CFFN Concern Nepal Year 6, Issue 1

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Year 6, No 1, Issue 8 - October 2011

Click here to download this edition as a .pdf file.

Canada Foundation for Nepal has released its eighth issue of Concern Nepal. This issue is prefaced by CFFN’s new Executive Director, who reaffirms the organization’s commitment to several education-specific initiatives, namely Open University of Nepal, Community Child Care Centres. The AGM report discusses the key changes in CFFN’s executives, as well as the addition of new positions within the organization. This issue contains featured articles written by each executive member on a range of matters important to the various CFFN initiatives, as well as research papers discussing development opportunities in Nepal. We invite you to enjoy the reading of our publication and get involved and contribute to Concern Nepal by sending news, views, op-ed writings and research articles.

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Helping Establish a Community Child Care Centre in Rural Nepal: Project 4C Update

By Tineke Casey and Michael Casey

As previously reported our 4C Project concentrates on education in rural Nepal at the youngest ages. Our goal with this project is to ensure that all children have the opportunity to attend school at the appropriate age. Currently older children are often drafted into child care for their younger siblings as both parents are away working all day. Children whose first arrival at school has been delayed, since they were required to stay home to attend to their younger siblings, have a very high dropout rate. If we can solve the child care issue at the village level then all children should be able to attend at their proper age.


A young child caring for an even younger child

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How Children Learn Themselves by Sugata Mitra

Dr. Sugata Mitra’s now famous “Hole in the Wall” experiments conducted in India’s slums and remote areas made the following four findings:

  1. Remoteness affects the quality of education
  2. Education Technology should be implemented in remote areas first
  3. Values are acquired: doctrine and dogma are imposed
  4. Learning is a self-organizing system

He proposes introduction of technology assisted and self-organizing learning systems to not only improve basic education but also the ability to deal with an increasingly complex and connected world. He expalins the need to create inclusive educational solutions that address all sections of society and help transform them. And proposes “Minimally Invasive Education” which uses the power of collaboration and the natural curiosity of children to catalyze learning.

Click here to see the TED presentation of Dr. Mitra, Professor of Educational Technology and the founder of hole-in-the-wall.com

Click here to see a new TED presentation of Dr. Mitra, with newer findings.

Helping Establish an Early Child Care Centre in Rural Nepal

By Michael Casey and Tineke Casey

One of the facts of life in rural Nepal is that young children – some as young as 4 or 5 – are often called upon to care for their younger siblings. With mother and father toiling in the fields from dawn to dusk it often falls on the very young to be the primary caregiver to children often only 1 or 2 years their junior. To those blessed with being born into wealthier environments this situation appears wrong on so many levels from child safety to the basic loss of a childhood experience for the child caregiver This older child (or, as often, the oldest female child) also loses out on schooling either late in first enrolling at school to being the first to abandon their studies. In some well documented cases the elder child brings the siblings along to school enlarging the class size and disrupting the class discipline with toddlers who are all too young to sit quietly through hours of class work. For an education system already under stress such disruptions are felt by all students and the entire community suffers as the cycle of poverty begins anew.

Now early childcare is an issue everywhere. Here in Canada where we are blessed with so much – even here, early child care is a day-to-day issue with parents – who will look after the young children while mother and father are off at work? So if it is an issue in Canada imagine what it is like in rural Nepal where mother and father work at back breaking work from dawn til dusk at a farm, tending goats or whatever their fate has cast them to. But what to do? What options do these people have? To survive one must work.

So, what to do? Or more specifically – what could we at CFFN do?

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November 11, 2009: Dhakalthar to Pokhara

We are awake by 7AM for tea and a small snack. Gyanendra’s father is busy thrashing the rice with the use of 4 oxen which trample the rice straw beating out the last of the stubborn rice grains still clinging to the stem. He laughs as he goes by me commenting that the life of a farmer allows no time for rest. How come he looks so happy?

We have dal bhat and say goodbye. It has been a great diversion from our trip back to Pokhara and Tineke and I would both love to return. The trek back to Naya Pul is spectacular in view. The day is overcast so it is not hot and perfect for walking. The mountains views are crystal clear but you can tell winter is on its way – they look cold and ready for snow. After about 3 hours we arrive at the roadhead and wait for our taxi to take us to Pokhara. On the way back I catch glimpses of the mottos written so carefully along the back of the public buses; GO SLOW – LIVE LONG being a classic but overshadowed by the occasional bus marked FEARLESS – but why would anyone climb aboard MY CELEBRATION OF DEATH? We let that one go ahead, far ahead. After arrival at the Snowland Hotel we shower and then head off to the Moondance restaurant for some hummus and white wine. It’s been a great trip.

November 10, 2009: Madi to Dhakalthar

We are up at 6AM and packing as this is our day of departure. Manikula makes us some breakfast and tea and by 8 we are on our way. Megh goes with us part of the way as the path is wet and a bit dangerous so he stays with us through the worst parts. At one point he points to a path and says that it would be impossible for us to follow that route – it’s the one we took yesterday.

It is a beautiful day for waking and within 2 hours we are sitting down at the guest house in Kusmi Sera and ordering soup. We walk up and down the street and, as with our Spring trip here, we provide the local entertainment. Tineke buys some bracelets including a set for the woman at the guest house who spontaneously bought her a set last Spring. Outside many young children gather around to look at us so I take all their pictures and show them. Then another group comes and they want their picture taken and that cycle continues on for awhile until our soup is ready.

The next stage of the trek is quite difficult so we decide to hire a local porter to carry the heaviest of our bags and this turns out to be the decision of the day as the heat and the climb are quite a challenge. Nevertheless the views are spectacular. Perhaps my memory is fading but I suspect that this view is as good at that from the famous Poon Hill – without the 300 tourists. Some of the jeepable roads are washed out but ironically this might be better for tourism as what remains is a very acceptable trekking trail.

After some time we finally arrive at Dhakalthar, a part of Amalchour VDC and Gyanendra’s family house. On the way we meet countless relatives who come out to see Gyanendra. Everywhere people are working to get the rice harvest in. It is an intensive effort that goes on each day well past sundown.

Gyanendra’s mother and father are very happy to see him and treat us like visiting royalty. Soon they have a big pot of water boiling for us to shower (we oblige) and have already “cooked” drinking water so that our sensitive internal plumbing doesn’t get upset. We show the family pictures of what Gyanendra has been up to. His father is the Head Master of the local Higher Secondary School. Despite the high status what we see is just another farmer working at feeding the buffalo, cutting the rice and so on. For a snack he asks us if he would like some cucumber and then takes out the biggest cucumber I have ever seen – the size of a small pumpkin.

The farm has lemon trees with lemons the size of grapefruit. Lime trees as well. Gyanendra’s mother makes us a snack which includes this special lime sauce she has made – tart and spicy but delicious. Later instead of traditional dal bhat we have the rice served as khir (a rice pudding made with buffalo milk) and that makes a wonderful difference.

We have a great chat with Gyanendra’s father about traditional farming and the various technologies. He shows us the traditional pati container used for measuring amounts of rice or millet for sale. The container is made of thick brass and is very heavy and bears the stamp of the standards association marked as 1945 – but that would be Nepali 1945 (this year is 2060 ?) which would make the jar more than 115 years old and still in use.

November 9, 2009: Madi

Our last full day here. Tineke and Gyanendra put the finishing touches onto the design of the report card to go home with each child every month. While doing this another neighbour and his wife and daughter come to the house to use the phone. The man is clearly distraught. His son has been in Qtar for 3 years and the man is desperate to talk to him given yesterday’s news. The connection is made but the man is too distraught to say more than “Namaste” to his son before handing the phone back to his wife. Tears run down his face. Mother and son talk for a long time – maybe 30 minutes which shocks me, thinking of the cost, but I’m told the price is as cheap as 1 rupee per minute so even here, where cash is so rare, it is affordable.

Later that morning after dal bhat we go to the school for our final visit. First we travel across the river to a small shop to buy some treats for the children and a snack for tomorrow’s trek to Gyanendra’s village. On my advice we take a “short cut” which is always an adventure and in this case is particularly steep. Also we end up at the river bank in a place where we have to wade across the river. In the distance we see the bridge that everyone else is using.

On the way up to the center Gyanendra gets engaged in a conversation with a fellow villager about what we are doing. The rumor is that this man is against the project and we want to know why. It become clear that in fact he is fully supportive of the child care center but does have a long standing feud with Megh over local politics. He assures us that despite his differences with Megh, he is 100% supportive of the center and will make sure his neighbors know this. This is nice to hear. At the school we hand out the treats and take many photos and then say goodbye.

November 8, 2009: Madi

There is a early morning phone call that wakes us up but since today we have a Board of Directors meeting we assume it is people phoning in to confirm the meeting time and place. It will be held at the standard meeting place which is nearby – a few hundred metres above Megh’s  house. Tineke, Gyanendra and I show up at around 8AM and most of the members are there already. We wait a few minutes and then once everyone has arrived, Megh starts the meeting.

After introductions I speak and congratulate the Board for the fact that only 6 months after discussing the idea of a child care center they now have one up and running, have hired two teachers, have purchased a beautiful site, have a design for the building and have started to gather the basic building materials (stones for the structure and timber for the roof beams, doors and windows).  Board members ask us about the way the money we already have provided can be spent. Originally we suggested 50% be used for the building materials and 50% for preparing the land etc. The 50% is insufficient for the task so we approve that they can spend 100% of the funds on the building  For additional funding we ask that they prepare an estimate and submit that to us but we are open to an increase to get the center launched. Then I ask about the legal status of the land purchase (underway) and then start to talk about sustainability of the center after the three years we will support. We suggest adding an additional floor to the building to make the building now a multipurpose community center. Also we can house tourists/guests on the upper floor and this will provide additional funding. Once we begin to bring tourists into the region it opens the possibility of other sources of income such as guides and porters, “fooding”, sale of handicrafts and perhaps a cultural show. The Board has already talked themselves about the value of a second floor so they agree and we look at a potential design of the building with this in mind. Several of the Board Members get heavily engaged in discussing how the construction can be done.

Tineke than talks about the school program, the over-expectations of parents for “results” from children 3 or 4 years old and the need for teacher training. She mentions how pleased we are with the teacher selection after having seen them in action several times. The Board has looked into the training available from Seto Guras in Baglung. They agree that the teachers will be trained according to the Seto Guras schedule. There are a few questions about the state of the toilet and access to drinking water at the existing temporary building. The Board agrees to all the necessary repairs and the meeting closes.

Later that morning Tineke, Gyanendra and I go to the school and Tineke and Gyanendra do an exercise with the felt board and the children jump right in. This is an amazingly versatile media; cheap and portable and endlessly extensible to whatever the teachers want to discuss. Tineke and Gyanendra do this for about 1 hour and maintain the children’s concentration throughout.

Later that evening we are reminded about the veil of misfortune which seems to hang over these small villages. The phone call that woke us up was to inform Megh’s  neighbour that his son had died as a result of an industrial accident in Dubai. Megh has one of the few phones and among his unassigned duties is to bring bad news to local families who have relatives abroad. Later the father of the victim shows up looking completely drained in order to talk to Megh about funeral arrangements. The phone rings all evening as the word spreads. In the Spring when we were here a local woman was electrocuted in a storm and the year before Megh’s  daughter (the mother of the beautiful Susmita) died of complications after childbirth. All this in one small village. Of course no one mentioned any of this tragedy at the Board Meeting earlier this morning including the uncle of the victim who is a Board Member. Life is hard but it goes on.

Megh joins us for a long chat that evening that covers religion, politics, philosophy and the value of humility is daily affairs. He tells us about cleaning the toilets at the high school and sounds almost Ghandian. We have watched him doing field work and there is no question he is at home with an ashi cutting rice in the field as he is as head Master or representing the region in the ongoing constitutional talks.

November 7, 2009: Madi

There is a time conflict today as the teachers were to arrive at 8 AM but by 8:45 they were still not here and I had to get to the school before it closes at 10 to print the documents at the only available printer. I headed up to the school while Tineke and Gyanendra remained behind for the teachers.

The road to the school is up, up, up in the Nepali tradition but there is a shortcut to cut some time but of course this means a steeper climb. The weather is gorgeous – is there a better place to be than Nepal in November? I arrive at the school and although it is officially closed many teachers are there for a meeting. Megh lets me into his office to use his printer and I set to work to see how I can get this job done. But the gods are conspiring against me as my computer doesn’t have the driver for the printer, the laptop that might have the driver doesn’t have the requisite USB port and the computer tower that does have the USB port initially seems to run only directly off the main power port so that I can’t have the printer and the computer powered simultaneously. I eventually figure this part out but then it’s clear that the computer is terminally broken (Megh confirms this later). Of course it takes me some time to figure this all out. .

But it was a nice walk.

Back at Megh’s house Tineke and Gyanendra have a good meeting with the teachers who appreciate the program we have put together all keyed to all the resources which are now numbered.

Everywhere people are heavily engaged in the rice harvest. Work usually begins at about 6:30 and goes on till after dark