In the remote areas of Eastern Nepal where the dZi Foundation works, few things are more precious than a good education. Born into communities that are rich in local knowledge and cultural heritage, children in the Himalayan ‘middle hills’ are coming of age at a unique moment in history. For many years, the challenging topography of the region made transportation challenging and subsistence farming a necessity. But with the introduction of mobile communication, an expanding network of roads, and shifting economies, communities in Eastern Nepal are eager to provide a well-rounded education to their children – joining the traditional knowledge that has sustained local families for generations with the skills that will help them thrive in the future.
While children in dZi’s partner communities contend with the normal challenges of being young students, they also must navigate monsoon rains, dangerous river crossings, and under-resourced schools to achieve their dreams of an education. But as with any part of the world, it is the teachers who make it possible. Starting several years ago, dZi’s Quality Education Program has been working to provide educators with the training, infrastructure, and support to help their students succeed.
Nowhere are these changes more apparent than in the village of Rakha, Khotang District. Chhoti Sherpa is a teacher at the Orgyen Sanka Choling Boudha Gumbha School, located in the Sibdhu, neighborhood of Rakha. The green, blue, and white school building has only three teachers, each one responsible for students in first through fifth grade. Two months ago, Chhoti attended an Early Childhood Development (ECD) training jointly organized by dZi and our local nonprofit partner, the Creative Porters Society. In the training, educators learned about children’s development, exchanged techniques for supporting student’s growth, and built a community of support around their own successes and challenges.
Chhoti used to struggle to cater to her student's different learning styles. She shared that “it is hard to involve some children in the traditional learning process. They will not do the assignment or do not seem to understand what others have already understood. Some children would simply not care what’s going on inside the classroom. I would often get irritated and frustrated with such students, and sometimes used to threaten them to complete their task.”
Chhoti now approaches her students differently. She says, “I didn’t realize such students would require more attention, love, and care from their educators. After the training, I try to understand why the child is unable to learn and I try to empathize and know what the child is going through. I make an effort to understand the situation they are in and formulate my interventions accordingly.”
Chhoti is using new techniques to help keep her students engaged, like writing the lyrics to children’s songs she learned during the ECD training on the walls of her classroom. It’s been five weeks since the training and she has already taught her students five songs. “When learning gets monotonous, I make them recite these songs every now and then. I make them learn a song a week and all of them know the songs by heart!”
At only 21 years old, Chhoti has been a teacher for almost three years. She was interested in becoming an educator from an early age and, when she learned of an opportunity to teach in her own village, her skills, passion, and enthusiasm got her the job. This training was Chhoti’s first access to professional development. She believes the recent ECD training has bridged the gap between teachers and students, and addressed the dire need to keep teachers in rural Nepal updated on new curriculums and teaching methods.
Kusang Sherpa, the school’s Principal, agrees that the training has enabled teachers like Chhoti to understand and support children more effectively. Outside of the classroom, Kusang is interested in sharing the insight they have gained from the Early Childhood Development training with parents. Since children begin their learning journeys at home, Kusang hopes that teaching parents more skills will give their children a head start to a healthy life.
Beyond the skills-based training Chhoti and her fellow teachers received, improvements to school infrastructure and equipment have been especially helpful. “Earlier we had benches, but they were dysfunctional. The carpet, cushions, and child-friendly furniture provided through dZi’s Quality Education Program have made all of us happy. We have a very comfortable environment now for teaching and learning,” says Kusang. He believes strengthening a teacher’s skills and upgrading the learning environment will improve the quality of care and interaction students receive in school. He emphasizes how important they are for the holistic development of a child and how these experiences will shape them to become better individuals in the future.
Along with skilled educators and well-equipped classrooms, Kusang envisions a safe space for children in his school to play. While dZi’s Quality Education Program is supporting the school’s teachers and classrooms, he has proposed that the local government level and fence the playground. His proposals to improve the school’s facilities often get rejected by the government as the school has only 21 students – a number seen as too insignificant for educational investment. But, Kusang doesn’t like to give up. He will not give up on the students who walk more than an hour every day to come to his school. He will not give up on his teachers whose passion for teaching has inspired the children to continue their education. And he won’t give up on providing a safe and supportive environment to learn and grow.
Kunsang remembers, “After the earthquake of 2015, we had literally nothing. With dZi’s help and local people’s support, we made what we have today from scratch. We have earthquake-safe schools, handwashing and drinking water stations, and proper toilets. We have funds for scholarships based on need and we have also been able to manage food for students in the school. There’s no looking back now. We can only make this school better.”
Photos by: Sitaram Thapa Magar (Samip)