Rita, care for them, and build their strength to reintegrate them into the reserve later,” says Salas Gómez, 32, as she attaches an orchid to a clay base to help it recover.

Like magnets, the orchids of Santa Rita have exerted a pull on those who have migrated from the area due to lack of opportunity. After years away from home, Salas Gómez was one of those who returned, attracted by the community venture to rescue these flowers and exhibit them as a tourist attraction, which provides residents with an adequate income.

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Photograph of young girls in Zambia standing behind a vegetable stand.
Prudence Phiri

Zambia Questions Its Harrowing Puberty Rites Of Passage For Girls

Zambia’s traditional counselors are rethinking the country’s puberty rites, which some argue are detrimental to girls’ well-being.

LUSAKA — On a sunny afternoon in Chipungu, a clean-swept hamlet in Rufunsa, a rural district east of Lusaka, three girls who have recently reached puberty sit on the floor of a thatched roof hut in the center of the village. The girls, wearing only their underpants, are seated on a reed mat, their legs stretched out and heads bowed. Around them, women take turns performing sexually suggestive dances, aimed at teaching the teenagers how to engage in sexual acts.

This is an essential part of the traditional female initiation ceremony into adulthood, known as Chinamwali in Zambia’s Eastern province and Chisungu in the country’s Northern province. Here, for the next few weeks, the girls will learn how to serve and sexually please their future husbands.

Margaret Banda, a 54-year-old woman who serves as the community’s apungu — a local term that refers to the ritual’s mistress of ceremony — raises the girls’ heads, forcing them to watch the women and demonstrate what they’ve learned. It is then the teenagers’ turn to repeat the dances.

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How Nepal’s “Left-Behind” Children Of Migrants Hold Families Together
Migrant Lives
Yam Kumari Kandel

How Nepal’s “Left-Behind” Children Of Migrants Hold Families Together

Children left to fend for themselves when their parents seek work abroad often suffer emotional struggles and educational setbacks. Now, psychologists are raising alarms about the quiet but building crisis.

BARDIYA — It was the Nepali New Year and the sun was bright and strong. The fields appeared desolate, except the luxuriantly growing green corn. After fetching water from a nearby hand pump, Prakash Jaisi, 18, walked back to the home he shares with his three siblings in Bardiya district’s Banbir area, more than 500 kilometers (over 300 miles) from Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. As it was a public holiday in the country, all his friends had gone out to have fun. “I’d like to spend time with my friends, but I don’t have the time,” he says. Instead, Jaisi did the dishes and completed all the pending housework. Even though his exams are approaching, he has not been able to prepare. There is no time.

Jaisi’s parents left for India in December 2021, intending to work in the neighboring country to repay their house loan of 800,000 Nepali rupees (6,089 United States dollars). As they left, the responsibility of the house and his siblings was handed over to Jaisi, who is the oldest.

Just like Jaisi’s parents, 2.2 million people belonging to 1.5 million Nepali households are absent and living abroad. Of these, over 80% are men, according to the 2021 census on population and housing. The reasons for migration include the desire for a better future and financial status.

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