Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Sing me a song

Binod waiting to see the doctor
Bindod is a 9-year-old boy who attends Kalankee Primary School, where he is still studying in nursery class. He has obvious difficulties with his sight and Manisha UK volunteers have been trying for at least a couple of years to take him to the eye hospital. Getting parental permission to do this has proved difficult, but with the help of the community, we finally persuaded Binod's parents that a trip to the hospital was a good idea, that we had Binod's best interests at heart, and there was no risk of them incurring a bill they couldn't afford to pay. So they jeep picked up Binod, his father, his older sister and a community member who has been helping us and brought them to the eye hospital in Tansen, where Saran and I met them. 

The doctors told us that Binod is blind in one eye, with severely restricted vision in the other.  Sadly, there is nothing that can be done to improve or restore his vision. Clearly, this wasn't the news anyone wanted, but now that we know the situation we have started taking specialist advice and will put together a plan, with resources needed, to help Binod access education and progress from nursery class. In spite of all this, I truly believe Binod had a very enjoyable day out, enjoying the jeep ride and playing with his balloon in the waiting room! He is still the same affectionate and happy little boy that volunteers have met over the years. 

Before making the trip to remote Gyanodaya School in Okhaldhunga, there was just time to squeeze in a brief wedding anniversary celebration. It's hard to believe it's now two years since I married Bimala during my first trip to Nepal. It has been a crazy time but we're both still very happy and loving life here.

Reading in the sun
At Gyanodaya we set up our final library. In scenes that continue to excite me, however many times I see them, we saw the children enthusiastically delve into their new books. When we asked for volunteers for student librarians, pretty much the entire secondary school volunteered, so we had to ask the teachers to narrow it down a little. The village is so remote that most of the children will never have seen books like these before, and the window they give to the outside world will be invaluable. And of course, we expect them to have a very positive impact on the children's reading and writing skills.

Student librarian team at Gyanodaya
Orphan boy and his friend with new books
 We also learned about an orphan brother and sister who have started in the primary school. They are looked after by their uncle in the village, but the family are clearly struggling to provide decent clothes for them. They don't have uniforms and often come to school without pencils or exercise books. We measured them up and when we return we'll be taking uniforms, school bags, stationary and books for them. The Nepali Red Cross have agreed to provide some further clothes, so it should be a good little parcel to help them. 

Playing the 'madal' drum
This week we visited Bhagawati School in Bhalebas, to record the Steve Sinnott Foundation campaign song 'A Better Place to Be'. We spent the morning working with year 7 pupils to learn the song, before recording in the afternoon. It was a massive challenge to learn a song in a different language, with a style alien to the local music. The children were all absolutely fantastic and worked really hard, as did the teachers. However, to see the final result you'll have to wait until next month when SSF share the finished product!

The year 7 singers did a great job!

More happy readers
We returned to Devwani school to do some more work on the library and help the school get the most from it. Again, it was a joy to see the children with the books, and we made sure every child in school in the primary checked out a book to take home. We returned the next day, and loads of children had brought back their finished books and were demanding access to the library to get the next one! We were also invited to attend a celebration being organised by year 9 for the leaving year 10 pupils, who will shortly be taking their final exams at the school. They put on a great event, with an excellent forfeit game which had everyone in stitches as the year 10 pupils sang, did impressions and found a dozen different to make fools of themselves, all in the best possible fun. 

Year 10 leavers photos

Students focused on the next quiz question
Learning shouldn't have to stop just because it's the weekend, and so neither do I. On Saturday I was invited to a digital quiz organised by local youth groups. Despite the quiz starting two hours late, I was hugely impressed. The organisation was excellent and showed real maturity from 14 and 15-year-old organisers and the PowerPoint presentation through which the quiz was conducted was of fantastic quality. Computer skills are lacking in general in Nepal, but these children showed that when they have access to computers and resources on a regular basis, they can produce brilliant work! I was grateful that I was only there to watch the quiz and not participate, as a lot of the questions were far beyond me, but all the kids taking part were excellent and impressed me with their knowledge of a variety of subjects. 

It was good to see how children can make great use of resources, as I've been spending a lot of time working on our proposed joint project with the Steve Sinnott Foundation to set up a learning resource centre here in Tansen. The children really proved that if we can give them the access, they will put in the time and effort to get the most from them. Let's hope we can make the project a success! 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Ma Nepali sikdiechhu (I am learning Nepali)

My New Year resolution was to finally start learning Nepali properly, rather than just try to pick it up as I go along. I was determined to start before the end of January and just managed it, taking my first class on the 31st. I've had a lesson most days since and feel like I'm making good progress, although don't worry fans, I'll be writing this blog in English for a good while yet! I've always found learning languages difficult, but for the first time I actually understand the verb conjugation and the various tenses, and although I still need loads of practice, especially with words full of vowels (try khuwaaueu (we fed) with it's five in a row!) I'm confident that I'll continue to improve and be able to meaningfully communicate with schools and my own family.  

Year 5 at Nava Durga getting their first look at the new books
Teachers at Himalaya learn how to level books

We've continued setting up the new libraries and they are now established at Nava Durga Primary School in Pipaldanda, Himalaya Primary School in Mahachhap and Devwani Primary and Secondary School here in Tansen. The children have been really enthusiastic, often sneaking away from lessons or coming via the room we are setting up between classes to take a look. In all the schools, we've talked about how to care for the books and keep them in good condition and the children, despite their obvious excitement have been acting very responsibly.  We'll be returning to these schools over the next couple of weeks to do more work with the teachers and the students, but it really has been exciting to see just how much children value the books we have delivered. 

So many to choose from!
We re-visited the first library we established at Kalankee Primary School. It turned out to be a very necessary visit, as although the school were using the library regularly and taking classes in, children hadn't been borrowing books because teachers were still unclear on how to fill in registers. Rather than just explain this again, we had each class in the library, demonstrated some reading activities, assessed reading levels together and had each child choose a book to take home. Now each teacher has done this with us, they are much more confident to be able to continue alone. We'll still return again to see how things are going and help clear up any difficulties or problems.

Children reading at Himalaya
I've also managed to fit in my latest local TV appearance, this time having a rant about the amount of homework and (mainly pointless) copying children are expected to do, especially at primary level. This was at the Hope and Dream Montisorri School anniversary celebration, where I did enjoy seeing all young children (year 1 and younger) perform various cultural dances from various ethnic groups in Nepal, including my niece who did a great job! 

The day after was my birthday, and although I wanted to go to school my wife banned me, so I spent a more relaxing day at home and enjoying a nice meal at one of Tansen's new hotels. 

Children insist on helping carry the bookcase

Boys reading at Himalaya

Hope and Dreams isn't the only school celebration I've attended, as I was invited to Basanta Primary School in Bagnas for their 'school day'. We had to drop support for this school last year when they introduce fees, which goes against our policy, but I was curious to see how the school had got on since and this seemed an ideal opportunity. It was great to see some of the familiar students and teachers again and I enjoyed seeing the children's performances (although I can't say the same for adult's speeches). The school has taken on several new teachers, despite no very significant rise in the number of students, and although they've paid for some new school gates and exterior painting, the classrooms remain as dark and dingy as ever. I came away with the overall impression that the money they are collecting from fees isn't being used effectively to improve learning, and many worries about those students who's parents simply can't afford school fees.

I've been interviewing children again, this time at JVT School in Tansen, to get ideas about what they really need in a learning resource centre. I haven't got all the videos online yet, but they'll be available on our youtube and facebook pages. The children gave some great ideas, were clearly very motivated to learn and to have some practical experience to go with the theory they get in school.

Children show the correct way to put back books
 Next up will be a visit to Okhaldhunga, to establish our final library at Gyanodaya Secondary School. We've also got a visit to the eye hospital planned with Binod, a little boy from Kalankee Primary who we hope to be able to help. Apart from the school visits, there is plenty going on in Tansen, with a food fair coming, as well as the bi-annual Mela; a huge fair with some incredibly dodgy merchandise and even dodgier rides!