Staying in rural Nepal for the last few days has been eye opening. The hospitality of the people in the mountains is impressive. They have little and they give a lot. We have been made to feel so welcome.
The group of volunteers standing with Shamser the Principal of Heaven Hill Academy.
We have been staying with a Principal of a local, independent and innovative primary school. Shamser set Heaven Hill Academy up two and a half years ago, with the aim of providing inclusive education for children regardless of their caste, special educational needs and gender.
The Nepalese flag flying in the school.
The Nursery classroom. It is respectful in Nepal to take your shoes off before you enter indoor rooms.
The inside of the Nursery classroom. This is the extent of the resources that they have. The children have books and they enjoy writing letters and numbers and sing songs and dance. They hang their back packs on the beam so they are out of the way.
Assembly in the playground.
The children love to play with toy cars on a painted road when they first arrive at school.
The playground with the most amazing view.
The school playground and the classrooms on the right. There is a big map of Nepal. The children learn a lot about other countries and where Nepal is in relation to the rest of the world.
The school has grown and now provides education six days a week for 93 children. These are children that are excited to come to school and are thirsty for knowledge. Despite the difficulties of running a school with no government support, Shamser and his team of teachers rely on help from volunteers just like Thom and myself. We have readily become stuck in, by observing lessons, teaching and helping to improve resources and teaching strategies. This is by no means an easy task however: the school currently has one laptop to teach computer science and relies heavily on text books with few supplies of paper or writing materials. Resources here are in short supply, which has challenged us to think carefully about what we can offer in terms of pedagogy and practical skills. It has also given us the chance to reflect on just how lucky we are back home and also to admire the commitment and determination of the people here to teach the children important skills despite the obvious difficulties.
Computer science lessons. The children are amazingly patient waiting their turn on the one laptop available to use and practise their skills. Lots of the computer science learning is done via textbooks.
The school offers education from nursery to grade 3 and are currently raising money and moving rocks to build another school building to provide a grade 4 class.
These are the rocks that will be used to create a Grade 4 classroom and kitchen.
The stunning view from the school.
The children arrive to the school in the morning and help to open up and tidy up from the previous day, shaking out the rugs. There are no cleaners, caretakers or vacuums here. Shaking out the dust is the only way to get the rugs clean each morning.
The children then dance to some songs as they wait in the playground for their peers to arrive before having their morning assembly. They have some impressive dance moves, inspired by the Bollywood film stars! They sing the Nepali national anthem, welcome one another and the day and ask and answer general knowledge questions. They know some very good facts about the world such as capital cities, other countries, oceans and biggest land masses etc.
Gathering together for morning assembly.
The children are taught in a mixture of Nepali and English and their levels of English are very good. To be able to be taught science in a foreign language is impressive. This mixture of language learning helps them to make connections between the English vocsbulary and the Nepali.
The children wear either traditional Nepali dress or the more causal school uniform. Shamser had been keen not to enforce wearing ties like in many Nepalese schools but ensuring that the children have a link to their traditional past as well as being able to be comfortable in such a hot and dusty climate.
The children are familiar with outsiders and will include the volunteers in their games and dancing and are eager to learn more about the people around them.
Last year volunteers set up a library for the children, whilst still lacking in stories, it offers a place for volunteers to work with small groups of children to practice their English. The children love library time! Most Nepali people will not have accessed a library, they are not common place in schools and even Shamser who is university educated had never visited one, studying via distance learning.
Heaven Hill Academy is a gem among the local schools here, ensuring that the children are treated fairly and equally, embedding their school motto "respect for the past, skills for the future" and helping to raise aspirations for the local children in this village and the surrounding area.
They welcome ideas from modern teaching methods and are working to update Nepali pedagogy. They are an open minded school where hitting the children is not allowed and parents are taught not to do this (still a common behavioural punishment in Nepalese schools). They welcome children from all backgrounds and diversity is celebrated. Shamser the Principal goes to local houses and asks for children that are not attending school to be sent to Heaven Hill.
They are excited to offer children with special educational needs, as well as children who need to develop their self confidence, weekly horse therapy sessions. The children get to know the local horse and build their confidence touching and being near the horse before eventually being able to mount and ride the horse, feel proud of themselves and be taller than everyone!
It has been a privilege to be a part of helping to improve the education of the children in this area. I will post a link in a new blog post about how you can contribute to this school and make a difference to these children's lives.