My name is Chloe Hearn, I am a third year Bachelor of Primary Education student at the University of Wollongong and this is my second time back to Batase Village through Friends of Himalayan Children and Take on Nepal.
Today I left Chisapani to trek into Batase Village with excitement and fire in my belly to get back to the place I loved so much! I have spent nearly a year trying to find a way to come back to Nepal and Batase so I was very ready to arrive. As I walked down the road into the village, I felt a wave of emotion come straight over me with tears in my eyes. I was greeted by Som’s mother Ama and got my first glimpse of the new volunteer house, which was once the hostel as well. The village is still as beautiful as ever, I felt at home in the mountains straight away, it’s definitely hard not to. On a clear morning, waking up for sunrise takes your breath away, while in the afternoons as the sunsets it disappears behind the mountains leaving behind a purple hazed sky. It’s indescribable and something you have to see for yourself! After seeing only photos and videos of the aftermath of the earthquake, it was still a shock to see with my own eyes the shelters and temporary classrooms as well as Som’s parents home destroyed. The homes now are made from corrugated iron and wood, which would be very cold at night but hopefully much more safe and stable if something were to happen again.
The volunteer home is up and running – but now all the students and volunteers, are living separate so I am missing waking up early in the morning to the sounds of the kids chatter, giggles and busy feet hustling about upstairs getting ready for school! I feel so lucky to have met such beautiful people last year who welcomed me in as part of the FHC family and made my experience unforgettable. It was those connections and friendships formed that also brought me back to Nepal – so to see Phulmaya, Dinesh, Mane, Sun Bahadur, Jitay, Sujan and Anil again was very special. We have all been sharing stories from our own lives in the time we haven’t seen eachother and talking about how things have changed for them in that time as well. I am so proud of everyone working together to help their community in the aftermath of the earthquake and also how much everybody has stepped up and had to mature in that time to deal with tough situations. I have especially noticed this with Dinesh and Sujan currently working so hard for the betterment of Batase and have matured beyond their years in such a short time. They are not the boys I remember them to be but now men, supporting their families and community. All of the staff are so kind and genuine people, with big hearts and big minds! The connections and relationships that are built between volunteers and the Nepali people make the program so much more personal and leave you feeling very involved in the community and treated like a family member.
The children were so happy that I had come back to Nepal and to Batase! They came running up the hill with their beautiful smiles across their faces and arms outstretched ready for a big welcome back group cuddle yelling “Namaste Chloe didi!” which meant ‘big sister.’ Followed up shortly by the teachers, I had a long talk with Mr. Ranjan about the students and school’s progress, catching up on everything that has changed. It was lovely to meet new teachers such as Laxmi and Nirmala and hear their experiences from life before they moved to Batase. I spent the afternoon sitting with Tokmaya and Phulmaya around the fire as Tokmaya prepared the students dinner, we were laughing and talking about old memories and happy times! Later in the evening, we all sat around my laptop watching videos and looking at photos from last year, which was so nice for everyone. We enjoyed looking at how much they had changed and also seeing the children who have since left the hostel. We had our group discussion, which is a great way to end the day by debriefing and hearing about each others days – the students were included. We spent the rest of the night singing together, around the fire just as I remember which was very comforting and the perfect way to end my first day back in Batase Village. We sat around the fire inside and sang one of my favourite songs while Mr. Ranjan played the guitar; the children also sang some of their old favourites. I read some of my favourite books like ‘Magic Beach’ by Alison Lester and also ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ to the children.
I spent my first morning at the new temporary school, which is very different from the school that I knew before the earthquake. There are many different changes that I think are all for the better of both the students and teachers. The classrooms are now much bigger, made from corrugated iron – the tables are lined in rows to help the children to focus their attention to the teacher. The classrooms are brighter with colourful posters talking about the alphabet, sounds, numbers and animals. I also love how students work is now hanging around the room, which I hope helps them take pride in their schoolwork having it on display. The uniforms are so good, keeping the students warm and all in the same uniform creates an equality amongst everybody – as well as so colourful! One of the best changes, is a very simple one but has a huge impact on teaching and learning – a whiteboard in every classroom! We came home for a beautiful cooked lunch from our cook dai Nobul – he makes the most delicious Nepali and Western food! If dhal baht becomes too much in the village, he is able to whip up some spaghetti pasta or even some hot potato chips!
Thursday was jumping straight into teaching – I had class 3, 4, 7, 8 and 9 throughout the day, which was exciting to experience the different levels and see their English skills. The children have excelled so much in the time I’ve been gone in their academic skills as well as their focus and behaviour. In Nepal, learning and school is treated like a privilege and not as a right or something that will just happen. Everybody is very grateful to be at school and learning from volunteers, it is an experience for everyone to be thankful for – the students, teachers and volunteers. Each person takes their own learning from the experience and you get out of it what you put in, the children love when you come in the classroom with a big smile, full of energy and a bit crazy to make them laugh. We had 4 other volunteers arrived today which was great, a busy time for Batase! Later in the evening, I sat in the hostel shelter around the fire with Tokmaya, Phulmaya and some of the children talking about our days, swapping some Nepali and English words for eachother. After dinner, I shared a cup of the local brew Raksee with Ama (Som’s mother) and we talked about the earthquake, life after the earthquake and her beloved son Amber who I’ve missed very much this time in the village. She expressed how happy she was that Phulmaya and myself were such close friends, and I said how happy it made me as well. Before we went to bed, she called me daughter. Ama is a beautiful, kind-hearted lady taking in many people in the village as her own, always looking out for everybody and very hard-working. I love in the village how much genuine time is spent with the Nepali people and the children it makes you feel so much more at home and part of a family. Friday was wiped out for me – like most travellers, picked up a 24-hour spout of gastro! I am so thankful to be in the village with Phulmaya and other friends looking after me all day and getting up with me in the night. This made sure that home didn’t feel all that far away in a time that can make you pretty homesick and your body weak. Thankfully was over in a day! Friday night, we had a little aftershock/mini earthquake whatever you want to call it! Everything and everyone was ok, but it woke us all up! It was interesting to experience a small shake and see the effects it has on buildings as well as the noise it makes – something that makes you wonder how big the one was in April and how something like that can have so much power and force behind it. Definitely an experience you cannot get in Australia! Saturday is a rest day in Nepal, with no schooling and or formal work. We spent the day walking through the village, up into a small beautiful corn mill in the jungle with little waterfalls and high hills. Walking together is always the perfect way to get to know other volunteers and the Nepali people, always talking and laughing while we walk.
Most afternoons are spent washing clothes the Nepali way, long games of cricket as the sunsets (so fun and hard to play when the ball is always being lost over hills and mountains!) starting fires, cups of tea, preparing for the next school day with discussions with teachers and a long walk to help finish the day. My favourite walk is through the village, meeting lots of different people and seeing exactly what life is about in Batase – it gives you a chance to spend more time with the locals as well. Over two nights, we had a movie night in the common room with a projector that was a very special moment! Even though I had seen the movies before, it was like watching it through fresh eyes with the children so engaged with every moment.
Every moment is special and reminds you to live in the present and appreciate what’s right in front of you – Nepal will fill you with neverending love and happiness!
~ Chloe Hearn
© Take on Nepal 2023