Duration:  October 8th – December 10th 2004

Organisation:  Gorkha District Health & Education Development Scheme

What It Is All About:

The Scheme was set up in 1988 to provide volunteers and funds to promote education, health, social welfare, vocational training, environmental and construction projects in the Gorkha District of Western Nepal.

This is a UK and Nepal based non-government organisation which is registered with the UK Charity Commission. It was born out of the desire to make education more accessible to the people of Gorkha and the surrounding villages. Over recent years it has been extended to provided assistance in other areas of social welfare in the region.

I am focusing on working in the local schools as a teacher, because I believe I will have the greatest impact in this area.  Only 45% of Nepal’s teachers are officially and properly trained, and this area of Nepal is particularly impoverished, lacking the financial and educational needs to have such opportunities I myself am used to in Hong Kong.  The following is an extract from a 1998 report written by the chairwoman, Joy Leighton, herself, which I feel summarises the situation very well.

“Education is the key to all progress, and the Nepali are keen to raise their standards in this field.

In Nepal, education is provided for all children (other than those in very remote areas)  but not every family can afford this luxury. Tuition is free from 5-16 years, although money is needed for admission and exam fees, books, stationery, uniform etc.  In many cases the children  are needed at home to look after the younger siblings, or to work in the fields.

In school, most lessons are taught directly from textbooks, and the children have to repeat phrases back to their teacher. There is little or no practical work of any kind. Consequently, life in school is very dull for many pupils.

Efforts have been made to brighten up lessons. For example, a Japanese  group set up a science lab in a large rural school and volunteers showed the teachers how to use it. However,  pupils are still taught from textbooks and the equipment is not used despite other volunteers efforts to encourage practical work in science lessons.

I sent more than a ton of books to Gorkha  for the Drabya Shah Campus, and for some schools in the area.  A library was set up in the Campus, the Campus Chief and our volunteers  have tried to encourage the students to use it to the full.  In the schools, teachers often do not see the use for reading anything but textbooks, as they consider that this is all that is needed in order to pass exams. Education for interest only is not considered to be important.  However, children were put in charge of their little library and they have become avid readers. 

A knowledge of English is essential for the development of Nepal. At the moment, it is often taught by teachers who only have a sketchy idea of the language. Grammar will not help if  the understanding is lacking, but the teachers are keen to develop their skills in the English language. 

Our volunteers will continue to work with their Nepali counterparts, to exchange ideas and give help where needed. They enjoy teaching Nepali children, because they are eager to learn,  friendly and co-operative. The rewards that the volunteers derive from teaching are such that many return to continue their work when funds permit.”

Reflections [27/12/04]:

Gorkha, the town above the clouds, where the sun always seems to shine...

The Nepali, rich in their culture & traditions, always welcoming, centered around the family, limited by the caste system, but ultimately a people with an amazing, different mentality to life, a few of whom I am now privileged to call my friends...

An extract from my last letter to my family 'back home' sums up but a few of these few:)

"Like Ecuador, I’ve found close bonds with people that I would have never otherwise met…Niroj clearly  for one…Sujan for another – he’s really like an older brother to me…annoying at times, but looking out for me all the time and ultimately fun…as for his parents, they make me smile too, especially Locksme, although we don’t speak the same language…the teachers, especially ‘the ladies’, are amazing people too, though I feel a bit ignored at times when I turn to an empty school on strike;)…other odd locals I’ve met have been interesting too, like the ‘fish man’ across the road with  his red ‘Limp Bizkit’ beanie on in his little shack, the only one of its kind in town:D…’my kids’ have obviously made an extra special impact on me too* "

I really cannot describe this experience, how to define it, compare it to Ecuador, like so many people have asked to me to do.  It's totally different to my Ecuadorian experience, obviously, being a world apart and the work being totally different too, with its social focus rather than its environmental focus.

My actual teaching experience was shortened a *wee* bit for various reasons.  Firstly, I had somehow overlooked two of the biggest Hindu festivals of the year, Dahsain and Tia.  Also, secondly, the Nepali like their strikes, be it Maoist, personal or commercial, though it was primely the foremost, because Gorkha I later found out was home to the Maoist-rebel leader, which certainly added to the adventure.  The time I got, I hope I brought a little extra fun to some of the local children's lives, no matter how brief.  The normal teaching practices are formal, 100% textbook; any other educational materials provided are left to gather dust in an old science lab, also donated but never used.  The teachers themselves are fantastic people, but they have their own problems.  It's frustrating, but progress, although slow, is definitely steady.  Educational for myself as well:)  1007 students to 17 teachers (including myself!) is certain fun;)

Nonetheless, I was also kept busy with various other local NGOs', such as the local womens' guild, as well as government projects.  These presented several interesting quirks, which you'll have to check out in my journal section.  SO, although I haven't ‘saved the world & changed their society’, as Niroj puts it, I think I left it in a good enough state.  Here's another extract:

"Definitely experiencing the brunt of the real world, folks! to get it out in writing I find…so been writing reports pages’ long for Joy back in the UK & she seems happy, but I’m personally frustrated w/ my progress here… Niroj himself has a very cynical view of the impact volunteers make in Nepal…in some ways feel I ought to stay here a bit longer, but glad to rid myself of the responsibilities & hand it over to someone else @ the same time & enjoy a fab Christmas w/ you guys in dear old Hong Kong… 

Sorting out scholarship programs, negotiating ‘charitable’ cost proposals w/ govt. officials & badgering the GODHEDS’ treasurer to give money to the local women's’ guild that they’ve rightfully earned; all gets a bit stressful to say the least, BUT incredibly personally rewarding at the same time….not sure I could do it instead of tracking Andean bears as a career though…Joy hinted in an email that they could invest in me staying here another year at least…flattering BUT no thanks!"

What more can I say?  There's so much that I know I have not covered, but I simply do not know how to get it down in writing.  No matter how cliché it sounds, you really have to be there for it.  Therefore, I guess I will end this reflection, as I did my last, with glimpsing memories...  I miss waking to the blasting folk dance music from the shop next door at 5 in the morning.  I miss watching the busy main street below from my balcolny, never knowing what will walk up and down it next.  I miss the sea of clouds in the mornings, with the mountains in them like islands, and them slowly dissappearing by 2pm.  I miss meeting all the 'ladies' at the huge tree in the town square for the walk up through the old town and then through the fields to the school every day.  I miss all the 'namastes' from the children, or perhaps if I'm lucky a 'hello, miss' from one of my students, whenever I pass by.  I miss each dhalbhat at Locksme's table with my Nepali 'bro', Sujan, and his father, Babulal.  I miss the chats across the road at the 'fish man's' shack over snake-&-ladders.  I miss the stops at Badri's clinic for the philosophical debates of the universe with Niroj, his son.  I miss the welcoming Nepali tea.

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© Zoe Demery 2012