Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Lots of libraries!

January has been all about libraries. We started the year with library management training, delivered by Room to Read, ahead of starting to establish our first school libraries. We had a great training session and while the teachers learnt about library management, I got new ideas on how to conduct training sessions and some new activities I could use. These included some great warm up games such as indoor paper ball football in a circle.

 During the session, teachers learnt how to level and label books, assess children's reading level, fill in book registers, arrange the furniture, manage the timetable and a host of things necessary for children to fully benefit from the libraries we are delivering. 

As government schools were on holiday, I spent a couple of days at a local Montisorri nursery, which is run by a friend of the charity and attended by my niece. This is certainly the most expensive school in the local area (although well under £20 a month, it's far too expensive for most people here) and probably the best. However, even here I was reminded just how far education in Nepal has to go, as children spent ages waiting around doing nothing, copying and repeating endlessly and with a massive emphasis on homework (for four year olds!!!) Parent pressure is a serious issue to contend with as they put pressure on schools to provide homework, regardless of whether that homework is beneficial. In most cases, it adds nothing to children's learning but takes away an hour of learning at school while the teacher writes the homework to be done in each child's exercise book. 

With the Steve Sinnott Foundation, we are looking at the possibility of establishing a learning resource centre here in Tansen.  We heard a lot of good things about a similar project in a Nepali village 'a few hours' to the north, so decided to pay a visit. These few hours meant 4 hours on the back of a motorbike to Pokhara, an overnight stay there, then another 4 hours on the back of the bike on seriously dodgy jungle roads to reach the village of Phalebas, where Moti Community Library is situated.  Having arrived in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere, I was stunned to see a large library building, with thousands of books, including children's collections and sections in Nepali, Hindi and English. As well as books there were computers, where women from the village were receiving typing training, sewing machines where more women were learning tailoring, an audio-visual room, a meeting hall and a women's' saving cooperative. The library management was really helpful and we talked at length about the difficulties of running such a centre, who it could benefit and what the most important aspects were. It gave loads of good ideas that we'll be able to learn from as we seek to bring similar benefits to people in Palpa. 


When we arrived back in Tansen, all the things we had been waiting for to establish our own school libraries started to arrive. In a few days, we had 3000 books, bookcases, shutters and stickers. This meant some long and busy days sat in the office, sorting and cataloguing books, and painstakingly applying a level sticker to each, reinforced with sellotape. Not as exciting as winding jungle roads with Himalayan views or as fun as the hokey-cokey with excited children, but necessary work and all part of the job! We were able to establish our very first library at Kalankee Primary School, where we'll return in a few weeks to see how pupils have been able to use it. 

This week we've made the long trip to Bhagawati Himalaya Higher Secondary School. This is in Gorkha district, about 20 miles from the earthquake epicentre and the school was almost entirely destroyed. My last visit was almost exactly a year ago, when we agreed funding for four new classrooms. Needless to say, I was excited to see how much had changed! 

As we got off the main road and on to the jeep trails that wind up to the village, I was struck by how much corrugated iron there was everywhere. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, many NGOs provided these to help people build temporary shelters so they could have a place to sleep. Now, there is barely a house, shop or goat shed that doesn't have a signifcant amount of this in it's construction. Of course, giving people shelter and a safe place to sleep is more important, but I couldn't help be saddened by how much this ruins the natural beauty of traditional village homes. 

Destruction was still visable everywhere, approaching two years since the quake. The teacher that used to live in this home told us how his wife and child had to jump from the building when the earthquake struck. Such stories are far too common and many don't have happy endings. 

The first student to check out a book!

We spent 3 days in the school, setting up the library and delivering training. The students were absolutely delighted with the library and couldn't wait to get in and start using the books. In the first two days more than 60 books were checked out before we'd even officially invited a single student in! It was obvious that demand went beyond a once a week session in the library as a class, as students crowded the room during lunch time. We asked for volunteers from some of the older classes who could act as student librarians and open the library during lunch time and after school, and we were not dissapointed! We now have a team of 12 students who will do much of the day to day running of the library and are already brimming with ideas for improvements!

Secondary students using the library for the first time.

The enthusiasm of the students throughout the school was great to see. They have a real hunger to learn, especially at secondary level. So many students were coming in to the library while we were setting up or training and although this didn't make the job any easier, I was overjoyed to see it. By the end of lunch time on the second day we had tidied the library at least half a dozen times and had to have each class in to explain how the shelves are organised and how to put the books back, but this is far better than a scenario where the library remains tidy buy unused! 
Students were reading all over the school by lunch time on the second day.
We were hosted by a family from the school management committe who looked after the 3 of us (Saran, the jeep driver and myself) exceptionally well. We arrived about 8pm on Saturday night and a lot of teachers turned out to welcome us with drinks, a lot of catching up and even more food. We slept in yet another building contructed or corrugated iron, but this was far more comfortable than than the temporary shelters so many families are still sleeping in. 

Our amazing student librarians!
Year 4 children get their first taste of the library.
The 4 new classrooms that we helped to construct look  fantastic, with solid plastered walls and smooth floors (and yet more corrugated iron for the roof!). We spoke with some of the students about their experiences in the temporary classrooms and how different it was now. We heard repeatedly how in the temporary rooms they could barely hear the teacher or each other as noise travelled from room to room and everyone competed to be heard. Almost all the students talked about either the hot, the cold or the rain, depending on which season had effected them the most, but it was clear that the rooms were not comfortable at any time of the year! 

We interviewed four students about their experience in the temporary classrooms, their plans for the new library, their experience of the earthquake and their hopes for the future. (With apologies for the sound quality). 

Other schools are currently installing shutters we've providing, or finishing plastering walls, then we'll be off to establish our next 4 libraries. Plently more details coming here soon! 


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