“…and we thank you for the food that you provide us! We love you, Mama, Papa and Laxman.”
This was the last line of a prayer screamed out loud by about 100 children seven years ago. Laxman is the nick name they gave me in Nepal because they had problems pronouncing Lukas.
I found it bewildering to hear a group of kids praying for me even though it was only part of their daily routine. This time, they did it again. I tried to keep a straight face and to hide my embarrassment.
Some things, such as this routine, did not change in the last seven years, that is obvious. But some others did. That day I had the chance to visit the school (the one I had supported and helped to improve in 2011 and has this awfully long name: Shree Buddha Shanti Samudayik Vidhya Mandir) and speak with the teachers as well as the village council which is now organized according to the CCODER concept.
Looking at the outside of the school I was immediately filled with joy since they actually have finished the gardening project I had initiated back then. Not only did it transform the brown environment of the school building into a more likeable place but it also serves as a learning ground for the students. Every year one class is responsible for the garden and has to look after it as well as extend it. The flowers that grow there are a symbol for the pupils growing and blooming in this safe environment.
Other things visible from the outside are the new sanitation blocks with safe running water. This is part of a strategy to educate the pupils on hygiene. It is an easy task to wash your hands with soap after completing your business but washing hands is not widely spread in Nepal. Since people also eat with their hands this leads to a lot of unnecessary distribution of germs and infections. The common wisdom is that this is OK if you use the left hand for cleaning and the right one for eating. As you might imagine this is a flawed concept since there will always be cross contamination.
Also the buildings got a new layer of paint, classrooms now all have a black or white board and the infrastructure looks overall better. But all these indicators are not sufficient to assess the progress of a school, so I had to turn to the teachers to find out how things have improved. I was glad to see that of the original team back then two teachers are still with the school. This is actually amazing since the school has a real problem.
It wants to be the school for the people, the school that everybody can afford and offer better education than the state schools do. Since the institution is not backed by the government there is a tuition fee of about then dollars a month. This is not a lot to run a school. The ones that feel that the most are the teachers. They get a salary of about 50 dollars a month which is a third of the salary offered by other schools. No wonder a lot of the teachers change the working place as soon as they get an opportunity.
It is a difficult problem to solve. CCODER just has not the resources to pay the teachers directly nor do they want to. It is not a sustainable way. They already have to provide a scholarship to about 30% of the students. The idea is that everybody is allowed to come to the school if they live in the area. If the families cannot afford the tuition fee they can apply for a scholarship. To get a scholarship the families have to prove that they are in need. This is normally easy since the community knows the families that struggle.
The two teachers that stayed with the school told me a story that surprised me and gives me hope, that this school works well. After the pupils finished the grades that are offered currently at the school the higher privat schools come to get them. They found that the pupils from this school have such a good knowledge that the higher schools do not have to put “too much effort” into the students. As any privat school in the area they are competing with each other based on the final exam that is organized across all schools.
So the private schools recognized that the education delivered by this school is way above average. The downside was that the public schools got under pressure and tried to stop the CCODER school. This went so far as the former local government trying to close the school. Luckily the current leadership in the region sees things slightly different. They are impressed by the model and that is what CCODER has always tried to achieve: State an example of affordable but good education.
This is also the next step of this NGO. It does not want to build new schools but integrate them into the existing school system. These pilot schools are a proof of concept. Combine the ideas behind the school with the funding of the state and it would be a winning concept.
Until this is achieved, CCODER works hard to still increase the quality of the education. One aspect is to further educate the teachers and another one is to extend the grads that they can offer. Next year there is a plan to extend the building and make space for new grades. The school may not have changed much in size since I visited seven years ago but they make step-by-step progress despite the many problems the faced.
Now is also a turning point in the region. The newly implemented federal system with a working political system offers a better possibility to cooperate with the government. The 15-year period of struggle following the civil war seems to come to an end.
CCODER has many other projects in the area. It, for example, provides micro finance opportunities, build cooperatives and do community development. The school in Palpa is just the project I know best and this is why I wrote about it here.
In a next blog I want to give you an insight into the efforts CCODER has invested in Gorkha since the disastrous scale 6 earthquake in April 2015.