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.
Well, that was then – 1997-1999 – when my third and fourth grade classes were engaged with a Sister School in Sarkuwa, 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.
In December of 2006, I made my eighth trip to Kathmandu, Nepal, along with my entire family – including my grandchildren. It was the sixth trip for my husband, Tom, and the second for my daughter, Sherie, and her husband, Mark, and their children, Jessica and Meaghan. We had many adventures related to our efforts to improve the lives of children located in two orphanages in the city. However, Tom had the privilege of making a long journey to the village of Sarkuwa in Baglung District to visit the Sister School and see for himself what things had been done with the money we provided them several years ago.
I knew that the trip would be very arduous and mostly up-mountain. I also knew that I was not in the best of shape to attempt the climb, so the honor to represent all of us in Sarkuwa fell on cheerful Tom. A young, energetic and educated graduate of Sarkuwa, Shishir Paudel, had volunteered to be Tom’s guide. Due to the distance involved and time constraints on both of them, they opted to fly from Kathmandu to Pokhara, a city northwest of Kathmandu. From there, they hired a taxi, for $12.00, to make a two hour drive to the end of the paved road in Baglung. After that they hired a jeep to carry them down a rutted trail to the start of the trek up the mountain to Sarkuwa. My husband reports that the jeep ride was quite an experience, an opposite of what could be called relaxing!
They were led up the mountain trail by Megh Raj Dhakal, a brother of a Nepalese Canadian friend Pramod Dhakal, the gentleman who first introduced us to Sarkuwa. Megh is also the science teacher at the school and he generously opened his home to Tom for the two nights he was in the village. 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 Nepalis, concluded the journey 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 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 with flowers and Malas (flower garlands) to greet him. He collected flowers from every child and dutifully returned ‘Namaste’ to each and every one. Chairs had been set up in the school compound and a full program of activities had been planned in his honor. Children and teachers danced and sang for him and everyone made 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 monitored 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! When asked what they needed the most, they still said ‘money’ because even with their careful guidance, more money is always needed if the improvements were to be made in the way education is delivered. In addition to that, their one request was to have volunteers come to help teach English. Tom gave them his assurance that we would see what we could do for them to satisfy such needs.
The school 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 five computers, which, if properly installed, could someday be used to link Sarkuwa to the rest of the world. This is the vision the teachers have at the moment. 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 decent Internet connection to a remote location in the world is five-fold more expensive than getting one 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.
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 both have reflected on it and 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.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Tom, publicly, for making that very difficult trip. He has been supportive and enthusiastic in all our endeavors in Nepal, but this trip carried a special significance. The project from my side in Fisher, Illinois was the best of times in all of my more than 35 years of teaching. The way our activities enhanced the education of my students brought a sense of joy and pride within me. I was ecstatic to realize how education can become meaningful to young people when a worthy and simple mission is attached to it. However, I am even happier today to discover that our endeavors have made a positive impact on the children of a remote school in Nepal.
Project Category: Project: Rural Education Nepal
Article Category: Memoir
Author: Donna Lea
About Author: Donne Lea is a former teacher of Fisher Grade School, Illinois, USA