A Look into History
Sometimes in late 1996, teachers of Fisher Grade School of Fisher, Illinois, USA had embarked a project to teach their students about the world in a meaningful and engaging manner. Out of these benevolent teachers, there was a teacher Mrs. Donna Lea teaching Grade 3. She cast a wide net by locating all Nepalese fellows living the world in the Internet. Well, it was before the time when spamming became popular. Then people did not mind placing their email addresses in various publicly accessible mailing lists in a hope of connecting with lost friends and what not.
Tapping on these mailing lists Ms Lea sent emails to about a thousand Nepalese around the world soliciting for ideas to implement her dream. Inspired by her earlier visit to Nepal, she had a dream of establishing a sister school project between her school and a school in Nepal. Out of hundreds of emails she had received, she got intrigued by one email sent to her by Pramod Dhakal, a Gdaduate Student and Information Technology worker from Saskatchewan, Canada. After exchanging a series of emails churning ideas the project was finally launched in 1997. A sister school program was launched between the Fisher Grade School and Janata Secondary School of Baglung District, Nepal.
Above Picture: The original sister school project team – left Baglung, Nepal and right Illinois, USA
The Grade 3 students of Mrs. Lea grade compared and contrasted many aspects of Nepal, including its geography, religion, urban and rural life, schools, foods, money and special holidays with those of the United States. They kept in touch via email with two Nepalese men who were very resourceful. These men were Bhawuk Dharm of the University of Hawaii, and Bijaya Shrestha of Kathmandu, Nepal who supplied the Fisher students with lots of information and material about Nepal.
World Fair Day organized
After many months of preparation and studies, Grade 3 students of Fisher Grade School prepared a Buddhist stupa, an open air market, and a stand at which we sold ‘tikas’, the decorative dot the Nepalese wear on their World’s Fair Day organized for the whole school. The students had had stations set up which gave information on the Himalayas, the animals and people of Nepal along with examples of their money, clothing, food and pictures of some of their special celebrations. The World Fair activities included:
- Re-created an open-air market of Nepal
- Made Saris and Topis (hats)
- Made Bhai bracelets (Brother’s Day)
- Constructed a Buddhist Stupa
- Made ceremonial masks
- Delivered informational presentations
- Arranged wide range of arts and artifacts to reflect Nepal’s culture
- Sold Tikas for donation of 5 cents a piece to the sister school
|Stupa by Grade 3
The Buddhist stupa, known as the “monkey temple”, with its all seeing eyes was fascinating.
|Tika (The red dot on the forehead)
The sale of “tikas” created fund for the benefit of children in Nepal
|Open Air Market
Students reconstructed Nepali market and sold Nepal goods. People sampled things that they would be able to find at a typical open air market.
|Students at Work
Students worked in an frenzied pace to make the market and gala going. All these activities generate energy, excitement and sense of accomplishment.
Project Energized beyond World Fair Day
This project created enough excitement in the community and in the hearts and minds of the students. The students then embarked a series of projects for enhancing their knowledge and simultaneously fund-raising for the sister school. They held programs like bake sales, sister-school T-shirt sales, “buy a tile for the school wall” sale and many more. These projects and associated studies resulted in the following:
- Written reports based on the research and fun projects
- Compiled a book on Nepal from the written reports prepared in the project
- Prepared a book of comparison and contrast between the cultures of Nepal and USA
This project brought excitement in the students, parents and teachers of the Town of Fisher, Illinois and Sarkuwa, Baglung, Nepal. Riding upon this excitement, many endeavors were made possible in both places through the mobilization of inspired volunteers. The sister school in Nepal was renovated and toilets for the school were constructed. Most importantly a scholarship fund was created to help children from poorer families of Sarkuwa. This scholarship fund is delivering stated outcome for the last eight years and the fund is growing at the same time, all locally managed in Nepal without any outside intervention. The testimonial from the school sent to Mrs Donna Lea from the sister school in Nepal in 2006 tells the strength of this project and tells how small endeavors can create lasting effects to people of far flung places.
Above Picture: Furnitures, Building, Blackboard, Interaction Program
Looking at the difference between the needs of students at Fisher and those at Sarkuwa, Mrs Lea and her students decided to make a difference for the students of Sarkuwa. With that goal in mind, they carried out a series of events over time to make it happen.
For the duration of two years, articles were featured in the local paper advertising the efforts and sharing what had been learned about Nepal. “What a great experience”, said Mrs Lea.
This energy and approach of teaching and learning continued till the time Mrs Lea retired. The students became more mature, changed grades but it did not matter. There were always unlimited ways of acquiring new knowledge and skills.
In an interview taken in 2006, six years later and five years after her retirement, Mrs. Lea recalled, “I had forgotten how excited I was.”
“We were learning, learning, and learning the entire time. I think my students had one of the most profound experiences of learning in life through this project. And, for me, that was the most daunting, yet most exciting and tremendously satisfying, way of delivering education to my students.”
“This project let me realize that there is infinite creative energy hidden inside every ordinary man and women of the world. Great results can be obtained even when we can harness a minute part of it. To know this and to see the validity of this through my own experiments was the most rewarding way of ending my 35 years of teaching career!”, says Mrs. Lea.