Katie and I visited a public school in Sun Koshi, a remote village about a five-hour drive from Katmandu up a steep and rocky road, past a UN training facility for international peacekeepers. Nepal is noted for its neutrality. And its independence. It is one of the few third-world countries that was never colonized.
The school had been damaged by a major earthquake in 2015. On behalf of an international aid agency, our host, Richan, had helped coordinate materials to build a temporary structure which they are still using. There are plans for a permanent structure, financed by a loan from the Asia Development Bank. They are using one of the original buildings as an administration building, although it is clearly marked as unsafe.
The poverty here is desperate—the villages are sometimes called kidney banks, because villagers will travel to India to sell a kidney. It is the sort of region from which young girls are trafficked, by desperation or design.
The kids, like everyone we met, were polite and respectful— I am, by Nepalese standards, a very old man after all. They stood and greeted us when we entered the classrooms—beautiful children who walk from surrounding villages, in many cases bringing their younger siblings.
There were classes in science, math, English and Nepali going on, all based on workbooks and recitation. I would not have been able to study myself, with the amazing view outside the open windows on a cool January morning. And, of course, I can’t read Sanskrit.
There were 150 students and four full-time teachers, three paid for by the federal government which provides one teacher for every 45 students (USD $60/month) and one paid for by the local government (USD $40/month). They had a few more poorly paid or volunteer part-time teachers as well. You only have to complete high school to teach in a primary school in Nepal.
As we sipped black pepper tea, the principal, Hem Kharel, explained why he started the school under a nearby tree in 1989 with less than a dozen students. It was the dawn of democracy in a country long ruled by feudal kings. “I just thought I should do something,” he said, with a clear civic motivation that was purely political.
Along with Namaraj Panday, who has also been there since the beginning, he explained they needed to replace the two buildings destroyed by the earthquake but what they really needed was an English teacher, preferably a native speaker. The government has mandated English instruction, but not provided any funds for the instructor. They need someone who can teach the kids. And the teachers.
This position would be self-funded, although the village may be able to provide a place to live and other support. And it would not be an easy task. Their English was so poor Richan had to translate it for me. But their desire was earnest. “We don’t just want our children to be literate,” he said. “We want them to be educated.”
For better or for worse, speaking English is the mark of an educated Nepali. And it may be the only way out of this desperate poverty.
They just need someone to show them the way. I’d give you their email, but I may have mentioned it is a remote village….