The Magic Of Letters Chameli Waiba was raised in a village in Nepal and didn't attend school as a child. When she finally learned to read as an adult, Waiba discovered the power words could have to change her life, as well as the lives of others in her rural community.
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The Magic Of Letters

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The Magic Of Letters

The Magic Of Letters

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(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: I believe in adaptation.

Unidentified Woman #1: I believe in a silver lining.

Unidentified Woman #2: I believe that being flexible keeps me going.

Unidentified Man #2: I believe every single person deserves to be acknowledged.

Unidentified Man #1: This, I believe.


After almost four years on the air, our This I Believe project has grown beyond our borders. Today's essay comes from Nepal, where the broadcasting company Antenna Foundation Nepal has started its own series based on ours. The essays appear on radio, TV and in the newspaper. Today's was written by 38-year-old Chameli Waiba, whose belief is related to the fact that it was written at all.

Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON: Chameli Waiba never went to school as a child. She was illiterate. She became a child bride at age 15, but her husband stopped supporting her after a year. She lived a difficult life in a poor rural region of Nepal, until, at the age of 21, she attended an informal literacy class where her belief was born.

Here is Chameli Waiba with her essay for This I Believe, read in English by Ramyata Limbu, recorded in Katmandu.

Ms. CHAMELI WAIBA: (Nepali spoken)

Ms. RAMYATA LIMBU (Translator): I believe in the alphabet because it has the power to change life. I realized the power concealed in the alphabet on the very first day I joined the adult literacy class. For the first time I was introduced to letters that stood for my name. In discovering the Nepali alphabet, I discovered I was Cha-me-li and not Cha-mi-li, as everyone used to call me. It felt like magic. A little loop of, E, for, I, changed my name.

If three letters could change my name, how much would I be able to transform my life if I understood all the letters? I spent that whole evening writing and rewriting my name. After that, I carried the spelling book with me while I went to collect firewood, weed the maize field, just everywhere, until I learned to write.

Before learning how to write, my life was like the nearby Indrasarovar Lake, always stagnant. I had the pain of child marriage, my husband did not support me, abject poverty was my way of life and I didn't have any skill or courage to do anything. But I saw that the number of people learning to read and write was growing — and their lives were improving. I then realized it was neither wealth nor beauty that I lacked, but letters.

As my new knowledge of words boosted my confidence and courage, I made a resolution: Yes, my life has been like this, but I and my sisters and brothers should be given education, as much as we would like. The immediate obstacle to this was the Tasar River. The village school was on the other side of the river, and children would be cut off from going to school during monsoon season.

I wanted to erect a bridge over the river. In the beginning, the villagers did not help. Some even mocked the idea, saying it was only for me and called the idea, Chameli Bridge. But finally, we got support, materials were collected, volunteer laborers were available and the bridge was finally constructed. Now I cannot express my satisfaction seeing children running to school over that bridge. It is a bridge of iron, a bridge of letters, a bridge of community. Nothing is achieved without the cooperation of all.

I am now heading five women's microsaving groups. Ten or 20 rupees that used to be spent buying petty cosmetic items have been collected into a fund of 300,000 rupees. We are planning to open a small cooperative in the village soon. We also want to run permanent literacy classes for women and open a library. All this is the result of my knowing the alphabet, even though I learned it late. Letters have immense power. They have magic. The greatest thing in the world is the alphabet. That is my belief.

Ms. WAIBA: (Nepali spoken)

ALLISON: Chameli Waiba's essay for This I Believe, read in English by Ramyata Limbu and recorded in Katmandu, Nepal. Chameli continues to work for social causes and has chaired local committees on environmental conservation, construction of roads and bridges, child development and microfinance.

To find out more about her and to see links to the This I Believe project in Nepal, visit, where you can also submit your own essay. By the way, our series will be finishing its four-year run in April, so, if you want to send us an essay, do it soon. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

HANSEN: Jay Allison is co-editor with Dan Gediman, John Gregory and Viki Merrick of the book, "This I Believe, Volume 2: More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women."

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