Prayer Flags and Big Smiles: A Nepalese Adventure to witness Classrooms in the Clouds
The Easter holidays were a little different for me this year. I was very lucky to enjoy an adventure in Nepal, involving 6 planes, 2 helicopter rides, a very bumpy journey in a jeep and miles of beautiful trekking. With a small group of local teachers and school governors, our aim was to see the good work of the charity, Classrooms in the Clouds.
We followed in the footsteps of Dawa Geljen Sherpa- a most inspiring man. At the age of 10 he ran away TO school (not from it). At an early age he realised that an education would give him opportunities. As a porter he has since travelled the world, but still chooses to remain in the country he loves. The charity Classrooms in the Clouds is Dawa's vision to create opportunities for other Nepalese children by building schools in remote villages and sponsoring teachers - so children don't need to leave home for an education, as he did, and families can stay together. His charity is one born out of compassion; there are no fat salaries, no layers of bureaucracy and no government support. We witnessed the fantastic work of the charity every step of the way.
Those of you with children at a Dudley school may have heard of the charity, or, most likely, have heard of Dawa’s stories from his trips to the UK (he really is captivating to listen to!) Since 2016, around 20 Dudley schools have been fundraising to build a new Early Years classroom at Shree Sagarmartha Secondary School in the village of Bung. The Dudley project was pioneered by Sally Sixmith, Head of St James’s Primary School in Wollaston, after an earlier visit to Nepal. Since then, hundreds of primary school children have been supporting their peers in Nepal through some amazing fundraising events.
The new classrooms are now complete and Dawa was keen to show them off to us. From Kathmandu we began our journey to Bung. Along the way, we walked down steep rocky valleys and along dusty dirt tracks, with the beautiful green terraces below us and the snow-capped mountains over shadowing us. We faced our fears, crossing wobbly bridges spanning fast flowing rivers. We clung to each other in the back of a helicopter as we peered at the blue corrugated roofs below us. We slept overnight in the grounds of a local school where the village children came out to play, and even camped at an elderly care home, watching on as the residents weaved wicker baskets in the sunshine.
With a backdrop of prayer flags, we got used to the ‘holes in the ground’ for toilets; endured days without a shower and enjoyed a peace that only an absence of Wi-Fi can bring. Each evening we 'carb-loaded' under canvas; vegetables and omelettes have never tasted so good, thanks to Dawa’s wonderful support team.
As our group teetered down uneven paths with caution, walking poles in hand, we were often greeted by elderly villagers sauntering effortlessly uphill wearing nothing but rags, flip flops and a huge smile.
Along the way we were moved by the abject poverty that remains in Nepal. On one occasion we were invited into a villager's home. The owner apologised profusely for not being ‘ready for visitors’, yet welcomed us all the same. She continued with her morning chores (cleaning the bare floor with a mixture of mud and dung to keep the termites away) as her young child entertained the baby outdoors. Her husband was away - taking the oldest child to hospital in Kathmandu (days away) because she had broken her arm. Despite the uncertainty of the cost, the length of time they would be away or the extent of the injury itself, this mother seemed to take it all in her stride.
We witnessed stark reminders of the cultural differences and were at times incredulous at the social injustices that still remain. Samden explained to us how menstruating females are still often treated as pariahs by some in Nepal. In certain communities, women are even confined to sleep in the cowshed for those days of the month. Young girls miss school because there are no proper facilities or privacy for them. CITC are trying to address this taboo subject with the provision of period packs for each school girl and are building separate toilets where they can.
At Bung, it was so lovely to finally see the brand new classroom in all its glory. Local children flocked as we handed out resources and scurried off proudly with new hand puppets to play with. The opening ceremony at Shree Sagarmartha Secondary School was such a truly humbling experience - the villagers were so grateful for their new classrooms and came out in full force to thank us, even though it was the children’s Easter break. We were treated to a display of traditional dancing by pupils and teachers – and were invited to dance ourselves (an impromptu round of ‘If You’re Happy and You Know it’ seemed to go down well despite the language barrier!)
It is easy to take our own education for granted, and all 12 of us have had a stark reminder of just how privileged we are in the UK.
We can learn so much from the Nepalese people. The children have so little and yet smile so much. Ironically it seems - they are happy - and they know it (something us Westerners often struggle with) We were greeted with such warmth wherever we went. Our abiding memories from our trip are of the many characters we met along the way and I'm sure we will all continue to follow in Dawa's footsteps, supporting his work wherever we can.
Can you help?
If your local school is looking for an overseas project to support, Classrooms in the Clouds could be the one. There is still so much work to be done and Dawa is always thinking of new ways to help the country that he loves. Your child’s school could make a HUGE difference to the lives of children in Nepal, who are just keen to learn. In addition, the project offers so many learning opportunities for our children; about global issues, about other cultures and most importantly, the need to help those less fortunate.
To discuss the Dudley Schools fundraising project, contact St James's School in Wollaston, on 01384 88810.
Editor of Raring2go! Kidderminster & Stourbridge since 2008. Local font of knowledge. Mother of two and wife of one.