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School improvement off the beaten track part 2.

‘Helen, the children say you are sitting quietly like a pumpkin!’ Kamal, the headteacher, said with a chuckle. I was quiet, happy, and taking it all in. The clay floor, the fire pit, the dim light, the slow cooking dahl, the scents of the spices and herbs. Kamal had welcomed us into his family home for the next two days. I wondered at my joy of returning to a remote village after the devastation of the 2015 earthquake, and the warm welcome as sleeping arrangements were declared. Privacy is not as my son would say ‘a thing’ in Nepali culture.

The six-hour journey from Kathmandu in the jeep was hard going, the last thirty-five miles took four hours over roads scarred by the landslides. Kamal and his family welcomed us with prayer scarves, a brief rest and some black spicy tea before we set off to the school for their prize giving ceremony. The traditional Nepali welcome was nothing short of overwhelming, there were marigolds, prayer scarves and gifts of oranges. The warmth of the community was completely immersive as the children and staff gathered around.

Preparation for this visit had been intense. Basic resources are unstable and can be quite literally swept away with a heavy monsoon or landslide. We’d planned a respectful walk to the Shiva shrine on day two. This day set aside to walk, talk and listen without haste. Some children at the school have high aspirations and told me they hoped to be doctors, engineers, even a pilot. Some children struggle to attend school as work on the family farm is the expected priority. Some parents aspire for their children to go to the gulf states and work just to send money home; Kamal struggles as we do in England with the challenges of engaging some parents in understanding the value of their children’s education. We discussed practicalities, progress, funds, the challenge of moving equipment over the roads, the long monsoon and the height of the river isolating the village. The unmade roads, intermittent electricity and lack of internet are still major infrastructure challenges.

Many years ago, Dr Sebastian Kramer from the Tavistock Child Guidance Clinic talked about the importance of children knowing someone has them in mind. Someone attentive to their needs, their concerns, what matters for them. Over recent years I’ve come to understand the significance of his insights not just for children but in professional relationships. The trust, support and hope that builds when we let those we care about and work with know that we have them in mind when they face intense challenge.

I was struck by the simplicity and impact of this as I listened to Kamal. ‘Within 7 minutes of the earthquake last year I had a text from you. You’d heard of the earthquake and asked how we were.’ I remember sending the text, and remember as the infrastructure collapsed it was a good 4 weeks until I heard back. I’d had no idea until then how much it had meant to this school community, simply knowing that we had them in mind. Knowing they were not alone in the world but known and loved had helped build hope, courage and strength at a time of major disaster for the teachers and community still running the school.

We were glad to see progress first hand. The stationary provided by Prestolee being put to fantastic use, the camera we sent being used to take photos of children receiving prizes, all building a story about the school. They have purchased one computer and some curriculum software. We agreed funds for a projector and screen for group teaching. The drinking water is in place (600m of pipe from DfE staff fundraising) and a site agreed for the composting toilets. We reviewed the school plans and agreed emergency exits would be improved and updated plans made ready. We press on with fundraising.

As we were rolling up our sleeping bags the family asked us to stay longer, ‘Just one more day?’ they implored. Our schedule was tight, we apologised. ‘But we’ll see you next year!’ Kamal said. I smiled and replied with the line from a poem, ‘If our faith is good, we’ll meet again.’ This same poem we’d shared with our young guides last year, who amazingly we met as they were in a nearby village with some more trekkers on the day we walked to the shrine. They broke with convention and put arms around us in greeting, so our faith must have been good, I thought.

It’s a strange feeling. We support a school halfway across the world. I hope we’ll return. I ponder how it came about, how we’ve raised £17,000.00 and how we will raise the rest needed. But for this school and this project with so many struggles between here and completion, our faith is still good.

‘And if my faith is good

then we’ll meet again

on the road…

and drink from the deep well of things as they are.’

(David Whyte)

The journey, the road travelled, the small steps, and the deep well of things as they are.

Kamal, the children and community send their thanks for the many helping hands in England.

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