by Christine Marschner
Like many people who fall in love with Nepal, Kurt and I travelled there for the “Adventure of a Lifetime”. We did a trek in 2007 to the magnificent Gokyo Ri in the Everest region of the Himalayas. Then, having researched various options and finally linking up with KEEP (Kathmandu Environmental Education Project), I stayed on as a volunteer teaching English at Dadagaun village school just out of Kathmandu. We both were overwhelmed with the beauty of Nepal – not just the spectacular scenery, but the gentility, honesty, warmth and generosity of spirit of the people. This, despite the poverty and hardship they deal with on a daily basis.
In 2009, when Kurt and I were married many of our friends kindly donated to a fund we had established to help the school in Dadagaun build new classrooms. I have returned to Nepal several times to visit the Dadagaun community and spend time in the classrooms, to see the progress in the school and village and to deliver knitted garments and books.
The progress has been impressive. The two new classrooms has meant children can continue at school in the village until year 7 instead of having to pay unaffordable fees in the next town or perhaps quitting school altogether. The school is also used out of hours on occasions to run a health clinic for the village community. The villagers are very happy with the improvements!
Other developments since 2007 include fencing of the school yard to keep the children in and wild animals out (leopards are in the area!) and connection to the Kathmandu electricity grid. The septic system has been upgraded after various overflow problems and a “cave-in” leaving an open pit for several months in 2010 -2011!
The headmaster, Dhorje, has also arranged to house an orphanage for 35 children in a disused school building at the bottom of the village. This has been an enormous improvement in their standard of accommodation but also means more children in the village to educate.
In his mid-thirties, Dhorje is somewhat of a visionary. He has been head teacher since he was 16 and plainly loves children. He firmly believes in gender equity and sees education as an opportunity for people to have greater choices in life and as a way Nepal can move forward. The Nepalese government has been in disarray over the past decade with much upheaval, division and corruption causing an inability to provide infrastructure or basic services to the people. Needless to say there is a lot of poverty. Kurt and I were surprised on our trek to find schools all over the country supported by donations from foreign groups. Development projects like roads and sanitation are often supported by neighbouring superpowers China and India, leaving Nepal somewhat vulnerble politically and economically.
In 2010 our commitment to the school continued with the involvement of another Australian couple, Tony and Raewyn Morgan, from Melbourne, who we met on a trip to Tibet. We arranged to meet them in Dadagaun, where we played with the children, made headbands, puppets and woven paper mats, sang, provided health care for festering sores and deformed fingernails and listened to Dhorje’s dreams for the future.
Dhorje felt the school’s priorities were:
1. teacher education (we all nodded enthusiastically!). He feels it is important to teach in English as happens in private schools, with the result that the children graduate with a much broader range of opportunities for the future.
2. to develop a greater sense of enthusiasm and belonging in the school community - to increase attendance (many children don’t turn up for school) and reinforce a more positive attitude in the teachers and parents. Parents want to emulate the private schools too.
3. to develop a computer education program - one working desktop computer and various keyboards and monitors have been donated to the school.
4. to introduce adult education programs for the villagers including English, literacy and computer training.
5. in the long term, to build a new classroom block in order to extend the school to elementary level, provide a school hall, computer lab, library, office, health room, dedicated nursery and kindergarten rooms.
In response, we wholly supported Dhorje’s goals and started planning ways to achieve them. We also discussed some other projects such as developing a garbage management system, upgrading/ expanding outdoor areas, developing a more welcoming entry to the school and, most importantly, expanding the curriculum to include music, art, health and sport. Broader community projects have also come to mind.
The best way to help, no doubt, is to be there in Dadagaun, “on the groud” from day to day for a reasonable length of time. We have decided to try to find an energetic, inspired person or couple (preferably a teacher with English as their first language) to employ in the school for 6 – 12 months to work with the teachers and families. The mission to find the right people is our major challenge for 2012. We will assist with accommodation costs.
In the meantime, September 2011, after much planning, saw a visit by Tony’s daughter Kellie and a group of 13 young friends from Brisbane – the so-called 28.84 team (being the longitude and latitude of Dadagaun) – to help with a brilliant makeover on the school – classroom walls were painted, desks repaired, bookshelves, cupboards, curtains and display options installed in each classroom, a magnificent playground fort constructed, and many, many teaching, music and sports resources provided. We also set up an activity program for the kids during this week , involving sport, music, art ‘n craft and English enrichment. A little teacher inservicing was also achieved with the help of a well experienced educational trainer, Kellie’s “Aunty” Karen. See the posts from September – December, 2011. It was simply fantastic!
To the future now…. and Tony and Raewyn have moved on with retirement planning, an orchard and a bunch of grandchildren to keep them occupied. We thank them for their involvement and wish them well!
Kurt and I, meantime are keeping the Dadagaun Village project alive. Our colleague, Steve Webster at Shivapuri Heights Cottages (www.shivapuricottage.com) facilitated a visit by a group of four professional American ladies on a “voluntourism” trip to Nepal in October, 2011. Led by Sydney Frymire (www.thetrekofyourlife.com) these ladies conducted a demographic survey in Dadagaun village, gathering information which has provided valuable feedback and directions for future planning.
Another volunteer painting project is planned for February, 2012 with international students from Doha. I will go over for 3 weeks to co-ordinate this and tackle a long to-do list including maintenance issues, shopping for resources, curriculum development and administrative matters. The search for a teacher to live and work in Dadagaun continues. We are looking locally in Kathmandu as well as in Australia, and wherever the website reaches!
Since the inception of Dadagaun Village Project, Kurt and I have had many discussions with a wide range of interested parties and held several small fundraising events. We continually broaden our networks. We have decided to remain small and primarily, self-funding….not to go the route of registering as a charity. We simply dont have the time or energy to jump through the hoops and deal with the red tape required to become a registered charity. We want to hold the reins, make the decisions and take the responsibility for Dadagun Village Project ourselves, keeping it true to a simple notion of charity and compassion – no strings attached! We believe in maintaining a very personal relationship with the Dadagaun community, free of preaching in any form. Likewise, we are not interested in big fundraising campaigns – the school is small, its needs are not huge and we are not planning to spread ourselves to other communities or projects. Hence, any donations will not be tax deductible. For our friends and family who have supported us financially to date, this has not been an issue – great support, greatly appreciated!
If you are interested to help or have any comments or expertise to offer please call Chrissy on +61 402 799 908 or drop us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org