By Donna Lea
Sometimes there are moments in life that are worth reflecting upon. There were years not so distant from now that I used to be called Mrs. Lea by my third and fourth grade students at Fisher Grade School of Illinois, USA. It was a time when I assimilated the studies about Nepal in my classes to achieve four objectives: to make the learning interesting and fun; to make my students understand about life in the poor countries and value what is available to them; to make my students do something about the children of the world that are less fortunate; and to subtly teach my students about project development, marketing, sales and other valuable skills while raising fund for a Sister School in Nepal.
Many years after our Sister School project was ended and as the years of my retirement advanced, my curiosity about what might have happened in Nepal as a result of our endeavors grew more intense. This quest to know, along with other endeavors we had become involved with in Nepal, took my entire family to Kathmandu in December 2006. It turns out that sometimes simple beginnings can bear unexpected and delightful outcomes that are worth mentioning.
I was not in the best of shape and my husband, Tom, had the privilege of making a long and mountainous journey to the village of Sarkuwa to visit the Sister School and see for himself what things had been done with the money we provided them several years ago. With a graduate of Sarkuwa as a guide, Tom flew to Pokhara, took a Taxi to Baglung and then took a jeep to carry them down a rutted trail to the start of the trek to Sarkuwa. He reports that the jeep ride was quite an experience, an opposite of what could be called relaxing! The treacherous climb up the winding and dangerous mountain trails, ended after night had fallen. A meal of freshly slaughtered chicken and dal-bhaat, the usual daily meal of Nepalese, concluded the trek along with a good night’s rest. Tom was meticulous in telling me that all parts of the chicken, except the comb, feet and entrails were cut up into the chicken meal! Water came from a spigot coming out of the mountainside and bathrooms, of course, are non existent as we know them. But Megh the science teacher and his family generously shared all they had with Tom.
The next morning, Tom was led on a 2 and a half hour trek up a very steep, but scenic, mountain trail to where the school was. When he arrived, he found that all 500 plus students were lined up on the terraces to greet him. He collected flowers from every child and dutifully returned ‘Namaste’ to each and every one. Full program of activities had been planned in his honor with dances, songs and speeches, very little of which he understood. However, once the festivities were over, he met with the staff of the school and they described how the money we gave them had been used. The most remarkable, and very commendable thing about this group of people, is how diligently they have managed the money. They have used it for improvements to the school’s infrastructure as well as providing scholarships for children of poor families. But beyond that, they have made the money grow so that now there is more to use for the children’s educational needs than they started with… an unbelievable feat in Nepal!
The school’s buildings are well kept and the students have furniture to sit at. However, as is true of all Nepali schools, they are ill-equipped. Megh’s science lab was bare bones; it was difficult to figure out how it could be called a science lab. Some of the money could be spent on supplies but such supplies are found only in Kathmandu and have to be transported there. However, electricity has arrived at Sarkuwa and they have hopes of purchasing computers and connecting to the rest of the world. Carrying computers up the mountainside seems to be of little or no problem to these people if their dream of getting connected to the world from their remote mountain were to come true. Taking a poorest quality Internet connection to a remote location in the world is, however, five-fold more expensive than getting the highest quality connection in a city like Chicago or Toronto. Moreover, paying almost two-hundred dollars every month by a rural school like Sarkuwa is an impossible feat at the moment without a benevolent sponsor.
In those years of 1997-99, a sense of joy and pride had prospered within me because of the way our activities had enhanced the education of my students and their learning environment had become meaningful with a worthy and simple mission attached to it. I was thrilled beyond my wildest dreams to know that our efforts for Sarkuwa have continued to prosper and grow and that we helped to benefit so many children. I am proud to share my experiences with all educators and volunteers who have compassion for the people of Nepal, and equally importantly to those who were involved with our activities of that time. We have much to be proud of! Tom was incredibly excited to have actually stood on the terraces of Sarkuwa that we had heard so much about, and he enjoyed the hospitality of these gentle people. We have concluded that when a stone is cast into a pond, the ripples run far and wide. We can never know where they will end, and so it has been with our efforts for improving educational opportunities in a small village perched on a mountain half a world away.
(Mrs Donna Lea is an educator in Illinois, USA. After 35 years of teaching, she has taken for retirement from full-time teaching but still teaches part time.)