The Malagiri School


January 2013 – A visit to Malagiri

In January 2013, 15 students from the School of Education visited Nepal to undertake Complementary Placements. They all visited Malagiri accompanied by two lecturer colleagues – Jackie Hannay and Tim Coxon. Tim and Jackie made a film of the visit and Tim, wrote his reflections about the school. They are both included in this Blog’

At about 6am our car arrives and the irrepressibly cheerful Karma Lama knocks on my door. The guesthouse we are staying in is attached to a Tibetan monastery in Boudha in the north-east quarter of Kathmandu. It’s cold, but with the morning sunlight intensifying I leave my room and sit with Jackie and Karma on the landing watching the steam rising from the hot water caddy. After a rather stunned conversation and tea we leave.

Malagiri is a three hour drive and at this early hour we make good progress through what will later be intense traffic. Streets are being swept, rubbish collected. As we journey out of the urban centre, I am struck by glimpses of the white mountain tops, brick kilns and brightly coloured suburban houses dotted between increasingly large patches of farmland. The conversation between Karma and the driver that I cannot follow is peppered with ever-increasing bouts of irresistible laughter. Jackie and I celebrate our driver’s skillful and, in terms of Nepali driving etiquette, unique caution at the wheel, particularly around the mountain bends which rather too often seem to involve very large lorries approaching at speed, squeezing us uncomfortably close to the 200-400 ft drops.

After a brief stop at a roadside café for tea, boiled eggs, incredibly sweet jalebi and the purchase of two bags of oranges we leave the Kathmandu-Pokara highway and branch off onto the quieter, winding climb towards Malagiri. The population of Nepal has doubled in the last 30 years and one of the consequences of this appears visible in the landscape with terraces cut into increasingly steep hillside for the cultivation of crops. Greater physical effort and lower crop yields provide some explanation for the striking economic contrast between the hillside communities and the more established and affluent valleys. I run my theory past Karma who validates this for me, perhaps out of courtesy, and we briefly discuss farming techniques and the impact of the agricultural calendar on school life. The conversation fades and for much of the journey I gaze out of the window at the landscape and the occasional reminder by white mountain peaks that the slopes we are climbing are classed here merely as hills. Then rather suddenly we round a corner and see the blue and striking orange of the school along with prayer flags fluttering from the flagpole in the playground.

Almost everything I know about Malagiri has come from my colleagues Kevin Fossey and Lorraine Harrison, Head of the School of Education, who together opened the Malagiri school in 2011. So, to finally be here is quite an experience. I notice things that have only existed in photographs and conversations: the plaque in memory of Janet Clemence, the blue perimeter fence, bright orange walls and surrounding pine trees. I pause for a few moments to take all of this in before the Head and Deputy, Anita and Pasang, approach with smiles, Khatas (traditional white silk scarf presented to guests) and heartfelt welcomes.

We are then introduced to the children. Two classes ranging from the youngest a 2 ½ year old girl in the arms of Rita, Anita’s sister, to 8 although it is difficult to tell as there is some uncertainty about ages and birthdays. After a few moments of looking at each other with mutual wonder the children are encouraged to welcome us with songs and we quickly join in. There are around 40 children at the school dressed in a school uniform consisting of a green shirt and grey trousers and as their initial caution subsides, they show a confidence and vibrancy that is infectious. We spend the remainder of the morning in the classrooms playing with the children and reading books, which as Jackie quickly experiences results in something akin to a rugby scrum fuelled by the children’s great enthusiasm and curiosity! It is an enlightening experience. Prior to the visit I had spend weeks wondering what we would teach here. A short time as a supply teacher in the 1990s had taught me a lot about how to cope with new situations with unknown classes, but I had been thrown by the added cultural dimension. However, once with the children and teachers it became very natural and we quickly began to build towers, and communicate through gesture, smiles as well as occasional translation from Anita and Pasang.

Over lunch Jackie and I share our mutual wonderment at the experience which develops into a conversation about role play that raises all sorts of questions: What does role-play mean in this culture? What are the adult and sibling roles children witness in their homes? Jackie relates an observation that provides some answers. She noticed a child who was playing with two wooden building blocks. One rectangular red block she placed on the floor and a smaller white one she gently tapped onto the rectangular one. The girl then took a small cloth and holding on end in her mouth proceeded to wrap this around the red block before cradling the bundle in her arms like a baby. It becomes evident that play is an international language all of its own.

In the afternoon we take the children to the top play space and give out the skipping ropes Jackie brought, providing a demonstration. Some of the children gaze at us with bemused looks; others take the ropes and begin to explore them. We encourage children to play with the ropes and as the afternoon develops are both struck by the children’s natural inventiveness. A vast array of games evolve from skipping to limbo to running and dragging the ropes behind them and what, through the filter of my cultural lens, appears to be a horse-like game with the ropes as bridals.

Home time approaches, I am feeling physically very tired, partly altitude and partly general unfitness. A group of parents arrive and wait at the school gate. I notice the ache in my cheeks from so much smiling as we wave the children off who take a myriad of routes home with some seemingly going straight down the mountainside.

The sun disappears at about 5:00pm and the temperature plummets. We gather again in the dining room for an evening meal of Dhal Bat and tea served by Anita and the staff who appear as energetic and cheerful as they when we arrived. We begin to talk about the government school that the children progress to and the favorable relationships with the community that has been forged. It is clear that this is something not only unique in terms of our University experience, but also seemingly unique in terms of Nepali schooling. Although this is at present a western funded project, the teachers and teaching philosophy has grown from the incredible energy, care and thoughtfulness of the staff here.
The temperature falls steadily to below -10. I put on all the clothing I have brought with me (including my hat), climb into my sleeping bag, pull a mass of blankets over me and wonder how some of the approaches developed here could be shared. The day has filled my mind with an array of thoughts, questions and puzzles and I am sure that these will accompany me not just on the journey back to Kathmandu tomorrow afternoon, but for a long time to come.

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