Promise on New School Delivered
And there it was, the Q. Learning School in Hangdewa, NE Nepal, resplendent in all its yellowness and nestled in its own playground. 10 rooms, 150 children (4-14), 10 teachers, and lessons in English equivalent to the Oxford and Cambridge syllabus. Q. Learning had delivered on a promise made 7 years before to build a school in one of the remotest and poorest places on earth……and there it was in front of me
Progress in 7 Year Plan
Q. Learning is no stranger to requests to help with projects that others have struggled with but when we took on working in Nepal as our social responsibility programme, we faced so many more problems than usual! When we started, there was no publicly available electricity, no clean water, no satellite and so no internet connection, no quicker way to communicate than via several third parties (one of whom robbed us blind), no easy way to reach the village (even this year I flew to Kathmandu, then to Bodrapur, then a two day jeep ride to Taplejung, and then a 90 minute walk to the village: 4 days from London), no road within 100 kilometres, no collective experience of managing projects and no bank account….let alone the more difficult issues: no common language, no understanding of Nepali law, cultures that exquisitely pick up on East/West differences, and the UK majoring on women whom the Nepali do not normally expect to speak in public! Actually, even speaking of ‘Nepali’ oversimplifies life as it is: as this is a tribal area of different languages and religions especially Limbu, Hindu, Buddhist and Gurung… and the caste system and nepotism rules everything.
But this is also a real community who live together in friendship and harmony. People smile and care that you have eaten and want the best for their children. They know that they need help (inward investment) to create jobs and they suffer greatly with the ups and downs of subsistence farming versus signing up for long stretches in terrible conditions in Qatar or Dubai. They know that their children need the best possible education to survive in 21st century and they are thrilled that they have the opportunity to use computers, to read books in English and to discover what goes on in the world beyond the regional town. In the discussions about school uniforms, of course practicality came into it but only I suggested traditional Nepali colours and styles, the community were quite clear that they wanted ‘British uniforms’.
And so we have a very British education going on on the foothills of Kanchenjunga (at 8586 metres it is the World’s third highest mountain just 262 metres lower than Everest). Nothing prepares the visitor for the huge vistas of green mountains, endless tiers of rice paddies, white topped mountains competing with puffy clouds, or the colour of costumes and jewellery worn daily, the curiosity of the locals or the level of physical exertion needed to walk between houses swathed in flags or painted in blues and golds etc.
As soon as I appeared on the pathway down to the school, 150 faces peered over railings and hands waved or came together in blessings to me, ‘Namaste!’ This was to be a couple of days of celebration, and rehearsals had been going on for some time: songs written to welcome me, costumes in traditional Limbu reds and golds made, dances rehearsed, soloists chosen. By the second day, there were hundreds of parents, community leaders and teachers gathered for a huge party…but first the garlands and speeches. Rhododendrons and marigolds, silk scarves and blessings. Children of all ages singing and talking in English. And another occasion for me to tell a story with appeal to all ages, all cultures, all special interests and be worthy of so much attention! Whether or not I achieved any of that, I was always going to be a success. Like Father Christmas, I arrive once a year, bringing exotic gifts from around the world: books with full colour pictures, construction games for budding engineers, marsupial puppets from Australia. I teach recorders and mathematical games, and have children spellbound by what will come out of the sack next!
And I accompany promises made with promises delivered in a rare way that the village loves. In the past year, Q. Learning agreed to and has delivered: 5 classrooms above the original 5; a playground dug out of the mountainside and properly supported with walls of rocks; bonuses for good teachers; clean water from high up in the mountains; a better satellite for wifi connection; many new books to support the syllabuses; and school uniforms for all. Much was helped by donations from our wonderful clients. Next year we have promised: some volunteer teachers from Europe; bonuses for good teachers; a fence around the school; a contribution towards every child’s basic books; raising the level of the toilets (which have started flooding in the rainy season), 5 new computers … as well as the day to day running costs. It is hard to say this is a model school but if I had children of this age group, I would be delighted for them to go to the Q. Learning school in Hangdewa. Not only would they have really good buildings and facilities, but they would be a part of a true learning community where parents, teachers and children come together to achieve a great start for the children’s future.
Looking to the Future…
Eco Tourism: unique opportunity to visit – and support – the school
And looking to that future, I have started discussions on how to bring Eco tourism to this remotest of Nepal’s Himalayan areas. We hope to have the first ‘cottage’ up and running in about a year, with potentially more later. Our greatest challenge will be to transport a luxury mattress there. I am planning a whole-scale buying expedition to John Lewis! The chosen site has amazing views across the hills to Kanchenjunga and I have been promised a picture window! All profits will go to supporting the school and employment will be of school graduates. Do let me know if you think you might be interested in visiting….every stay will come complete with hand-holding transport to destination, a local guide to treks of all standards – even to base camp – and a cook for all your meals. You will be guaranteed to be the only tourist in the area. Ever wanted to get away from it all, to write that book, or perhaps safely go where none of your friends have ever been? If so, look no further!
Written by Lesley Gosling, Chair Q. Learning March 2016