My name is Madeline and I’m a twenty six year old teacher from Queensland. When my friend and former colleague Jayde told me about the Take On Nepal program, I was immediately eager to join her and, three weeks ago, that’s what I did.
After a couple of days in Kathmandu, we headed into Batase: my first attempt at the trek and Jayde’s second. Although it was cloudy and visibility was low, I still loved the mystical, sometimes challenging journey. Having spent the previous five years in tropical North Queensland and (very tropical) Cambodia I felt the cold a little more keenly than Jayde and a lot more than our tough and lovely guides, Mane and Sun Bahadur. This made the first night in the aptly named Chisopani (‘Cold Water’) a bit of a struggle, but I survived with the help of a down jacket, a decent sleeping bag, a bit of rum and plenty of boiling tea.
After another half day trekking from Chisopani, we reached Batase. I felt further from the Western world than I’d ever been before. Jayde assured me that we would see stunning Himalaya views from the hostel when the sun came out, but even without them, arriving in the village was breathtaking.
The next day was a public holiday for Potato Festival (which, funnily enough, celebrated wild potatoes) so we joined the festivities by sampling a wild potato dish which the hostel cook had prepared. I met the gorgeous students who board at the hostel and we ate with them in their basic living quarters. We spent the rest of that day and the next discussing and planning how we could be of service to the school. Much to my surprise, Jayde told me that classroom discipline was an area of concern. We both had enough teaching experience to know that we couldn’t address any curriculum issues until appropriate behaviour management was in place, so we decided that this would be our first priority.
On Sunday, it was time to start school. Jayde was eager to continue her work with Class 3 and my first day would be spent covering for an absent teacher. To stand in front of several unfamiliar classes with no idea of their language abilities, curriculum or current class content was daunting and overwhelming. It wasn’t what I expected but helped me gain a fast understanding of how we could help Shree Batase School move forward.
Over the coming days, we collaborated with several teachers and agreed upon a set of classroom rules, which we then presented on posters for each classroom. To compliment the rules, we put a visual consequence system into each class. This sliding scale would help students and staff identity positive and negative behaviours in the classroom and provide positive and negative consequences accordingly. We were surprised and delighted by how receptive and enthusiastic the school community was, and how quickly classroom behaviour began to improve.
Fortunately for us and the school, FHC had recently received a huge shipment of donated stationery and books from Edge Hill and surrounding schools in Cairns, coordinated by FHC supporter Rosalind Pulley. This allowed us to put together a prize pack for each class to be used as incentives in the consequence system. When we took the packs to each class and explained how they would be used, the students embraced the consequence system with an even greater enthusiasm! We also organised the hundreds of donated books into age-appropriate classroom book packs. We are currently waiting on storage boxes to protect the books (they are in progress, thanks to the local builders employed by FHC), but we hope that in the future these packs will be wonderful resources for the students to help develop their English literacy skills and love of reading.
After we completed the book and prize packs, we spent our afternoons putting together a range of other resources for the staff. We felt it would be beneficial to implement a phonics program in the school and so began creating flashcards and word lists. In Australia this would have been easily achieved in a matter of hours, however, this was not the case in rural Nepal. We spent hour after painstaking hour measuring out and writing these resources. Although we sorely missed computer assistance, we were very grateful for the FHC-provided laminator and photocopier which allowed us to make individual, long-lasting class sets of each resource. We also made flashcards of frequently used words and Student of the Week certificates, among other things.
Meanwhile in the classroom, we tried as often as possible to shift the focus from volunteer teaching to mentoring the school staff. We felt this would have a more sustainable, long-term impact on the school. We each observed several young, passionate teachers who, thankfully, were eager to take on board feedback and adapt their classroom practices. It gave us confidence and satisfaction to think that these wonderful staff members would carry on the changes we had discussed long after we leave Batase.
Life outside of work outside hours was mostly blissful, with the exception of bathing and clothes washing time. I will be forever grateful for the advent of washing machines and hot water systems after a few too many cold showers and finger-numbing hours handwashing my clothes.
We were treated like royalty and fed like prize pigs by our exceptional guides/porters/cooks. Occasionally, we attempted to work off our triple-sized portions with beautiful hikes featuring intrigued children and village residents, unforgettable views and – my personal favourite – adorable baby goats.
We are now taking a break and enjoying all the modern luxuries that Kathmandu has to offer, before we head back to Batase with another teacher friend and her sister. We genuinely cannot wait to return to the very special village which has begun to feel like a second home to us. We are already dreading the day we have say goodbye to Batase, the Take On Nepal and school staff, and the beautiful students, but feel confident that we will both be back someday.
We will provide a third update on completion of our time in the village. Until then – thanks for your time and namaste!
~ Madeline Anderson
© Take on Nepal 2020