This couple cut down on wedding expenses to support Nepal’s education reform drive

Bibhushan Shakya and Shilva Shrestha

People thinking of getting hitched this year must be busy planning how they will save up money to complete the wedding rituals—for Nepali weddings are generally expensive. A typical Nepali wedding has two key dimensions: cultural rituals and social gatherings. Both involve excessive costs–not only for the bride and the groom, but for both the families get stuck in planning for expenses for months.

Bibhushan Shakya and Silva Shrestha also began discussing finances a couple of months ago as they had set the wedding date for May 11. This couple, however, were not concerned about how much they would spend for jewellery and how many thousands of rupees on parties. They were trying to make their wedding a bit different in terms of expenditure.

In fact, they were trying to cut down on all possible costs for the wedding and invest the saving on a social cause instead.

One week after they tied the knot, the couple now finally feel a sigh of relief—for they have already sent USD 10,000 that they had saved for their wedding to a social enterprise in Nepal working on an educational reform campaign here.

Shakya and Shrestha, who currently live in different parts of the United States, came to Kathmandu earlier this month for their wedding, and have already returned to their school and work back in the States. Before leaving Nepal, they donated the amount to Teach for Nepal (TFN), an organisation that has been mobilising teachers at community schools in six districts of the country as a part of a two-year fellowship, with a mission to bridge differences between private and community schools of the country.

‘No publicity gimmick’

When Shakya proposed to Shrestha and both the families that they invest their wedding budget on the social cause, everyone was taken by surprise.

Bibhushan Shakya

“He did not have a stable job. Neither a home nor a car,” Shrestha shares, “But, when he proposed that we donate that big amount to an organisation, I myself did not believe it at first.” In fact, Shakya initially had proposed to give away USD 15,000, combining savings of both the bride and groom. However, the lady thought it could be beyond their capacity and convinced the groom to reduce the amount by one third.

The couple claim the idea originated in Shakya’s benevolent desire to support the education of the underprivileged. They say they did not donate the money because they were rich, and they wanted to show it off, or they had a lust for popularity as benevolent hearts. “We both had a deep faith that education matters in every person’s life and we wanted to make our contribution to the campaign that has a mission to change the educational landscape here,” Shakya claims, “I had been saving all possible money in a bank account since I moved to the US in 2004 and the money I had was the culmination of my savings over these 14 years.”

Whereas Shakya was saving since 2004, he also convinced Shrestha to join him since they began the relationship in 2014. Then, they opened a joint account in the US and over these four years, Shrestha also contributed a significant amount.

“We were not concerned about how our decision would be taken by others. Not at all!” Shrestha shares, adding, she did not have any idea that TFN would reveal the information about the donation to the media and the public.

Desire to set an example

Though they did not have any craving for popularity, both of them say they wanted to set themselves as an example in front of their families, relatives and friends.

Bibhushan Shakya and Shilva Shrestha

“Yes, I used to donate money to organisations like this regularly, but in small amounts. I had a desire to make it as big as possible on my wedding, because I wanted to set an example that wedding is not about spending money in foods and ornaments, but also about fulfilling your duty to your society,” Shakya says as Shrestha adds, “I have many cousins and friends and relatives who are thinking of beginning conjugal life very soon. I wanted to inspire them about the idea of donation.”

The couple had planned to share the news about their donation on their personal Facebook pages only so that would-be brides and grooms would think of following suit.

This is why the couple spent so much time in ensuring that the donated fund will be properly utilised for the right purpose as there are many organisations which claim to be assisting the needy in the country. Shakya shares that he chose TFN just because he had known people who established the organisation and was updated about changes the organisation has made since it began the fellowship programme in 2013.

At first, they considered supporting children of their own schools with the money. However, they later realised that impacts of assistance to the TFN would be greater, apparently because they were educated at big schools of Kathmandu and children there would not need much assistance financially.

Revolt against tradition      

Because they did not care about the spending in ornaments and food, they say they do not have any idea about how much their families spent on their wedding. “We just asked our parents to take care of everything because we did not want to do the wedding that way. However, we could not vehemently dismiss expectations of our family from us, so we compromised in letting the wedding ceremony be the traditional way.”

Apparently, the families did not leave any stone unturned to make their wedding as grand as possible. Though they do not have any idea about how much money was spent on the rituals and the parties exactly, they estimate that it was not less than any other average wedding in Kathmandu.

“We did everything that a traditional Newari wedding in Kathmandu has,” Shrestha explains, “But still, we made a few changes within those traditions to symbolically suggest that we wanted change.”

For example, during weddings in Shakya families, the groom’s family has to gift diamond rings to the couple. However, the groom here chose to stop that tradition. Therefore, they put on tungsten carbide rings as a symbolic revolt. “My mom said—’oh, you cannot go to become a part of the new family putting on such a cheap ornament’, but I told her I would revolt. I told her that I would put on gold-plated ornaments if she really wished so,” Shrestha excitingly shares, “I even said that my man currently needs an iPad more than a gold chain, hence we should offer him the iPad as a gift instead of jewellery.”

At the end of the day, they did what they chose to do.

“In life, you have many excuses to skip doing something,” Shakya turns philosophical in defence, “But, at the same time, you have as many choices to do something. I just wanted to make right choices, and wish every person would choose right options available to them rightly. After all, you are not going to take anything from this world when you die. Therefore, you should do whatever gives you emotional satisfaction.”

Shrestha turns out to be the perfect better half—for she seconds, “If your small efforts change anyone’s life, why not?”

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Pyakurel is a Kathmandu-based bilingual journalist, who worked for Onlinekhabar from April 2017 till May 2023, leading its English edition from January 2020 till May 2023. He writes on climate and environment, society and culture, art and literature, and entrepreneurship, among others.

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