Back to School in The Himalayas!
Freshly sharpened pencils, crisp, unused notebooks, shiny new textbooks, and neatly packed backpacks. Typically, all signs that back to school season has arrived. But this year, things look different. School districts around the world are scrambling to adjust to the new "normal". Whether you or your kids are mourning the loss of a "normal" school year, we wanted to share what many growing up in the Himalayas find as "normal" this time of year.
Even without the threat and effects of COVID-19, education in the Himalayas is scarce. Where it does exist, lack of resources and proper facilities often deter families from sending their children to school. For many Himalayan families, teaching children to work and help at home is more necessary than education. But we believe -- and have seen first hand -- that quality education is the key to lasting change. We have hope that one day, quality education will not just be a privilege, but a reality for every child in the Himalayas.
Where They Learn Their ABCs and KA KHA GAs
Do you remember clapping along to the Alphabet Song? It's likely the first thing you learned when you got to kindergarten! In Himalayan kindergartens, most young children learn two alphabet songs. One for the ABCs we all know, and another for their Nepali alphabet which is comprised of completely different sounds and symbols. "Ka, Kha, Ga" are the first three sounds and is what the Nepali alphabet is referred to.
Early childhood education is rare in the mountains. The Nubri Learning Center (NLC) is one of the only of its kind. There, we have a special opportunity to start from the very beginning. We build a foundation of learning for the future generations of remote, Himalayan communities. Kids come to school from three different villages in the Nubri Valley, one of the highest, hardest to reach places in the world. Like any true kindergarten experience, they get to play on playgrounds, learn and discover the world around them, and make memories. Only they do it with Himalayan peaks in the background!
To School or Not to School?
Most schools in the remote Himalayas only go up to grade 8. Reaching 8th grade is a milestone many Himalayan students will never achieve. The rough terrain and dangerous paths make traveling to school difficult. In one of the NLC's neighboring villages, Samagaun, is a primary school. Most students who attend stay at the school's boarding facilities during the week and some even on the weekend because it is too dangerous to travel back and forth.
Whereas many parents around the world look forward to getting their kids back to school after a long summer, sending children to school in the Himalayas is a big sacrifice. Many families live off of what they can grow and sell. Sending kids to school means less working hands in the home. Some of the poorest families even rely on the income their children can earn by working. Children as young as age 5 are forced into child labor to earn money for desperate families. This often puts them in vulnerable and life-threatening situations. We want better for the Himalayas.
Education is crucial to ending a lifestyle of desperation. We work to provide quality education not only to Himalayan children but to their parents and families also. Adult literacy classes and demonstrations of modern farming techniques are exemplifying the importance of education. We need it to end the cycle of suffering. We hope to see a great change in the education available in the Himalayas soon!
From The Mountains to The Valley, Going to School in The Big City
After finishing grade 8, most students return home to their families to help in the fields, in the home or take up the family business. Most students' futures are written long before they have the chance to decide for themselves. The family relies on their contribution. But a few can continue their education onto grade 9 in the "big city", Kathmandu. An opportunity like this only comes by way of recommendation or personal connection. Students who travel out of their villages for school often rely on sponsorship for their living and schooling expenses. They trade in quiet village life for the bustle and chaos of Kathmandu. Life in the city, for many students, is unlike anything they've done before, including the way they'll have school.
They won't walk trails to get there but will get on buses. They won't wear their normal clothes but will dress in uniform. And they won't go back home to their family at the end of the day but will stay in a boarding facility with their classmates.
With roots in ancient traditions of respect and honor, students show tremendous courtesy to their teachers and faculty members. Teachers are referred to as "Sir" and "Ma'am" and students often stand to greet them. The rules for schools throughout the country are strictly enforced to promote a sense of structure and uniformity. In most schools, uniforms are worn with requirements from the way hair is styled to the type of socks worn.
But when the school day is over, students whose families are farther than the bus will take them, go to their boarding house (referred to as a "hostel") with other classmates! Our RANCH program is a place where such students live. There, they have an opportunity to build lifelong friendships, get help with school work, and learn skills that will help them thrive in their futures. The RANCH is their home away from home, a place where they can feel loved and safe. We create a community that values their individuality but also the culture they've come from. We've seen many students desire to return to their villages in the Himalayas. They dream of a legacy of carrying hope to their families and friends in the most remote places of Nepal. That's a legacy we are proud to foster.
Whatever school looks like for you right now ... whether you're heading to class wearing a mask and keeping a distance from your friends, or logging your kids onto their Zoom calls wondering how you'll make it through another day, take a moment to be thankful. Education, in any form, is not just a milestone, but a chance to raise new generations of hope.
Follow us on our journey as we bring students in the Himalayas this chance to learn and to make a difference!