Bistare, Bistare (Slowly, Slowly)
Progress is slow in Nepal. Since the first time I visited in 2010 until now, very little has changed. The capital city, Kathmandu still has no Rail services and the narrow roads are in terrible condition. Bins are still almost non-existent and the valley is still covered with a permanent smog, except for when it rains. The average life expectancy in Nepal is lower than India and despite being the number two producer of Hydro in the world, locals still go 12 or more hours each day without electricity.
Their bus service (cramming as many people as you can into a 12 seater) is still the same too. As we found out this morning. With 8 of us getting on at one stop I thought we would smash the previous record of 28. I forgot to factor in that 8 fully grown Aussies equals around 15 Nepalese. We fell well short with only 20 people inside the vehicle. While this is 8 below the record, it is still 8 more than this vehicle would carry in Australia!
We wound our way across Kathmandu, hoping the person in the back corner of the van didn’t need to get out until the very last stop! Things looked familiar as we headed up the hill to the HOPE School in Boharatar. Out of all the schools we have visited I’ve had the most to do with this one, so it was special to be able to come back again.
Change and Progress
Sadly, since the last trip a lot of the staff have moved on. Most of the kids I had spent time with had graduated from the school, a lot of them getting scholarships. The few that remained barely remembered me, instead they remembered my sister who did all those cool art things with them!
It was great to see the kitchen had now been built and the midday meal program up and running.
Even better was that the former principal’s wife Sober was put in charge of the cooking. Not only is she one of the best cooks I know, she will not stop until your best attempts at running have turned into a waddle. What starts off as an innocent Chai (tea) can easily turn into a full buffet if you’re not careful! In short, she is the prefect cook for hungry school children.
Your idea is great, but…
We arrived at the school to find the boards I had left to teach Maths with had been gathering dust. At least they hadn’t been used for firewood!
Perhaps they didn’t find it useful, perhaps they didn’t know what to do with it, perhaps they don’t see any benefit to using them, perhaps they are not comfortable teaching in this way…Perhaps I should have asked these questions before I had them made and then lugged them from India to Nepal.
…do they think so?
I remember reading a story about an organization who published millions of hygiene related posters to put up in Africa. Nobody bothered to think about the 70% illiteracy rate and the project looked like a complete failure. Luckily the women who could read started spreading the message through song, making it accessible to the others. The project was saved but the posters were still an enormous waste of money.
Companies too, have developed their own ‘great ideas’ about charity. One is that for each item of clothing you buy here in Australia, we will donate one over in Africa. This sounds great at first but is actually a disaster for the community who receives all this free stuff. With thousands of shoes and shirts being produced cheaply elsewhere and given away free, the local tailor and shoemaker are put out of business. Who wants to pay when you can get something for free? Now his children are begging on the street…but at least they’ll have nice shoes!
It’s all well and good to have a great idea (like a Math board game) but if you are just imposing it on people or haven’t sold them on the value of it, then it won’t work. Two things I have learnt in relation to development since marrying Lisa are
- Listen to what the community wants.
- Give them ownership of spreading the message.
The response from the kids was positive as we built shapes, calculated their area and made pictures. Such a different approach to education would be hard to run with and require extensive training. What would take months to fully explain, I could give only 2 days and even then I didn’t get the chance to show the new maths teacher because I had accidentally walked in on her using the toilet (I did knock) on the first day!
Making it work
Despite the complete lack of development in the country the thing I love about Nepalese people is, they make it work. They have no toys, so they slice up used tyre tubes and make their own hackey sacks (called Chumli)
If they are too young for Chumli they make other toys
And if they are still too young for that they’ll push around a brick that is almost half their body-weight while making car noises. “Brummm Brummm”.
They turn one lane streets into roads two buses can fit down and when road access is a problem they carry piles of bricks, fridges and entire shopping aisles on their heads.
Up mountains. In sandals!
They make space to fit on a bus where you didn’t think possible and create even more by sitting on the roof. When the bus door finally gives way to all the people crammed inside, they don’t cancel the bus service, they grab the door and hold onto the roof racks so the bus can complete its route.
They live a hard life and will continue to as there are systems that need changing, things that need to be built and vast improvements to be made. In the meantime they will make things work. They don’t complain, they make it work.