Stephanie Gives Us a Look at the Beginning Stages of Rebuilding Schools in Nepal

Twenty-six years have passed since I last lived here with a refugee family, studying Tibetan, teaching English and soaking in the culture. Close to midnight, on a quiet November night, as our taxi winds its way to our guesthouse, aside from collapsed walls and rubble here and there (a lot of debris has been cleared already in Kathmandu), I am struck by the lack of physical change in the city after more than a quarter century. Being in Nepal for the first time in such a long time is a very intense and sad experience. At our guesthouse, we are greeted by Michelle Thompson, intrepid staffer of one of our partner NGOs in Nepal, All Hands. Michelle advises us to get some sleep, as our car will be heading for the hills bright and early the next morning.

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The next morning, after a quick gulp of Nescafe (and green tea for Petra), we head out to our destination in the Nuwakot District, one of the regions hardest hit in the April 2015 earthquake. We are here to visit schools that were destroyed during the earthquake and to meet the children who are waiting for them to be rebuilt. The “road” to the  Kalyani Devi – Jiling Village was interesting to say the least.

As we approach, a group of children comes running out to greet us in the car. There are so many smiling faces amidst so much destruction. Some of these children are studying in extremely dangerous structures with partial walls that threaten to collapse at any moment, especially because of the ongoing aftershocks. Students and teachers are afraid to study and teach in these structures.

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It is hard to imagine how these children will be able to attend these broken down schools in about a month, when the daytime temperatures will average in the mid 50s or lower. I wonder how hard it is to concentrate on learning when you are cold and still living with the traumatic memories of the terrible earthquake that destroyed about 90% of the houses in your village so recently?

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Our next stop – after a 1.5 hour bumpy ride around countless switchbacks, down mountainsides and back up over and over again, we finally reach Prithivi Secondary School in Bidur village. Being greeted by the principal, the teachers, the community elders, as well as several parents is a very moving experience.

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We sit in a circle and get to know the community, the history of the school and its accomplishments. This community is rightfully proud of their school, with 100% of its graduates passing the national exam to go on to Higher Secondary School. I am struck by the smiling faces of the children, who, as in the previous school, are studying in rooms with broken walls. Here the weather is a bit warmer than in Jiling Village, as we’re in the valley now. The view out of the broken classroom walls is of a lovely mountain landscape – great for daydreaming. Still, we want to get these children back inside so they can focus properly on their schoolwork.

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On day three, we wake up at base camp at 6am and guzzle a quick cup of tea, then dine on boiled eggs as we make our bumpy way toward our next stop, Shree Birendra Secondary School. For this school, we are partnering with Room to Read, an education-focused NGO with deep roots in Nepal. Halfway up a mountain our driver stops the car in a particularly deep “pothole” formed by a recent landslide, unsure of whether the vehicle is going to make it over and up the remainder of the road up the mountain. He sends the driver from the other car out ahead to scout the road and make the call for us. Luckily, it seems we’re in the worst of it, and if we can make it over this ditch we’re home free. On the top of the mountain, we are greeted by the entire school.

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The view from this devastated school is breathtaking. But it is here that I see this wall. When I move closer I see that someone has written, “education is light of life”. Wow!! Yes, this is why it’s so important that these schools get rebuilt. One thing is clear as we talk to these children. They do not take education for granted. They are hungry to learn and only need a safe place to do it!

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Flowers are everywhere in Chatungadi Village, our final stop. The marigold must be the national flower of Nepal.

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At this final school our  driver gives up and stops half mile below the school. We get out and walk straight up until we round a corner and are suddenly drowned in wreaths of bright yellow marigolds.

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We are given a tour of the higher secondary school, a very large school that serves over 500 students. The school is in bad shape but the children are in high spirits. We learn why there is such an abundance of marigolds right now – next week is Tihar, the five-day festival of lights, during which Nepalis and other Hindus decorate their homes and honor their domestic animals with garlands of marigolds!

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Now it’s time to head back to Kathmandu. We are tired but also energized by all of the children and motivated to get back to work making sure that we get all of the funding we need to get these schools built. We know that the schools we’ve seen are just a drop in the bucket – over 5000 schools were destroyed during the 2015 earthquakes, but we’re taking the first steps toward change. We are starting with four schools, but as you know there are so many more children in need.