“Namaste!” I was to hear this greeting many, many times in the three and a half months I spent in Nepal. I heard it from taxi drivers, hoteliers, old women carrying firewood on narrow mountain trails, and hundreds of times from students at the school I taught at. Loosely translated, “namaste” means, “I bow to the divine within you.” A bit different from the common “hello” most often heard in English speaking countries. While in cities, “hello” is becoming increasingly widespread, especially in areas frequented by tourists, in the rural areas “Namaste” stills reigns supreme. It is an excellent example of the polite respect Nepalese afford to all visitors to this beautiful country. It also showcases the narrowing bridge between a formerly isolated Himalayan Hindu kingdom and a modern nation.
Nepal is a country in Southeast Asia, sandwiched between the Tibetan Plateau of China in the north and the Indian subcontinent on the eastern, southern, and western sides. Its climate ranges from subtropical jungle in the southern river basins to the frigid apex of Sagarmatha (otherwise known as Everest), the tallest mountain on Earth. Nepal is likewise home to tremendous variety cultural identities, including dozens of linguistic and ethnic groups and a plethora of religious affiliations (Hindu and Buddhist being predominant). While Nepali citizens hail from very diverse backgrounds, there remains a strong national identity and a collective motivation to move forward together. The Nepali people are internationally known for their friendliness and generosity. It is not surprising that Nepal is a highly acclaimed destination for international travelers.
However, Nepal is still experiencing growing pains as it emerges from its traditional agrarian lifestyle towards a future more developmentally modern. Many of the people in Nepal are extremely poor. Urban areas face great problems with overpopulation and subsequent pollution. Ten years of political instability have damaged Nepal’s emerging infrastructure. Dozens of political parties (often with divergent goals) are attempting to reach consensus, as Nepal attempts to transition from a Hindu monarchy to a republic. Mirroring this political transition, Nepal’s educational system is also shifting from a more traditional system towards methods that emphasize computer training and foreign language instruction. There is also a developing emphasis on providing educational opportunities to females, the poor, and members of the lower caste (caste being the Hindu social classification system). For Nepal to move forward, to become a successful modern nation, there must be synergistic evolutions in its infrastructure, political processes, educational system, and social equality. It speaks very highly of Nepal that its people remain so friendly, communicative, and generous in the face of such brutal adversity.
I taught English for three months at an isolated school in Baglung District, west of Pokhara. While there is some access to modern teaching materials and methods in the cities, rural schools often lack funding or educational resources to prepare students for continued education. There has been an increased emphasis on instruction in the English language, both at the specific school I was at and in Nepal as a whole. This is because proficiency in English is an essential requirement to study at universities abroad. While Nepal is home to several universities, it is often impossible to receive advanced degrees in a particular subject. Therefore, for Nepal to continue the process of development (a goal shared by every Nepali I spoke to), they must have access to the best educational opportunities. Proficiency in English provides the linguistic passport to pursue these opportunities.
Another aspect of our work at Sarkuwa involved introducing and teaching information technology. The vast majority of students at the school had no experience with computers; some had never seen one before. As the global community becomes increasing dependent on technology (and moves ever further into the digital era) it is essential to people in modernizing nation like Nepal to have basic literacy in computers. While I am far (very, very far) from being an expert on this subject, it gives students a huge advantage (especially in respect to higher education) if they can successfully turn on a computer, operate word- processing and spreadsheet applications, and send and receive emails. Access to the Internet literally opens a new world to the children of Nepal’s schools.
As stated above, education is one component of a larger aggregate of developmental goals. Education is of special importance, however, because it provides the ideological basis and technical skill to bring about changes in myriad other categories. Nepalis are highly motivated to this end. However, assistance from the people of other nations is essential, regardless of the form it takes. As modern transportation and information science bring an often disparate world closer together, it is beneficial for the people of all nations to achieve a shared standard of living. The time I spent teaching in Nepal was certainly not without difficulties, but it was, and is, a worthy endeavor. Namaste!
Project Category: Project: Rural Education Nepal
Article Category: Memoir
Author: Zachary Gaydos
About Author: Zachary Gaydos was a fresh graduate of University of Illinois, Urbana-champaign who volunteered with CFFN as a teacher in Janata HS School, Sarkuwa, Baglung, Nepal