James Dix has just submitted this account of his HELP assignment in Nepal:
Albert Einstein, in formulating his theory of relativity, came up with the idea that time is not constant but can expand or contract depending on conditions. Einstein thought hard to come up with this idea. If he had been a Nepali, however, the idea would have come to him easily. Time elasticity is a Nepali cultural trait. A half-hour walk can mean ten minutes or two hours. A bus can come early, late, or not at all. Class times in schools can stretch or contract, depending on some undiscovered natural law.
I learned these and other lessons during my highly enjoyable but quite challenging time as a HELP volunteer English teacher at Shikha Higher Secondary School in Nepal. I spent quite a bit of time and effort thinking about teaching in Nepal before arriving, but nothing prepared me for the actual experience. The first day on my own, I walked into class bright eyed and bushy tailed, full of educational theories and methodology, and started out by introducing myself and setting forth lesson plan objectives, all the while talking in my American accent. I was met with silence and blank stares. Good reality check!
By reaching deep into my bag of hold-your-attention tricks, I was able to settle into a classroom routine in which I was able to keep the students focused and get some English teaching done. (For example, stickers were a life saver for the third grade class. Outlines, objectives, and assessment on the whiteboard for the seventh grade class. Talking in front of the class usually doesn’t work.) The most challenging task was to get the student’s confidence up enough to actually speak English in class. I was only partially successful in doing this.
The best part of my stay in Nepal was the immersion in Nepali village life, best done by leaving my Western cultural baggage at JFK. Nepali in villages are a wonderful people, full of life and hospitality, and remarkably free of worry. I have a feeling that if I lived in a village in Nepal, I would live 10 years longer. It doesn’t matter if the power doesn’t come on for days on end; that doesn’t seem to impact enjoyment of one’s live. Same for cloudy weather, rain, or no cell phone service, hot water, flush toilets, television, bus service, etc., etc.
HELP is a lean and transparent organization that is focused on providing help to Nepali and Indian institutions with a minimum of bureaucratic froufrou. In Nepal, I met volunteers working through other organizations, and they were astounded at the minimum fuss and money that volunteering through HELP entailed. I found HELP though an Internet search. They looked like the best organization through which to volunteer, and I now believe they are the best.