We were all sitting in the hot, stuffy dining room of our hotel in Nepal Gunj after a long day’s library inauguration. Next to me was Smita, a small,slender waif of a girl, who looked about 16 at most. To imagine her in her late 20s and a top reporter for one of Kathmandu’s best newspapers was impossible! I asked her how she had achieved so much, and she told me a story.

Smitagrew up in Rukum, a province in far west Nepal that was very poor and backward even for one of the world’s least developed countries. For many years, Rukumhad been controlled by the Maoists, and operated as an autonomous state withinthe country. The literacy rate was one of the lowest in all Nepal, manypeople had no electricity and most lived below the poverty level. Ofthose children who did attend school, almost all were boys.

Smita’s parents were illiterate farmers, but they did believe in education, sending her two older brothers to school. Her uncle was a school teacher, himself and a very important man in Smita’s life. When she was young, he would tell her stories and encourage her to dream. She loved him very much.

One day the uncle traveled east across the country to Kathmandu. While there,during a random conversation, he learned that years back men had landed on the moon – something of which he was heretofore unaware.

Returningto Rukum, one of the stories he told Smita was about the moonlanding. She was amazed when she heard of such an inconceivable event -men so far up in the sky on the moon! Astonishing yet an inspiration forher! Even though she had never been to school, Smita dreamt of being adoctor one day when she grew up. If men could land on the moon – totally unimaginable earlier – at least she could go to school and study.

Sinceher brothers were students and her uncle supported Smita’s wish to learn, herparents let her go to school – the first girl in her village to ever attendclass. Not only did she graduate, but she managed to get a scholarship tothe university in Kathmandu. Along the way, she changed her mind aboutmedicine and became a newspaper reporter

WhenI asked her what gave her the strength to do what no other woman in her villagehad done, she smiled and referred to her uncle.

“That story meant the world to me. I knew at that moment that my dreams could become real. I too could shoot for the stars,” she said solemnly.

“If I did not reach the stars, I could always land on the moon!”