Now came the time to practice what I was really excited to do, use my skills as an educator to help Batase village and its school. Before schooling however many activities took place which made every start to the day a memorable one. Such activities were seeing the amazing sunrise shining on the distant mountain peaks of the Lantang ranges, running even before the sun showed itself with the amazingly enthusiastic kids of the village (Best of luck trying to keep up if you ever have the chance to try this!), having a variety of Breakfasts like Tibetan breads, Chapati bread, Pancakes, Porridge, Musleli, Chickpeas, Beans and Sweet Rice.
Probably my most favourite part of the mornings when not conversing with the other volunteers or guides was watching the local villagers commence their morning rituals, with many already being busy at work in the fields or making fire to cook their foods. Occasionally I was welcomed for a chat or to help out in any way I can. A real highlight was watching ‘Papa’ Tamang start fire the way fires were started before electricity or matches became commonplace, using a crystal and wool from a banana tree and then striking hard and extremely accurately with an iron knife. After a few attempts and some frantic waving, there was fire before our eyes, incredible! Looking back and seeing how much we did before and just after breakfast is such a contrast to back home where I would only be just be waking; here waking early is making the most of every available minute to experience, how life should be lived.
Then of course after the early morning came time to head to school, a 15 minute walk down through the ‘backyards’ of the villages, passing chickens and buffalo and goats, observing the locals going about their daily lives, working off of their land. Upon arriving at school we walked into the beginning of the Batase school assembly, students lined up in straight lines according to their grade, ranging from prep to grade 10 (ages 5 to 16). The assembly routine was strikingly odd and even mundane at first sight, watching the students stretch and move in different directions to the beat of a drum, but the rationale behind it made sense; it taught discipline and respect as well as promoting physical activity, giving the students a healthy body as well as a healthy mind. After other formalities it was time to head into the classroom.
I informed the head of staff Ranjan of my profession as a teacher back home and to his delight, he designated me classes of grade 4, 9, 7 and 5. When asked what I should teach his reply was ‘whatever you like’ which was great in a way but also a reflection on the unorganised structure of the school. I knew from then that this was not going to be easy. The initial lessons over these classes focused on introducing myself as a foreigner and trying to give the students an insight into my culture and things about Australia while contrasting with their own culture, well at least that was my plan. What actually happened was pretty chaotic; a constant level of loud noise resonating from other classes, students walking in and out of classes, students having difficulty understanding my instructions, the Nepalese teacher floating in and out of class.
What made this experience great however was seeing the energy and innocence of these young students, willing to learn and grow, seeing education as a privilege but not knowing how to best learn. Leaving the school and talking with the other volunteers it was clear that my thoughts were felt by others. A chaotic day called for rest and reflection which helped bring all of the guides and volunteers together in a funny way, empathising with each other.
Thinking that this is how every day is going to be unless something changes I had two thoughts, teach what I know best and also teach the teachers along with the students. The following day at school I asked to be taken to the schools science lab, this contained not much but enough to show the students some practical demonstrations of scientific concepts (magnifying glass, a candle, two magnets), something they have had little chance to experience.
Today I decided to teach about the properties of fire. I took each grade outside and showed them that using just a magnifying glass and the sun we can make fire! The students were fascinated, each pushing each other, trying to have a turn, burning wood, grass, plastic, anything they could think of, it was great, using something simple to inspire and get the students curious. My other area of teaching expertise is Physical Education and I happened to bring a cricket equipment set. So during the class breaks I pulled out the cricket set and soon enough half of the school wanted to play! A wonderful sight of happiness and a great experience for myself and for them. I quickly had to teach the 6 and out rule though as students were swinging wildly, losing balls over the cliffs edge that borders the school.
Reflecting on the school day and introducing new ideas of learning to students I brought up the idea of running some teacher training to Som and the take On Nepal team who were more than encouraging in running such a program. After another dinner of Dahl Bhat and the nightly round table group discussion a few of us decided to walk up away from the Hostel for some stargazing. It was fair to say our expectations were far exceeded when within 30 seconds of settling we saw a shooting star, not to mention the countless stars in the nights sky. A wonderful end to a great day.
The next few days merged into one, with the morning routine of sunrise watching followed by a nice breakfast before heading to school. At school I continued teaching science in my practical way, teaching magnetism, electricity, fire, states of matter and other topics. Probably the highlight during these days was playing cricket with the kids, with their never relenting enthusiasm and happiness at having a new sport to play (even the teachers joined in at times!) At the end of the schooling week I ran the first teacher training session. I was happy at how it went, however the cultural and language barrier meant that some things and ideas were literally lost in translation. I hope the handful of teachers that understood ideas put across can then push them into being implemented in the school, hopefully the seed has been planted with the intention of making such teacher training meetings routine.
Afterwards before a planned bonfire with everyone Som took us up to a hilltop overlooking Batase village where he then highlighted the big problem and one of the main initiatives of Take On Nepal, the politics and prevalence of girl trafficking out of Batase. linking villages and areas of concern visually to the issue really hit home for me and I’m sure for most others. The bonfire turned into a wonderful event, with some exquisitely seasoned buffalo being cooked over the fire by the incredible cook, combined with some local alcohol called Raksi with some singing and dancing with the kids.
An important part I believe in an experience such as this is to take time not to ‘do’ anything but rather to sit back and take in your surroundings. I spent my day off doing just that, sitting and enjoying the environment of Batase, taking in the surrounds of the wonderfully mountainous landscape, with villages being scattered within them.
School is 6 days a week here which means that the next day is back to school again. This week for the students was exam week meaning we could not do much teaching, rather monitoring the cheeky ones who decide that cheating is more valuable than learning. It also gave a few of us the chance to go for some walks to other villages for varying reasons, to deliver goods on behalf of Friends Of Himalayan Children, to check out a water mill, view the Himalayas from another angle or simply to experience the subtle characteristics of different villages.
I went on a trek to another school 2 hours away in Pati Banjyang to deliver backpacks. On the way there to our initial horror we saw a Buffalo in pieces, freshly slaughtered for what we concluded was a wedding. This gave us all an uneasy feeling, but this is why I believe experiences like this are so great; this is not Australia, this is Nepal, this is a different way of living, a different way to experience life, lessons that cannot be taught any other way. Lessons and experiences that must be seeked. Such is A fitting passage to summarise my stay in Batase to date, luckily I have a little time remaining to maximise these great experiences.
~ Jayke Ducan
© Take on Nepal 2023