Since 1961, Sir Edmund Hillary’s Himalayan Trust, has supported schools in Nepal’s Everest area. Monasteries in Asia have sent financial assistance to educate young monks. But in Gorkha, many schools have been forgotten. Devi Jal Kumari School, in remote Aaprik Village, is one of them. Since the earthquake, and after this story was written, more than 8,000 homes in surrounding villages have collapsed.
Patti Shales lefkos
Special to The Morning Star
School attendance isn’t meant to be life threatening, but in this derelict mud and stone building in earthquake territory in Gorkha, Nepal, it is.
Dark-eyed students leaned back on narrow benches to peer up through cracks between rough-hewn boards from their main floor classroom at Devi Jal Kumari school. I returned their gaze from the second storey room where I stood.
Dust motes danced in shafts of sunlight streaming between gaps in the ceiling above. Stones and timbers littered the floor of the room, resting where they had fallen. Heavy slate tiles precariously supported by sagging rafters and splitting beams weighed heavily on the 53-year old mud and stone structure. In this school, umbrellas were the classroom accoutrement of choice during the monsoon season.
I was visiting Devi Jal Kumari School in Aaprik Vilaage on my day off from volunteering as an English teacher in a school a six-hour drive away in another village. That school, with its gray cement walls and floors, crowded classrooms, and almost total lack of supplies shocked me. Now it seemed like a state of the art educational facility compared to Devi Jal Kumari, the school I was visiting.
Arrival at Devi Jal Kumari School, Aaprik Village
I stepped down out of the Mihendra four-wheel drive onto the patchy grass, rarely flattened by vehicle tires. Pressing palms together in the traditional greeting, a slender man, about 40 years of age, extended his hand to assist me. “Namaste. I am Hari Sharma, school principal,” he said. The straight line of his dark eyebrows, his furrowed brow, neatly trimmed moustache and crisp white shirt accentuated his serious demeanour.
A younger man slipped from behind. His eyes crinkled against the searing sun. The sleeves of his blue shirt were rolled up to display muscled forearms. Ballpoint pens, one red, one blue, in his shirt pocket, suggested official educational status. “Welcome. My name is Kumar,” he said. “I will escort you to our school”. Later introduced as the vice-principal, Kumar extended his arms over my bowed head and gently placed a grass malla necklace around my neck.
A sea of sky blue school uniform shirts and blouses lined the barely metre-wide tramped earth pathway to the school. Kumar led our party through the village. The students’ blue shirts, still clean and pressed despite the hot and dusty hour or more walk to school, contrasted with the dusty ochre and acorn-toned surroundings. We passed haystacks towering over the tallest students. We stepped up stairways created by massive stones. We caught glimpses of buffalo, gray and almond-coated goats and squawking bronze-feathered chickens next to single storey hand built stone and timber homes.
We had left Ratmate Village at 7:30 a.m.
Keshar, our 25-year-old driver had the tousled inch-long, wavy hair of a disco singer. A shiny red Adidas T-shirt with a couple of silver lines stretched across this slender chest above dark gray pin-striped dress pants and silver flip flops. Driving for two years only, Keshar had purchased the 2009 Mihendra, Jeep wannabe, truck, used, for $16,000.
Always good to have a driver who owns his own car. They’re usually much more careful.
Within minutes every surface in the car, including ourselves, was covered in a dust dubbed Nepali powder by the locals. The first section of road was barely wide enough for one vehicle. The two-foot high bushes growing along the centre gave the impression the road didn’t see much vehicle traffic.
A few of the sharpest hairpin turns required Keshar to back up a couple of times to make it around. I tried not to look over the precipice. No seat belts or guard rails in site. At several terror-inducing corners a row of two-inch thick slate rocks, each about four feet high and two feet wide, stood as sentinels forming a hastily adapted guardrail, seeming to me more like prescient headstones predicting the fate of those who missed the turn.
Two exhilarating hours of downhill driving to the local centre, Arughat, an hour of rolling with the flow along the Stull Khola riverbed, then another three hours uphill. The truck labored upwards amidst a tangle of vibrant rhododendrons, then wallowed in rutted dirt tracks soon to be made impassable by monsoons. Six steamy hours later the Mihendra behemoth rattled up to the trail leading to our destination: Devi Jal Kumari School in the village of Aaprik.
The first foreigner to visit the school, I received a royal welcome.
Students heaped flowers on my cupped hands, until the mound formed an unmanageable pyramid. Blossoms avalanched down all sides.
This must be how Queen Elizabeth feels. But why me? I feel like an imposter. I don’t deserve this attention. How can a person like me make any difference in their lives?
Help Desperately Needed
That was when I saw the school. Some main floor classrooms still being used despite a condemned and crumbling second storey. Kindergarten students crowding into an inappropriate Grade 4 classroom with older siblings.
Hastily-constructed mud and stone rooms housing the remainder of the 223 students.
The welcome was obviously designed to make a lasting impression. Kumar really knows how to work the room. Still, I can tell he is caring, sincere and very determined. But why me? I feel like an imposter. I don’t deserve this attention. How can a person like me make any difference in their lives?
I recognized the look. Kumar wants more for the students in his charge.
It was the look I had when I welcomed potential donors and corporate sponsors to Admiral Seymour School, scene of my first principal’s position in inner city Vancouver’s downtown eastside. Thousands of kilometers and continents away I found in Kumar a like-minded colleague.
My job was clear. I would spearhead the fundraising campaign to help them build a new school.
How You Can Help
To make a donation go to crowd funding site indiegogo at http://indiegogo.com/projects/nepal-one-day-at-a-time/x/9502055. Discounted trekking and culture trips in Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan available for a donation in the PERKS section.
For more information visit registered Nepali charity Sambhav Nepal at www.sambhavnepal.org. For direct donations cheques may be made to Nepal One Day at a Time Society and mailed to Box 3093, Vernon, B.C., V1B 3M1