Safe, Well and Back in School

There’s no doubting it, 2020 has been a strange year for most! We have all had to find ways of adapting to the ‘new normal’. I don’t think that there has been any aspect of daily life that has gone untouched by the effects of covid-19. One of the great concerns in the UK has been the impact on schools and education. Our schools closed for months, they had to invest heavily in IT systems that would allow home teaching and provide for those not financially capable of accessing this online tuition. Teachers have had to quickly learn to cope with having part of their class with them whilst concurrently teaching those who were isolating at home and students have had to deal with constant disruption of not knowing whether they’d be in school from one day to the next. All of this whilst everyone does their best to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus. 

So, how has Shree Gyanjyoti School in a small village in Nepal coped with all this? 

The early part of 2020 continued as normal for the school but, in Nepal, the school year begins in mid-April.  By this time, the virus had got into Nepal and the schools had to close for several months. It is also around this time that the Head (Balkrishna Gaire) and his staff would normally be visiting the families in the village to recruit the students for the school. Nepal was put under a tight lockdown so these visits were impossible. However, the wonderful dedicated and committed staff at the school continued to deliver a fantastic education to the children. The internet and devices to connect to it are very limited in the village so teachers delivered lessons directly to students and taught some classes by socially distancing outside. 

In mid-November, the government allowed schools to re-open but only on the condition that all students had their temperature taken everyday before entering the school and that all students and staff maintained a distance of 2m at all times. So, our school bought a thermometer and some extra benches and desks in order to meet these regulations and were, therefore, able to re-open. 

Upon re-opening last month, there were 193 students of which 136 were from low caste families, most requiring full or partial scholarships. We are so very proud that no caste system operates in the school and that no child is turned away whatever their background. Some classes are still having to take place outside in order to maintain the 2m distance but all of the children are continuing to receive a top quality education evidenced by the fact that the school, once again, were the top school in their municipality in the Grade 8 examinations.

So far, the virus has still not reached the village but it has reached neighbouring towns and villages. We just pray that they continue to stay safe and well. Many families have lost their income as a result of lockdown so providing food for themselves has had to take priority over paying their school fees. Obviously, this is absolutely right but it has put a higher burden on LEARN as the students will not be turned away for not being able to pay. 

We take this opportunity to thank you and all of our supporters for everything that you do for LEARN and, therefore, the children at the school. As we often quote “education is a right, not a privilege” and, thanks to you, this is the case for a small village in a remote part of Nepal. On a global scale, this seems almost insignificant but the reality is lifechanging for nearly 200 children and their families – THANK YOU!

Whilst we (the trustees of LEARN), the staff, students and families of the school, continue to be hugely grateful for the financial support given, fundraising has (for obvious reasons) been very difficult this year. There are a number of ways that you could help if you feel that you are able:

  1. Set up a standing order to give a regular donation to LEARN (contact us at enquiries@learnnepal.org.uk
  2. Make a donation on our JustGiving page, by bank transfer Account name: LEARN; account number: 65854712; sort code: 08-92-99, or directly via one of the trustees
  3. Purchasing one of our ‘gifts for life’ or other items
  4. Using us as your nominated charity with Amazon Smile
  5. Tell others about LEARN – it is an inspirational story. 

The beauty of being such a small charity is that there are no costs. Every single penny donated goes directly to the charity.

Along with our thanks, we also take this opportunity to wish you all a blessed Christmas and hopes and prayers that 2021 will see the beginnings of a worldwide recovery from the pandemic. 

SO, WHAT NEXT?

Well, Covid-19 might be making a nuisance of itself but there have been some good things that have arisen as a result.  When we asked Devi Prasad if he could email us a ‘business report’ on the school ready for our LEARN Trustee meeting that we would be holding on Zoom, he suggested to us that he just meet with us on Zoom so that he could present it to us ‘live’!  This is not something we would have even begun to consider 12 months ago (in fact, back then, I don’t think many of us had even heard of Zoom!).  As it happened, the time difference between here and Nepal meant that it wasn’t really feasible on this occasion.  However, it did lead us to provisionally arrange a Zoom meeting with some of the school staff and students for later this year (subject to the students being allowed in school!) – something that we are very excited about!  Amazing how technology allows the world to ‘shrink’!

So, it was with great delight that we received the business report email from Devi Prasad, some of which I share with you in this blog.  He began his report with a brief history of the school, pointing out that although it is a registered (and, therefore, official school), the Nepalese government merely provided authority for its establishment but provide no financial or administrative support.  Consequently, the school is entirely dependent upon funding via LEARN and the help from the local community to be able to run.  The school has two buildings comprising 16 rooms including a computer lab, science lab and a library (amazing resources for a school of its type!) and they continue to be very grateful to those supporters who have provided these facilities.

This year, the school has 193 students, 14 teaching staff, 1 volunteer teacher and 1 non-teaching staff.  Tuition fees are paid according to the financial background of the families (with about 80 of the students receiving scholarships from LEARN).  All materials essential to learning, such as text books, exercise books, pencils, etc. are provided free of charge to the students so that they all have the same educational experience regardless of financial background/status.

For the last 5 years, Shree Gyanjyoti School has secured first position in the Grade 8 (their eldest students) examinations in their municipality – no mean feat and testament to the excellent teaching delivered and the commitment of staff, students and families.  They are rightfully very proud of this record – it is a massive achievement.

Beyond educating the children of the village, they are also committed to providing non-formal education for parents and non-parents.  Around 200 women have participated in this program and have become literate as a result.  They have been able to get goats, pigs, hens, etc. so that they can generate income and they have been able to provide disabled people with tools to aid them.  They also provide a sewing program (using the school sewing machines) for parents and non-parents.  Around 100 women have achieved basic level training and around 40 have got advanced level training.  The school and the community are very happy and grateful for these opportunities and have all expressed their thanks to the supporters of the school for making this possible.

His report then went on to tell us about the effects of Covid-19, stating that there are over 65000 infected people in Nepal and that there have been 450 deaths to date.  However, there are still no infected people in their community.  The schools are shut but all of the teachers have been happy to take work to each of the students’ homes and through this, they have managed to carry out the teaching and learning activities.  Some things in Nepal are beginning to be allowed out of lockdown and follow strict rules but an opening date for schools returning has not yet been given.  In the meantime, they will continue their door to door teaching. Staff, students and families are clearly very dedicated to ensuring the best possible education in spite of the difficulties that they face.

He mentioned many times throughout his report how grateful they are to the Almighty Father, Michael and Maureen, LEARN, churches, friends, social groups, supporters, St. Mary’s School, Bamford Chapel, the late Dorothy Drake and all involved in supporting them in any way so that they can continue to deliver this incredible education to all in their community without restriction, bias, prejudice, etc.

So, what next?

We are well aware that Covid-19 is having a major effect globally and we have all been impacted in some way.  We are massively grateful to all who have been able to support LEARN in any way but particularly financially through these times.  For obvious reasons, fundraising has been very difficult this year.  The school has continued to do remarkable work in very difficult circumstances and has also been impacted by the fact that Covid-19 has made a number of their families out of work meaning that even those who were paying their own school fees have been unable to do so.  One way that you may be able to help without it costing you anything is to support us whilst doing your Amazon shopping.  When you make a purchase via Amazon, please consider logging into your account via smile.amazon.co.uk and choose the charity Learn (Lifechanging Education for All in Rural Nepal) before placing your order.  Amazon then donate a small amount of your purchase total to LEARN – ‘money for nothing’ as they say!  It’s only a small amount but every little helps and it makes no difference to your finances.  The beauty of being a small charity is that we have no overheads so every single penny donated goes directly to our wonderful school and the community that it is so wonderfully educating.  THANK YOU FOR YOUR CONTINUED SUPPORT!

The Work Continues!

We received an update from Devi Prasad last week.  He informed us that the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 is starting to rise relatively quickly now across Nepal with over 20 deaths being reported.  It has now reached their district but there are still no cases in their village, which is great news and we pray that it continues that way.

Access to technology is clearly not very easy in the village so there is no chance of internet/zoom lessons.  However, lockdown there has eased and so the teachers are very busy teaching the children in safe groups.  The juniors are not attending, they are staying at home with their parents  but there are 100 boys and 82 girls participating in the learning activities.  All of the staff are involved in the teaching and the children are being taught in 10 groups.  

It’s fantastic to see that even in these difficult circumstances our staff are determined to do their best for the students and the students are still so keen on learning.  Even more important than making sure that quality education is given, they are still giving priority to the safety of the students and all staff, students and parents are happy with the arrangements.  Well done and thank you to the staff and students for their efforts and commitment!

Thank you all for your continued support and please continue to hold our school and the village in your thoughts and prayers.

School Exams and Covid-19 Update

Last week, we received an email update from Devi Prasad.  Our last blog mentions that the students were just completing their end of year exams.  The news is that the results are now through for the exams and once again, they are outstanding!  All of the students in all years passed the exams with good marks – one student in nursery even achieving a fantastic 99.3%

If I understand the Nepali education system correctly, they have taken ‘external exams’ and the eighth grade students (those in the final year at Shree Gyanjyoti before they move on to the next stage of education) have done really well.

3 of the 16 students scored 4.0 (the maximum achievable!) and they have achieved the first position in their rural municipality.  So, as LEARN Trustees, we send big congratulations to all of our students and their outstanding teachers and a massive thank you to you – all of our supporters, without whom this would not be possible!  The staff really are committed and constantly do a wonderful job of educating the children – offering them a future that many could only have dreamt of.

In terms of other news, there isn’t much to report as they are all in strict lock down as we are here.  Devi Prasad reports that the number of Covid-19 cases are increasing but as yet, Nepal has no deaths to report.  They have not had any confirmed cases in their village and, hopefully with continued lock down, it will remain that way!  Some of them in the village are struggling financially and for food, etc. but some aid is getting through to them.

The new academic year should now have started but they obviously cannot open the school until it is safe to do so.  However, the Head – Balkrishna, Devi Prasad and the staff are all working hard to ensure that they will be ready to start as soon as it becomes possible and are making whatever attempts are possible to ensure that all students are able to return along with other new starters.

So, thank you all for your efforts and support and please remember our students, their families and the staff in your thoughts and prayers.  THANK YOU

A blog during these strange times!

I thought this would be a good opportunity to update everyone on our school and also how Coronavirus is affecting Nepal.

We last received an update email from Devi Prasad on 16th March.  He told us that the students were in the midst of their annual examinations and that they were doing well.  Once the exams were complete, the end of year school holidays would begin and they would all be off until the start of the new academic year.  During the school holidays, the teachers would be doing preparation and a door to door visiting programme to admit children to the school.  He said that he was hoping and praying that God would aid the parents to make the decision to admit their children to the school. 

He went on to say that they had all seen the photos from the 150th Anniversary at St. Mary’s School, Hawkshaw and they made them very happy.  He said he thanks God for the relationship between the two schools and hopes it will continue forever. 

On that note, I had the privilege of seeing some of the letters from the Nepal students to the Hawkshaw students this week.  I was stunned at the quality of the handwriting and content of these letters.  Most were written by 9 and 10 year olds and were often accompanied by colour and pictures.  It appears that they mostly come from farming or carpentry families and many of them have pets.  One delightful letter said “I have a pet dog, cat, many hens and a buffalo” – anybody else fancy having a pet buffalo? 

Unfortunately, Devi Prasad had just spent a few days in hospital due to a problem with his left amputated leg.  He had been unable to walk but he had just been discharged and the pain was becoming more tolerable.  We pray for him and his continued recovery.  He asked that we pass on their thoughts and Namaste to all family, friends, trustees and supporters. 

We haven’t had any direct update from the school itself about the effect that Coronavirus is having but today we received an update from UMN (United Mission to Nepal).  Their update said that Nepal had just had it’s second confirmed COVID case (whether that is due to actual low numbers or lack of opportunity to test, we do not know) and that the whole of Nepal was beginning a week of total home quarantine and lockdown from 6am today.  The hospitals were staying open and trying to prepare as best as possible for an outbreak – converting TB wards into isolation wards, etc. 

So, we ask that you remember in your thoughts and prayers all associated with our school and the wider community in Nepal as they also face the horrors of this awful pandemic.  What we are witnessing here is not something that any of us would ever want to have to face but Nepal simply does not have the infrastructure/social care system to cope with a largescale outbreak. 

Thank you for your continued support. 

Take care and stay safe! 

LEARN

Quick Blog!

We recently received a brief email with a school update from Devi Prasad. He informed us that the weather in the village is good and the children are happy in school. They have just posted some letters to the children at St Mary’s School and are enjoying their communications. 

The school have just announced the results of the third terminal examinations and they have all done well. The parents are happy with their children and the school.

He was also excited to share the news that the primary level children have just competed in the Rural Municipality Level Dance Competition and secured 1st place.

Great to hear that they are having all these other opportunities alongside their high standard academic education.

Thank you all for your continued support! 

Merry Christmas 2019 and Blessings for the New Year Ahead

It is with great delight that we, the trustees, receive regular updates from Devi Prasad about how things are going at the school and what they have been up to. 

This year, there are 198 students at the school and 103 of these are on full or partial scholarships.  We received news earlier this year that 52 of these students are from particularly poor families and as such, they were unable to afford the uniform needed for school.  We, therefore, decided this year that we would concentrate some effort on fundraising for uniforms and it is with great delight that we have been able to send money to the school to buy uniforms for these children.

I love this photo of them in their new uniforms – so proud! (and plenty of growth room – look at those trousers and shirt sleeves!!)
How adorable do the nursery class look in their PE kit?

Earlier this year, a relationship was forged between pupils at St Mary’s School in Hawkshaw and pupils at Shree Gyanjyoti.  They have written letters to each other and Devi Prasad wrote that he prays to God that this relationship can continue forever.

St Mary’s, Hawkshaw
Shree Gyanjyoti, Nepal

The weather is now turning cold in Nepal and they have just had their harvest so it has been a busy time for the families of the school children.  Devi Prasad also wrote about how the ladies in the village are continuing to benefit from the school with lessons in literacy, sewing and goat farming (remember last year – our appeal provided goats for the poorer families so that they could create an income from the milk, etc.).  He wrote that the ladies are very appreciative of all that is provided at the school.

LEARN really does try to provide lifechanging education for all and if we can help the ladies of the village, not only do they benefit themselves but they realise and appreciate the importance of educating the young girls in the village.

In the regional examinations, the year 8 students once again came out top of 38 schools in their rural municipality.  This is a fantastic achievement and shows the dedication of both the staff and students.  However, they also continue to strive for all round education for the pupils, not just academic achievement.  They recently took 67 pupils and staff on a day trip to Banbatika Park where they shared a picnic and the students sang and danced and they organised an interclass cricket tournament.

On 20th December, Devi Prasad wrote “I want to express Greeting and best wishes on the occasion of Christmas and New Year.  The staffs and students also pass greeting and best wishes on the occasion of Christmas and New Year – 2020.  May the God fulfill all of our wishes and desires on this great occasion of Christmas.  May the God give bless and power for the sustainable progress in further days.” And he included the following photo:

So, all that remains is for us to say a massive thank you to all who have supported and continue to support LEARN.  The school continues to do amazing things and with your help, we look forward to another year of supporting top quality education at Shree Gyanjyoti School in Nepal.

We hope that you were able to enjoy a good Christmas and that you will have a blessed New Year (and start to the new decade!)

THANK YOU ALL SO VERY MUCH!

A Blog Of Hope – what an extraordinary man!

I was recently sent the following document to read.  It was written some time ago by Devi Prasad Neupane (Shree Gyanjyoti’s founder).  I was really touched by what I read.  Not only does it emphasise the importance of enabling children to go to school who wouldn’t otherwise get that opportunity, but it is also so filled with hope.

To suffer such a life changing accident, to then be ostracised and rejected – so many people could just have given up their dreams.  Devi Prasad didn’t and as a result of his hope and determination, so many children are now being given an amazing opportunity.

When Dr Pam Dodson provided the funding for Devi Prasad to attend school, she would never have dreamed of the impact that his education would end up having on so many other lives in the future. It is so easy to feel overwhelmed by the size of a task ahead and end up doing nothing but every little thing counts!  Thank you for your support of LEARN.

Let Us Gather Up Courage

In 1970 our village acquired a grain mill. The mill was such a novelty that as soon as it started its daily grinding work, the children would rush to watch it operate. I was one of these children. My name is Devi Prasad Neupane, and I was born into a family that could not afford to send me to school. One day, as I stood watching the mill at work, my scarf got caught in the machinery and instantly I was pulled in.  

When I woke up I was lying in Tansen Mission Hospital. To my horror, I saw that my left arm and right leg had been amputated, and my left leg was in plaster. Fifteen days later, my left leg developed gangrene and had to be amputated below the knee. I was devastated. My wounds took a long time to heal, but the hospital staff comforted and encouraged me. They cared for me as a mother nursing her infant. Furthermore, they arranged for me to attend a nearby primary school—my first experience in a classroom! I was carried to and from the school every day.

Six months later I was taken to Vellore, India, and fitted with artificial limbs. I could hardly believe it—I had new legs! Slowly and painfully I learned to walk again. When I finally returned home, two years after my accident, I desperately wanted to attend school.  Dr. Pam Dodson at Tansen Hospital provided funds for me to enrol in class four, and continue up to class ten.

I decided I wanted to be a teacher, and applied for various teaching positions. But I received rejection after rejection. Schools did not want to hire a handicapped person. I nearly gave up hope, but then a friend’s brother, a local official, recommended me for an appointment at the school in my own village. This time, I was given a chance. Not only did I become a teacher, but I have also received appreciation and awards.

Today I am a happy man with a wife and two daughters. My wife, lamed by polio, shares my experience of the hardship and ostracism suffered by so many disabled people in Nepal. The compassionate help I received from UMN enabled me to ‘gather up courage and move ahead’, a message I share with others with physical disabilities. Compassion and courage have given me a new life.

Good Times!

We recently received an update on the facts and figures for the school and it was fantastic to see that numbers of pupils are continuing to rise and that the school continues to deliver a recognised excellent education to its pupils.

However, with this wonderful news, there is inevitably a generation of some problems – problems that are wonderful because they demonstrate that the school is doing above and beyond what it sets out to do but problems nonetheless.

The school now has more pupils than ever who come from a very impoverished background.  This is fantastic as it exactly this type of child that the school was set up for – children that would have no access to formal education in any other way.  This means that there are more children requiring scholarships to be able to attend but it also means that these pupils are coming from backgrounds that mean that they cannot afford the school uniform.  The school uniform is so important – it gives them a sense of identity and belonging but also reinforces the equality of all who attend.

We now know that we have 50 children who cannot afford the uniform – the total cost of which is £22 per child.  The school’s staff were going to give up part of their salary in order to purchase these uniforms.  We, the trustees, don’t feel that this is a fair solution to the problem.  We have, therefore, set up a ‘special fundraiser’ for the purpose of buying these uniforms.

We thoroughly appreciate everything that LEARN’s supporters already do and we certainly do not want to put anyone under pressure to feel that they should be doing more.  We are just providing our supporters with the information and inviting you – if you can, and if you want to, to make a special donation to our uniform fund.  You can do this by donating on our JustGiving page (putting in the message section that it is towards the purchase of uniforms) or by contacting us through our enquiries link.


As always, thank you for your interest and support from all involved with LEARN and Shree Gyanjyoti School.

News from our latest visit

On Saturday 2ndMarch 2019, Michael, Maureen and two others – Rosemary and Cath, flew out to Nepal to visit the school.  Whilst in Nepal, they thoroughly enjoyed doing LOTS of shopping for Nepali goods to sell at their LEARN talks and sales back in Britain. (Please do contact us to book a sale – there are lots of lovely items!)

They spent a full day at the school, accompanied by Devi Prasad Neupane and the Headmaster – Balkrishna Gaire.  Upon arrival at the school, our visitors were greeted by a small number of pupils – they gave a warm welcome and a small posy of marigolds.

Michael officially opened the new science room (really grateful thanks to Bamford Chapel in Rochdale for raising the funds for this valuable extension to the school) – a fantastic resource, staffed by an incredibly enthusiastic science teacher.

Our visitors were given a tour of the school during which they were taken round the classrooms, giving them the opportunity to see the children and the teachers at work.  They were really impressed by the quality of the education that the children were receiving and also by the atmosphere of learning, support and love that was clearly evident to all.  In fact, whilst reflecting on the visit upon her return home, Rosemary wrote “The children were given firm instructions, not barked orders. They seemed happy children.  What a constructive environment for young minds to learn to think for themselves!  What role models they have in their teachers, leaders and community elders.”

Following the tour, they met with Devi Prasad, Balkrishna and the school committee to discuss how things were going and the vision for the future.  Again, everyone was delighted at the progress being made and the commitment from all present towards a really successful future for the school and pupils.  Michael and Maureen were also handed a shopping list of items for the school for funding approval by LEARN trustees.  This was useful but also humbling at the same time.  It listed items that are common place in British schools but considered almost luxury items in Nepal.  We were amazed to see that they had a computer suite with 10 very old computers and six of them no longer worked.  They wanted to know if they could replace the six that no longer worked.  When asked if they wanted to replace the whole suite with updated technology, they said that they didn’t– as long as they had enough working computers to use, that would suffice.  It wasn’t a decision based on lack of ambition or lack of desire for better, more of a ‘needs must’ decision – there were other more important uses for the money.

The LEARN trustees also felt that it was important to negotiate pay and working conditions with the staff.  The staff are so talented and committed to the school but so far, had been underpaid compared to those in some government schools.  We wanted to be both fair to the staff but also realistic in what we could offer.  Negotiations went well and all involved were happy with the outcome.

Devi Prasad then provided our visitors with lunch outside his old house which was lovely and a chance to just take a break, relax and chat about his family and his new house which is well underway and looking good – it will be lovely for his whole family to finally be able to live in a home instead of the ‘shack’ that they’ve lived in since the earthquake.

Post lunch, back at the school, our visitors were treated to an afternoon of entertainment provided by the pupils of the school.  There was singing, dancing and taekwondo performed by children of all ages.  They were very proud to be able to perform for our visitors and some members of their families.  What an absolute treat it was to be able to share this with them.

Michael, Maureen, Rosemary and Cath had a fabulous visit to the school, enjoying the opportunity to meet with children, parents, grandparents and staff and to see for themselves just what a fantastic job Shree Gyanjyoti School is doing.  The staff and school committee were keen for all of LEARN’s supporters to know just how much they value the work of the charity in supporting the school – a sentiment which LEARN’s trustees would like to echo – without your support, the charity could not help the school like it does and the children and families in this village in Nepal would not be receiving this education that should be a right, not a privilege.

To sum up, during Cath’s reflections of the visit upon her return home, she wrote “All in all, a lovely school, with a strong ethos of personal development and of caring for each other, which will help the children to grow into confident, responsible adults. I repeat, I was very, very impressed by this amazing school.”