Into the hinterland of upper Dolpa, Binod Shahi with his project e-Dolpa is actively working to transform the education status of the region.
It all started when Binod Shahi first got an opportunity to teach Dolpa kids, in the winter of 2004 as it was extremely cold in Dolpa and the school was translocated to Kathmandu in search of a favorable place for 6 winter months. In 2005, Shahi and his friend Chhewang Lama left for upper Dolpa.
Since then, Shahi has been actively involved in the work. Initially, he had joined in the project run by foreigners. Across time, he came to realize that it is Nepalese themselves who need to take initiatives to start working on such projects. In 2011, Shahi started e-Dolpa, a Dolpa education programme, and has been leading the project on his own, with funds strictly from Nepalese helping hands. The project is currently carried out in schools in Saldang VDC, probably the largest VDC in Nepal in terms of area, larger than Kathmandu valley.
Though the government had opened schools in the region in 2032 BS itself, the schools were in closed state as they the community had no knowledge about the value of education that time.
“After the huge success of the movie Caravan, foreigners started to go trekking to the upper Dolpa. And, the trekkers, especially from Germany and France, felt the lack of schools in the area, and started opening schools. I first went to the area in that very project in 2005,” shares Shahi. In 2011, they took over the project from foreigners, and since then, have been sending volunteer teachers to the area. To successfully run the project, a solely Nepali funded one, they have received supports from various schools in Kathmandu for pencils, copies and other stationeries, and other goods from various community groups. The school projects are thus running with very few resources.
Despite being the biggest district of Nepal in size, Dolpa is one of the most remote and inaccessible places, and has been out of access to education since long.
One needs to walk for 7-8 days to reach the place from the district headquarter Dunai. One reaches upper Dolpa after tiresome, but awesome journey of passing through the mountains and rivers.
Even in the schools that were functioning, teachers were not available to teach in the schools. Most of the them being from outside of upper Dolpa e.g. lower Dolpa, Pokhara, Syangja and other places, classes used to remain mostly vacant throughout the year.
Upper Dolpa is a place where schools run for only six months because of extreme cold in the winter.
Shahi remembers the beginning days to be very challenging. The locals even wanted foreign support, and were skeptic if Nepalese can run the projects. Added to this, it was extremely hard for them to gather support for running the schools. “Foreigners were ready to dole out lakhs of money in support of the project. But, Nepali friends used to feel it uneasy to provide even 1 Rupee a day for the project,” he shares, adding “But, now it’s very easy in many respects.”
He also recalls other difficult times from his starting days. “It was extremely challenging to convince the locals about the importance of education. They simply used to say that they don’t need to study. Now, they feel that schools are very necessary.”
His earliest students, from the year 2004-5 are studying higher education in Kathmandu. Some have been involved in teaching profession in upper Dolpa itself under the same Project. One has even become a nurse and serving the health sector.
Aayush Parajuli from Bhaktapur, who recently returned to Kathmandu after teaching for 6 months in the Mukot Himal Primary School in Tilling Village of Saldang VDC in Upper Dolpa, says, “The place is such different and isolated that the students feel like alien things are included in coursebooks as there are high chances they have not heard/known about the stuffs. Upper Dolpa is almost like another world.”
Adding further, Shahi feels the necessity of the provision of having a different curriculum suitable to the place. “It is mostly impractical to teach many things available in a book prepared for Kathmandu students.”
“Language barrier is the other most challenging issues. They speak in Tibetan language, which we don’t understand. Making things worse, they too don’t understand Nepali. So, my first two months were really hard,” says Parajuli about the difficulties he had to face.
“Inspired from Binod dai’s work, with keen interest I joined the project in 2013,” saiys Amir Maharjan, who taught in the Yangjer Primary School in upper Dolpa for three years. Coming from a well-off family and the only child in the family, Maharjan wanted to experience life in rural Nepal and set for upper Dolpa as a volunteer teacher. “In the beginning, neither the students, nor me used to understand each other’s language, making the situation difficult to an extent that I felt demotivated often in the duration. But, with time, I learned their language, and was successful in the work,” he adds.
Further sharing his experience, Maharjan says that though people have started to know the importance of studying, they didn’t value it that much. “Study isn’t their priority as they have to focus more on works.”
One of the most memorable thing for them was teaching the students about sanitation and hygiene. They used to take students to tap, and showed how to wash hands and brush the teeth. As a ripple effect, the parents also have learnt about these basic things. “From my stay there, I got to learn how it is to live in rural area, learn new language.” Currently a student of Bachelor in Social Work, Maharjan has plans to spend 10-15 years in teaching field itself.
Parajuli, who taught in Mukot Himal Primary school remembers the 6 months of teaching there as a life-changing experience. Though his beginning days were challenging, he feels that he was able to bring about a change in little sale in the children’s lives. The students feel joyous to study.
Subash Lamichhane, a permanent resident of Tokha, shares the similar feelings. Like Parajuli, he has returned back after teaching for 6 months in Shree Yanjer Gumba Primary School in Nyisal-1 of Saldang VDC.
The local community, who were negligent about the condition of school, are now serious about the regular functioning of the school and regular running of the classes.
Now, 10 teachers are currently teaching in Dolpa under the project. Though teachers are also appointed by government for those schools, the teachers mostly remain absent in the schools.
The schools also have provision of extra-curricular activities.
But, there is about 6 months of academic gap every year, as schools don’t operate in winter season, making students forget what they learnt last year. “So, at the beginning of every new academic session, we need to revise last year’s lessons to remind them about what they learnt the previous year,” shares Shahi.
“Teaching from textbooks produced in Kathmandu is still challenging, as students have to rote-learn many topics that are irrelevant there,” he further shared about the need to prepare a syllabus suitable for there.
And, as there are no shops in the area to buy stationery materials necessary for the school children and for the functioning of the school, they need to sustain for 6 months from whatever is sent from Kathmandu. In many situations, as the resources start to deplete, there are times they have made 4 pieces from a single piece of copy and pencils so that no students have to stay out of study.
They also have started activity-based teaching.
There have been examples of changing students’ behaviours, with the development of feeling of harmony and cooperation among them.
Though modern facilities are scarce in the area, Dolpa is very rich in resources.
“Till now, Dolpa has been made a playground by politicians and NGOists, to pocket all the funds. The situation like this is ongoing as all want to be rulers, but none wanting to improve the situation. Billions of rupees has been doled out to the school established in 2032 BS in the area, but the status of education is almost still the same,” laments Shahi.
The community and the school management communities (SMC) have been looking after the schools for their well functioning. Also, the schools have connected different communities and people from different groups and professions together. The foods, firewood and other materials for teachers are managed by SMCs themselves. The local community is also very supportive towards the teachers.
But, as the schools don’t have their own buildings, classes take place in the open. And, classes get disrupted both in the rain, or wind. But, they are planning to construct school buildings soon.
As there is no availability of higher classes, after completing class 5, the students leave for Kathmandu for further education.
The situation is improving as Binod and other youths are actively struggling to change the scenario and bring about a change in the region. The feedbacks from District Education office is very positive and the officials appreciated the works they have done.
Dolpa still looks as if it is in 12th century. Talking about the need to develop and transform the region, Shahi says that Dolpa should be made Dolpa, not Kathmandu or like a foreign city. “While carrying out development work, one needs to pay attention to culture, tradition and lifestyles of people so that nothing gets lost from this heavenly place,” he adds.
They, along with the local youths are planning to make self-sustained and self-reliant Dolpa. The government is also doing a lot for the region, first by establishing schools in 2032 BS, and other doling out money for other facilities, though the money has not been properly utilized in any way possible.
“I feel them like the happiest humans of the planet. They don’t have anything with them. But, they are content with what they have. There is so much of things to learn from the place,” shares Shahi.
The project has provided an opportunity to the youths to and serve their nation and learn and experience going to the hinterland that most have heard about but never seen.
In the meantime, the project has got helping hands from many generous Nepali youths, and even the corporate world. Ekta books has joined hands in the project providing textbooks for free. Similarly, Goma Air has been supporting them with transportation of goods and to-and-fro air tickets.
The project is slowly gathering momentum towards the overall educational development of Dolpa.
May e-Dolpa succeed in its mission of transforming upper Dolpa!
By Basanta Kumar Dhakal