Several long bone-shaking jeep journeys over snowy passes, hanging over the edge of airy drops and rolling and crunching over roads half destroyed by monsoon rains took me to see a range of small rural schools: in Ladakh, two Buddhist monastery schools and two small community schools and in East Nepal a government school perched high on a ridge. Though the facilities were sparse, the enthusiasm and welcome from staff and students alike was fantastic. People in this part of the world have the way of making visitors feel like royalty! These remote locations offer a volunteer a unique opportunity to experience the local culture and to make a valuable contribution to the life of the school.
In addition to visiting some potential new schools, I visited some of HELP’s existing schools, renewing old friendships and having a lot of fun playing games and singing songs with some of the students. In Pokhara I was able to spend a couple of hours talking with the staff of SocialPublic school about the challenges they faced: how to cope with large mixed ability classes, how to motivate students faced with the daunting inflexibility of the syllabus and exam system. It was good to share experiences and ideas with this group of dedicated teachers.
It was good too to meet some new people involved in projects that HELP might be able to support in some small way. An inspiring young woman working in the far east of Nepal has set up a project supporting women who have been victims of violence. Travelling the district, she gives talks to raise awareness in the villages, offers free legal advice and advocacy from a team of volunteer lawyers and short training courses in tailoring to help provide these women with a degree of financial independence. HELP hopes to provide this project with some additional sewing machines.
It is always challenging travelling in these areas, either because of the rugged terrain, or in the case of Nepal because of the noisy disruptions caused by impending elections. However old and new friends of HELP roll out the red carpet and I was humbled by the welcome and care shown to me by all I met.
(Barbara Porter, November 2013)