“Education is probably the most powerful tool to get people out of poverty,” says Surya Karki, Co-Founder of the Diyalo Foundation, to Food Tank. “Our core belief is that by teaching children how to read, write, and count it also teaches them to dream—dream to pursue a career that is meaningful to them and that forms a path to prosperity.”
The Diyalo Foundation educates with a sustainable development approach, combatting Nepal’s high illiteracy and poverty rates. This free, high-quality education contextualizes learning to the local context, and to Karki, this means teaching agriculture. “Nepal’s economy is highly agriculture-dependent, and since Diyalo works in remote areas built on farming, teaching agriculture was a natural choice,” he says to Food Tank.
This approach nurtures what Karki describes as “the next generation of farmers who farm not because they have to, but because they are truly interested in agriculture.” Instead of walking long distances to crowded government classrooms, Diyalo students receive hands-on learning in their own community. Children digging into familiar soil in agri-gardens learn math, science, and global issues through food production and share this knowledge with their communities.
Karki also ensures his students are aware of their global position and the political forces that surround Nepal. “We basically live in the middle of two-thirds of the world’s population, between India, China, Pakistan, and Bangladesh,” he says to Food Tank. This geographic placement means Nepal is in the middle of “one of the biggest source markets for food, especially organic.” Karki is aware that meeting those demands could bring a flourishing Nepalese economy as well as potential risk. “We are not stationed to cater only to [China and India]…if we cannot produce enough food to sustain our own population, we will need to import, which may unbalance our economy.”
Nepal is diverse not only in culture and climate but in people’s understanding of existing global and local problems like climate change. “Most farmers are not literate or well educated and depend heavily on patterns and traditional methods,” explains Karki to Food Tank, leaving them increasingly vulnerable to food insecurity and poverty as climate occurrences worsen. Diyalo integrates sustainability into their teaching model and runs classrooms on renewable energy. “Teaching sustainable agriculture is important in this world of scarce resources; we need to continuously protect what we have.”
With the world working towards the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development, Diyalo garners support from government investments in climate-friendly initiatives and other education charities like United World Schools (UWS) Nepal. As the UWS Nepal Country director, Karki sees a huge opportunity in the next 11 years as the organization strives to build 150 more schools moving a further 20,000 children into secondary education to “make our mission of quality education in rural Nepal a reality.” An educated workforce not only means mitigating climate change but tackling other Sustainable Development Goals like food security and poverty alleviation by creating what Karki calls “the next generation of knowledgeable farmers whose future is not dependent on their parents’ economic situation.”
Despite these complexities, Karki’s own story conveys that a mission for education can bring meaningful change. “Had my mother not worked hard to ensure I had access to education I would have likely continued to be in some form of poverty,” he says to Food Tank. “Educated people have access to their own free minds. You can only pursue opportunities and solutions to problems if you have access to information, so we are trying to create an environment where children have that access…[ultimately] making for a stronger food system and a stronger community with a brighter future.”