Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Slowly does it

From a work point of view, it has been a frustrating couple of weeks since my last blog post. A number of public holidays, continuing monsoon rains and the normal slowness of decision making in Nepal all mean I haven't been able to do anywhere near as much as would have liked.

Saran and I did manage to make a short visit to Devwani School, in Tansen town. This was an unannounced visit so it was especially pleasing to see the school doing so well knowing that nothing was being staged.

A group of class 8 students were using the library that Manisha provided the school. They may not have been 'library quiet' but their enthusiasm and enjoyment of reading were obvious. A flick through the book checkout register showed the library being really well used with over 1000 books checked out since opening. The new Learning Resource Center, once opened, will have a bigger and better selection of books and I'm sure given these children's attitude we won't be short of a few customers.  It was really wonderful to hear teachers talking about how much students reading has improved since the library opening and it's a testament to what is possible when Manisha and schools work together to make education better!

 In the last two weeks, there have been at least three notable festivals (and probably some less noticeable ones as well, something's been keeping schools closed a lot!) The temples were lit up and there was a party atmosphere to celebrate 'Krishna's Birthday'. I'm not sure how old he is but if the lights are in the place of candles then it's a fair few years. At Bhagawati Temple and along the high street there was food, music and lots of dancing, alongside more traditional puja (prayer) and worship.

The following day was either Jatra or Chatra. This is something to do with a battle in which the English, or possibly Indian's, were defeated keeping Nepal free. Or, from my slightly more cynical point of view, free to be oppressed by other Nepalese rather than foreigners, as it wasn't exactly a happy time for the average Nepali peasant 2 centuries ago. This was the 200th anniversary making it especially significant. A huge chariot was pulled through the streets of Tansen, followed by hundreds of singers, dancers, and marchers. Many of those involved were from the schools around the town. We spent most of the day without electricity, as the wires had to be disconnected to prevent the chariot hitting them.

Finally, today is Teej festival, a festival with special significance for women. This one doesn't have a great deal of impact for me although I did visit relatives last night for a delicious Teej meal with my wife. Lots of chicken, roti (bread), various types of rice and fried potatoes. Although I'm pretty sure the fried potato was just because of me and not a normal part of the festival. For the women of Nepal, there are lots of programs going on for which they get dressed up in their best clothes and jewelry and dance for hours. As I write sitting in the office I can hear one party with some very loud music.

With plenty of spare time, I've been training hard for my upcoming Everest Challenge. I wanted to see the new Manisha UK classrooms at our supported school in Mahachhap so made the long run out there, climbing over the landslides and fighting through monsoon rains. I made it to the village but was unfortunately chased off by dogs before I had the chance to take photos! I did manage to photograph the landslide (and my shoes after climbing across!) and you can see why we won't be going on the motorbike until the weather has improved.

I has to visit Kathmandu to extend and upgrade from the tourist visa I took on arrival. While there I was able to participate in my first ever race in Nepal, a 15km trail run. It wasn't too hard going compared to what I've been training on and I was able to finish 6th overall and as the first foreigner, which was a great confidence booster. The 50km Annapurna 100 race I will take part in next month will be an entirely different challenge, so please do consider sponsoring me if you are able to. It's for a great cause!

Hopefully there will be much more Manisha related activities to report in my next post. In the meantime, don't forget you can keep up to date by following Manisha UK on Facebook and Twitter. 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Back once again

It's been a while since my last blog post (well over a year in fact!) but I'm back in Nepal so it's time once again to keep you all updated with what's going on in this amazing country. 

Where have I been? 
My last day at work in Korea
Since my last stint in Nepal, I've spent a couple of months in the UK and a year teaching in South Korea. My Korean year was spent in an English Center where I gained some wonderful experience and have developed (and stolen!) a load of lesson ideas to adapt and use here in Nepal. 

What am I doing now?
I arrived back in Nepal this week and have already got to work with Saran and Sagar making our next action plans and meeting various people. We're aiming to open the new Steve Sinnott Foundation Learning Resource Center (SSF LRC) in early 2019 but there is a lot of work to do before that can happen, so there are some busy months ahead! 

Do you only work?!
I dragged my wife out for a morning run, but it will be a while before she is joining more for any ultra-marathons. 
Between the fog and a long time away, I did manage to get a little lost

No! Of course, before meeting Saran and Sagar I saw my wife, for the first time in over a year! I wanted to give her a surprise, so she wasn't expecting me to arrive in Kathmandu until 26th August, where she was planning to meet me. It came as quite a shock to her when I knocked on the door at 7am a week early, with her confusion made much worse by the fact that she was still fast asleep when I woke her up. I'd love to include a photo of that moment, but I don't think the next 6 months of my life would be worth living if I did. 

Apart from spending time with my wife again, I've been out running in Tansen. It's still Monsoon season so it's pretty muddy in places and dangerously slippery sometimes but it feels great to pull my trainers and hit the hills and trails here (admittedly, coming down the hills feels a lot better than going up them). I'll be running in a 50km trail race in the Nepali Himalayas in October to help raise funds for the new LRC and as part of Manisha UK's Everest Challenge. I'll be posting details of how you can support me soon, and if you want to get involved yourself please check the details on our website at Don't worry, you don't have to run 50km, although I'd love some company if anyone does want to join me! 

The view is good now but will be even better in winter when the cloud clears. 

How can I help?
As mentioned above, I'll be posting details of how to support my fundraising efforts soon and we'd love to see you get involved in the Everest Challenge. If you just can't wait, you can donate to Manisha UK's work in a variety of ways. You may even want to consider volunteering for Manisha UK! You can more details about both on our website

Sunday, May 07, 2017

It's The Final Countdown

I've barely a week left in Nepal now and the last couple of weeks have been all go as I've visited all the Palpa schools again one last time before I have to return to the UK.

At Jandeep, Rakama Devi, Bhagawati and Amrit School we delivered more toys for the nursery children and spent time with the teachers in class talking about how to use each of the resources and explaining how the children could learn through playing with each of them. We discussed lots of strategies to challenge children and extend their learning. Some teachers, such as the one in Jandeep, really took to the training with enthusiasm, talked about the things they'd already tried and started straight away to practice what we'd spoken about.

However, results weren't always so encouraging. In one school, which I don't feel I should name, I was shocked that after spending time talking about using various resources we'd taken to support learning the alphabet and spelling, the teacher on returning to 'normal class' lazily told the children to "write the ABC", with no further help or instruction. As if this wasn't bad enough, consider that most of the children in the class are only about 2 and a half years old and have been in school for less than 3 weeks! Of course, they were unable to do this and desperately need a teacher who is actually prepared to teach! I discussed the matter with the headteacher but left desperately deflated, realising this was a teacher who simply doesn't want to change, whatever efforts Manisha UK might put in. As a charity, we must focus our efforts and schools and teachers who are ready to embrace change and put at least a little effort into their teaching.

At other schools, we continued to check on library use. The last month and a half has seen all children sit end of year exams and then school holidays, so use has been limited and not all schools had got back into the routine of regular library use. I spoke with heads and teachers to remind them of the importance of reading and giving children regular access to the libraries and I'm reasonably confident that as school settles back into the normal routine libraries will see more regular use. The children at Devwani School haven't let the break stop their enthusiasm, with secondary pupils still taking responsibility for opening the library at lunchtimes and great quantities of books still being checked out.

On the way to Himalaya Primary School we found the road blocked by a broken down bus. On these types of roads there is no easy getting around so we settled in for a long wait. Among the queuing traffic was a motorbike carrying approximately 20 live chickens. I felt especially sorry for the ones that had their heads next to the exhaust pipe, but a truly horrible way to travel for all of them. Eventually we made if round the bus with a little off-roading, as several of the waiting motorbike drivers basically created a new path over the hill.

One incident occurred that left my blood boiling. Regular readers may remember that a while ago we delivered clothes to two orphans, Manisha and Raoul, at Gyanodaya School. When Saran and I visited earlier this week, Raoul shyly came up to us to report that his step-father, who they are living with, had taken many of these clothes and given them to his other children. He hadn't felt confident enough to tell any of the teachers about this, but clearly feels some extra trust for me. I was absolutely furious and wanted to go to his home straight away and confront his step-father about what in my view is nothing short of theft. I was dissuaded by Saran and the teachers, and having no idea where the home was had little choice in the matter without their cooperation. The teachers have promised to speak with the step-father and I'll be in touch to ensure this has happened.
Teachers building paper towers to demonstrate problem solving activities.

We've received various bits of good news from different schools over the last couple of weeks. Building projects at Himalaya and Amrit have made great progress, Nava Durga has received long-sought permission to add extra classes to cater for older children and Bhagawati Himalaya, the school we support in Gorkha district has received a donation of almost 20 computers and other ICT equipment, in additionto extra funds from the government to extend and improve the library we provided.

Plans for new building at Himalaaya.

2 new classrooms taking shape at Amrit.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A jeep full of visitors and a happy new year!

At the start of the month we welcomed Terri, the former headteacher of Kings Lynn Academy, her husband Tony, their friends Jenny and Dave, all from the UK, as well as Jay and Samjit from Nepal. As a former headteacher in one of our twin schools, Terri has been involved with Manisha UK for a long time and has visited many of our villages before. As well as revisiting old friends and seeing the progress that has been made, along with Jenny and Dave, she was here to talk with students about the way the mind processes feelings and the connection between thoughts and emotions.

We met the group at the airport on Sunday evening, and on Monday morning we were straight out to our first school, Nava Durga in Pipaldanda. Last time Terri visited this school was in terrible condition but has been totally rebuilt since.

We spent 3 days in the village, talking about the mind, singing songs, drawing and doing other fun activities with the students. We also met with the women's groups, again spoke about the mind and then more signing. After hearing some Nepali songs, the women asked if we'd sing a traditional English song. We really struggled to think of any song we could sing without music that we knew the words to until Dave suggested Wonderwall. Not exactly an English folk song but it did the job, even if we weren't as impressive as the women's group.

After a night in Tansen, we travelled to Bhagawati School in Bhalebas. None of the new group that joined us had visited this school but received a really warm welcome. While the rest of the group talked about mind, I took the younger children to the nursery to open some new toys we'd brought with us and had a very enjoyable morning playing with them. After lunch, we again visited the women's group for an enjoyable conversation. The evening had more singing and dancing.

The next morning we travelled direct from Bhalebas to Himalaya Primary in Mahachhap, where Terri presented a cheque from their twin school, Howard Junior School, which is virtually next door to Kings Lynn Academy. This was followed by yet more dancing, before making the trip back to Tansen.  

On Saturday we took a trip out to Ranighat, sometimes known as the Taj Mahal of Nepal. The days are getting very hot now in Nepal, so for me, the most enjoyable part of this was the swim in the river. Shortly after getting out the river a funeral started, just meters from where we'd been playing and laughing. This made for a strange end to the trip, but it was an interesting spectacle, to see the body burning in the open on a pile of bamboo.

Next up was a trip to Shree Kalika. This isn't a twin school at the moment, but Terri has some contacts in mind who may be interested in twinning so wanted to see the school before telling them all about it. Here we did some more songs, as well as some origami, which again the students very clearly enjoyed.

The final school visit was to Amrit, the twin school of Kings Lynn Academy. Once again, I spent much of my time in the nursery, while the others carried on with their activities. After Ranighat we had a taste for swimming and walked down to the river for another dip, although this time it wasn't deep enough for swimming. Before leaving, Terri presented the head with a cheque and a plaque for the new building, once it's complete.

It's been a really great couple of weeks. This evening I'm off to Kathmandu for a few days, then next week I'll be starting the final round of school visits before I have to return to the UK.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Exam season!

It has been a quieter couple of weeks here in Nepal, as children across the country sit their end of year exams. These exams determine whether they will go up to the next class or have to repeat the year, so naturally, we don't want to cause any distractions and ty to avoid visiting schools during this period.  

The days before the exams would have been busier, but for about half a week it barely stopped raining, meaning the roads to the schools I wanted to visit would be impassable. This also kept the electricity off for long periods, meaning I couldn't even do much office work. To stop myself going mad at the lack of action, Saran and I went along to Devwani School which is in Tansen. I couldn't do too much teaching with the children who were all revising or sitting mock exams. However, we saw that the new library was being put to great use. Over 600 books had already been checked out, with children from class 1 through to class 10 all using the library regularly. Our student librarians were keeping the library open during lunchtimes and have done a great job of keeping it looking tidy and organised for library users.  It was a pleasure to present them all with some very well earned certificates.

We did manage to get to Gyanodaya School in Okhaldhunga before the exams started. I mentioned in a previous blog that during our last visit to the school we met a couple of orphans who were poor dressed and coming to school without exercise books or pencils. This time we were able to give them school uniforms, shoes, clothes and stationary to help them come to school without any worries. 


Since then we've been working on our plans to open a Learning Resource Centre here in Tansen. I've been to see several potential buildings, and imagining the spaces full of books, computers and children learning is really exciting. 

Later this afternoon we'll be welcoming Terri Broughton back to Tansen, with her husband Tony and friends Jenny and Dave. Terri is a retired headteacher from King's Lynn Academy, the twin school of Amrit here in Palpa. Over the next 10 days we'll visit Amrit and plenty of other schools, and I'm sure there'll be much more detail about what we get up to in my next post.