Crossing the Chasm: Education in Rural Nepal

My phone rang as I was driving home from a pleasant Italian dinner party. When I picked up the phone my friend Zach Gaydos had one question for me: “Would you like to go to Nepal with me to teach English?“

We met for drinks to discuss the details, but the decision in my mind was made the moment Zach posed the question over the phone. Of course, I wanted to go to Nepal. It sounded like once in a lifetime opportunity to go and do something meaningful and useful. Going to a rural village in Asia with worthy cause of teaching, while having an opportunity for an adventure in the homeland of the Buddha, was too good of an opportunity to let go by.

Zach explained that two teachers, Donna Lea and her husband Thomas Lea, from our area in Illinois were involved in a rural school in Nepal. They were working with Pramod Dhakal of Canada Forum for Nepal. Tom, Donna and Pramod were doing the coordination work for our travel and we were doing our part.

Nothing could have prepared us for what came next when we landed in Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. As we stepped through the exit and into the hazy atmosphere of Kathmandu valley, an army of Nepalese approached us asking to carry our bags to a taxi. Within this chaos, we managed to find our contact person, Sudeep Dhakal, who was waiting for our arrival. After welcoming us, he ushered us into a taxi, which hurtled us through the crowded streets like a bat out of hell. Welcome to Nepal, where the traffic laws aren’t exactly observed!

We stayed in Kathmandu for a few days, taking in the wondrous sites of places like Durbar Square and Swayambhunath and the not so wondrous sites of disorderly congestions, dirty alleys, and polluted air. To my Western mind, there was something fascinating about this place. The experience was riveting and at any given moment I felt as if the city may descend into chaos and mayhem. But then, I sensed there was an order in the mayhem. Sudeep taught us the phrase “Sab Thik Chha!” [It is all good].

We traveled to a small town on the western highway called Kushma by a rickety “local” bus, and from there we hiked for six hours to get to the village of Sarkuwa. Eventually this journey would only take us four hours, but we were still new to the rigors of walking along terraced rice paddies and up and down the steep clay trails of the Annapurna range’s foothills. Everywhere we looked we saw luscious greenery, banana trees, seasonal waterfalls, and gushing rivers. This was a world away (literally) from the flat plains of my home state Illinois.

We were warmly welcomed by our hosts. The next day we visited the school where we were going to volunteer. Mutual curiosity between us, the staff, and the students, bloomed into treasured friendships. Their personal warmth was very touching, and a far cry from detached western city lifestyles.

We hiked uphill every day for half an hour to get to school, and many of the students and staff had to walk even farther. Janata Higher Secondary School is quite remote and rural, with walking being the only mode of transportation. Communication is quite a challenge.

The students had an insatiable appetite for interacting and learning from us, but this is not to say that were not difficulties. For example, hardly any English material was available for the students to explore on their own. However, the situation in the cities is different as there are many foreign tourists, books, and television channels in English. Consequentially in examinations, the students in the cities score significantly higher than students in rural areas, especially in English. In subjects taught in Nepali, our students’ achievements were not that far behind the urban average. This meant that rural schools can significantly benefit from better outreach programs in English.

You may wonder why this is of such significance. In order to progress to university or colleges, Nepali students need to have demonstrated ability in English. Many courses are actually taught in English, and if they want to attend an Indian university, proficiency in English is a necessity. The language provides them with many more opportunities for employment and higher education, and in an impoverished and expanding Nepal, opportunity is everything.

Practically every Nepali I talked to indicated that there is a lack of opportunity for the common Nepali. There is hope though in their earnest ambitions for the future, that a prosperous Nepal is possible. In this small underdeveloped nation, a little bit of effort can go a long way towards creating a bright and hopeful future. We found that the concerned citizens of the world could make a tremendous contribution in rural Nepal in advancing English language proficiency through provision of modest computerized learning environments where a wide variety of learning materials can be made easily and economically accessible.

About Article:

Project Category: Project: Rural Education Nepal
Article Category: Memoir
Author: David Campbell
About Author: David Campbell was a fresh graduate of University of Illinois, Urbana-champaign who volunteered with CFFN as a teacher in Janata HS School, Sarkuwa, Baglung, Nepal

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