April 2011 – A School for Malagiri opening
The school is due to open on 10th April. It’s all very exciting. I fly to Kathmandu with Lorraine Harrison, Head of the School of Education, Lorraine’s husband George and my wife Denise. We arrive in Kathmandu and are met by Karma Lama, the Nepali Project Manager. We settle in to the guest house attached to the monastery and explore both the stupa at Bodhnath and the ancient city of Bhaktapur. Magnificent wooden houses and palaces with intricate, beautiful wood carving. People making pots and many shops selling trinkets and ornaments to tourists.
The weather is unseasonal. This is meant to be the dry season but it is often hazy – obscuring the snowy Himalayan Mountains and there are heavy showers and violent thunderstorms.
The road to Malagiri
Malagiri is only 50 km from Kathmandu but it takes over three hours to drive there. We follow the main road towards India – it’s teeming with cars, buses and lorries across narrow mountain passes with very little space between the vehicles. After eating at a roadside cafe we turn off the main road on to the Rajpath Road – the narrow road leading to Malagiri and beyond. We pass simple wooden farmsteads, people carrying huge loads of fodder, hay or manure on their backs, children playing, buffalo and cows grazing on ancient terraced fields.
Breath taking welcome
The school comes into sight and it is beautifully decorated. Prayer flags abound and we receive a breath taking welcome. We are presented with khatags (white greeting scarves) and garlands of flowers. The villagers and their children are all lined up to greet us and we meet Anita and Passang, the Head and Deputy Head of the school. The people of the village generally follow a Buddhist philosophy and so the opening ceremony begins with a blessing with the hopes that the school will be successful, will thrive and be well cared for. A number of speeches are made and Lorraine and I say how pleased we are to be present at the opening celebration and thank everyone for their wonderful welcome.
The ribbon is cut and the school in Malagiri is officially open!! The villagers have decided the admissions policy and children aged between 3 and 6 are the first to be admitted. We visit the classrooms, the hall, the kitchen and the teacher’s living quarters.
In memory of Janet Clemence
One classroom is dedicated to the memory of Janet Clemence, an inspirational maths lecturer at the University of Brighton – she is much missed. A plaque in her name has been made and this is on the outside wall of the classroom. It has wonderful views over the valley and towards Annapurna-– we think Janet would approve. Lorraine and I brought a lot of books and some Numicon maths equipment from Brighton and we talk briefly with the teachers about their use.
However the rain falls out of the sky and we leave for Kathmandu. It has been a wonderful yet emotional day and we will return to the school before going home to see how they are getting on.
The four of us spend some ‘holiday’ time visiting the mountain village of Nagarkot and we manage to get a magnificent view of the snowy, white Himalaya. The range stretches out, endlessly it seems, before us. Terrific thunder storms are interspersed by clear sunny periods and we also watch the eagles hunting for food. We eat a delicious meal and celebrate George’s birthday. He is also the unofficial photographer on the trip and takes some amazing, beautiful images.
We also drive towards the border of Tibet to visit the village of Rattankot. We leave the cars and have to walk to the village. Initially we go down the mountain on the rocky path, steeply terraced land to either side and then cross the river using the narrow suspension bridge. Next comes the hard part – going up the other side!!!
Villagers carrying heavy loads pass us with a smile and the greeting ‘Namaste’. Our guides, wearing flip flops, tell us the walk usually takes them 45 minutes but after two and a half hours we reach the village!! Children are on holiday but still come to the village school to greet us with garlands and khatags. We visit Karma Lama’s mother and father who welcome us warmly and we watch Karma’s mother make the evening meal. There is a fire in the room and an open oven it is very smoky but after a few minutes our eyes and throats become accustomed to the atmosphere and it’s very cosy. Goats and chickens wander in and out of the room and buffalo are tethered outside. After a meal of rice and dhal we retire to one of the village houses to sleep. It’s very quiet and we rise at 5.30 in the hope of seeing the sunrise over the mountain. However, it’s raining and thunder and lightning hug the mountains and move slowly up the valley. We eat breakfast followed 45 minutes later by a very early lunch. We are not ready for two meals within an hour and so the goats, buffalo and chicken get an extra meal of rice.
As we walk back down the mountain the sun comes out. It’s a wonderful walk back across another suspension bridge, past paddy and wheat fields, fig and orange trees and amazing views. It’s a long hot haul up the other side of the mountain in the sunshine and I get quite breathless and know we have had a very strenuous walk. We find the cars, drink lots of water and leave the tranquil countryside to return to the noise, pollution, hustle and bustle of Kathmandu.
Return to the Malagiri school
We all four return to the Malagiri school. It has now been open for five days and all the children are attending. Anita, the Head Teacher, is most impressive and is working very hard – she is well supported by Passang, the Deputy Head. We hear some songs and watch some of the activities the children are doing. Writing, counting, learning the alphabet – the children are most enthusiastic and although they have only been in school for a few days seem happy and well settled. Lorraine and I teach the children the song ‘Heads and Shoulders’ and we also provide the actions as well and the children seem to enjoy this!!! Food has already been eaten and the cook, guard/janitor and helper are all busy with their duties.
A little help from your friends
The staff do need more materials for the children and Anita gives us a list of books, charts and first aid equipment she would like purchased. Back in Kathmandu we ask my very dear friend, Shanker Paudel, for his help. I have known Shanker and his family for over 20 – years and he is Head of SOS Hermann Gmeiner School in Sano Thimi, Kathmandu. He joins us along with his wife and another early year’s teacher to visit a magnificent shop where we are able to purchase everything Anita needs for the children. This will be taken up to Malagiri in the next few days.
We leave Kathmandu pleased with what has been achieved so far. However, we are not complacent. There are many aspects of the school which still need to be developed and much more to do but more of that in the next blog!!! For now suffice it to say that there are 47 children going to school who weren’t a week ago.