Sunday, January 23, 2011

Nick's Reflection: Visit to Arupokhari

Here is Nick's honest assessment of his Nepal visit- Subhash

Those who know me, know that I’m honest and open when it comes to business. And I hope that through this posting, all those who are supporting and following the Sarswati Foundation and the Sarswati Peace School, will have a better understanding of the foundation and the current stage of the Sarswati Peace School project.

Overview of the school and the wonderful mountains. Mt. Manasulu.
Over the past month that I have spent in Nepal working alongside Subhash for the foundation, I believe that I have been able to witness the underlying culture of business, perhaps not a culture that tourists seek during their escapades. This experience has put me confusing emotional state, mixing frustration and anxiety with hope and prosperity. And perhaps my mood swings throughout the past month have reflected this.

Nick infront of the school.
To provide you with a context of the work that I have been doing here in Nepal, it has revolved around developing the administrative materials: teacher, staff, and student handbooks; and by-laws for the Sarswati Peace School; and interviewing teachers and volunteers for the opening of the school in May 2011. During my stay, I have also spoken to an audience of over sixty village members about the expectations that the Sarswati Foundation had of the Arupokhari community and oversaw the initial stages of the Sarswati Peace School construction.

It all sounds fine and dandy, but it didn’t run all that smoothly. For the those who like visual representations, work and business seemed to reflect the roads: in the developed world, roads are straight and smooth (okay, this might be a slight exaggeration and generalization), and in the developing world, roads are dusty, full of potholes, and completely chaotic (also a generalization).

Workers mixing water with mud joining brick walls.
There is no other way to describe it.  While in Kathmandu “load shedding” or planned “brown-outs” often turned off our lights and electricity for up to 12 hours a day, internet - on a good day – worked only between 5:30pm-9:30am, not during the working hours, and a single meeting with the foundation’s lawyer (which we never actually met as he would always send his intern) would take nearly an entire day – a mixture of travel, the intern being an hour late, and the paper work needing to be reprinted because they spelled the foundation name wrong. To summarize, work went slowly as we would have to wait for the internet and to call and interview teachers, we would have to wait for electricity to charge our computers so we could continue working, and we would have to wait for another party to finally show up to a meeting. To be honest, I couldn’t wait to escape Kathmandu for Week 3 when we departed for the village, an 8 hour bus ride and 3 hour walk to a place that we could count on the electricity and internet not working for the next 3 months and a place where a meeting would happen on time, and if not, you can find those you want to meet with.

Little did I know, that the roots of being an hour late for a meeting was entrenched in the rural culture of Nepal. One specific instance was our planned community meeting with the local village members to clarify and discuss the matters of the Sarswati Peace School.

It started with lunch – at 9am. “Why?” I asked.  It was because we may not be back until dinner. I didn’t question any further. We then made our way to the school site, where the meeting was going to take place, planned to commence at 10 o’clock. We were 15 minutes late, and no one was there.  I was advised by Subhash that no one was there, not because they had already left, but because people always run a little bit late in Nepal. We took our seats on the hill overseeing the school site and continued to discuss the school, its prospective teachers, and the timeline for construction and implementation.  Time ticked away, and before we knew it, it was nearly 1 o’clock in the afternoon. By then, Subhash’s father and Ishwor (both extremely significant members of this project) arrived and joined our conversations. It wasn’t until 2 o’clock that the flocks of people began to arrive; one after another, joining into small groups, settling on the same hill that we settled on, discussing matters of the current government schools, the prospects of the village being connected to the electrical grid in the next month, and whatever else.

The meeting began at 2:30, only four-and-a-half hours late, and people still continued to arrive until nearly 4 o’clock. It was a frustrating wait and when work needed to get done and yet nothing was being done, I also became quite anxious.

But what do we get out of all this frustration and anxiety?

Hope, and eventual accomplishment.

Children around the construction site.
To begin with the time in the village, the community was excited. Over 60 community members came to the community meeting (which meant they probably represented nearly 150 of the admitted students), and everywhere we went, we were invite for tea and snacks to discuss the school and what it was going to provide. Beyond this excitement, there was a need that was being fulfilled. Although many of the families and students were not directly affected by the civil war, the Sarswati Peace School was bringing families back together: their children and wives of farmers and shopkeepers were going to be reunited when they could finally trust that their children were going to get a proper education in the village itself, rather than spending thousands of rupees a month for their children to attend private schools and live in Kathmandu. 

One of the most heart-warming experiences was when the three illiterate and impoverished women, that Subhash blogged about only a few days ago, arrived at the doorsteps of Subhash’s home in Arupokhari, bearing gifts of food, drink, and trinkets, that they had carried for a three days walk. For what? To ask for their children to be admitted to the school. These women were desperate to provide their children a proper education, and would do anything to make that happen. Not only did this astound Subhash, but it made me reflect on my own culture in the West.  How many North American parents would walk three days straight for their child’s primary school education?

Although this experience brought some sadness, it instilled in me a new hope for the school, a new hope for the people, and that little extra bit of motivation to stay positive and patient in such a slow-moving society.

Construction happens in spurts. In one day, the brick-layers can put up 4 feet of wall on one of the classroom buildings. Unfortunately, they work on average 3 or 4 days a week, needing to take days off when it is too warm, too cold, or a village member’s ox dies.  But it is happening. The school will be built, the policy manuals and by-laws will be completed (they are completed), the teachers and headmasters will be hired, the students will be admitted, and the need for education will be fulfilled for one small village in rural Nepal and the surrounding areas.

For those who have supported the foundation’s ventures thus far, including Epic Change, the Clinton Foundation, and Ania Lichota, thank you. To all those who volunteer their time to the foundation and the peace school, thank you. To Subhash Ghimire, an inspiration, role-model, and life-long friend, thank you. 

It has been an experience of a lifetime, and I look forward to continuing my work with the foundation for many years to come.


Nicholas Kang
Director of Project Development
Sarswati Foundation

PS: Thank you Nick for your time and passion. It was just amazing to have you here. Hope you will spread the good words to our wonderful St. Olaf community- Subhash

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful Job for Students in nepal, I thank Ujjwal Thapa dai for sharing this effort in facebook