Eric Jones–Nepal volunteer Trip with Namlo

I have been volunteering with Namlo since April of 2006.  This past November, I was honored to travel with Magda and Hugh to Nepal to meet the individuals who had previously been just names on paper or smiles in a photo.

I arrived on November 14th very late in the evening in Kathmandu, Nepal.  The next morning, I met with Sangdorje Sherpa, one of Namlo’s more senior scholarship students.  Sangdorje was one of three students from Namlo’s first community of Yarmasing in northeastern Nepal.  An introverted, polite, young man of nineteen, he was to be my tour guide for the day.  My trip was to begin here with a crash course in cultural communication, as Sangdorje had been studying English for several years, but, as I quickly discovered, that did not necessary mean we could communicate easily.  After a day of this cultural envelopment, Sangdorje and I had bonded over broken English and the occasional tea break.

The next day, Sangdorje and I woke up early to catch a bus headed to Barabise in northeastern Nepal, approximately an hour south of the Tibetan border, and then on to the small mountain community of Dhuskun.  Here we would meet up with Magda, Hugh, and their country coordinator, Aruna.  The four hour long bus ride provided yet another chance to become inundated with the Nepali culture and its people.  Since we arrived so early for the bus, Sangdorje and I had a front row seat for all the action—from the “conductor” who would hang out the door as the bus tore down the road shouting the destination of the bus to the entrepreneurs who would board the bus when it was stopped to sell the passengers snacks.

Upon arriving in Barabise, I met with the Namlo crew, and I said farewell to Sangdorje, who had school the next day and would be returning on the next bus to Kathmandu, but who wanted to ensure I made it to Magda and Hugh safely.  This would be just one of the many selfless acts I experienced from the Nepalese people.

From here on out my trip would be non-stop from morning until night.  We would spend four days in both Dhuskun and Sabung, in southwestern Nepal, living at a personal residence of one of the community members.  In general, our visit to a community would begin with a meeting with the teachers and principal of the school Namlo had previously constructed.  This meeting would be before classes started and would be a preliminary fact-finding journey.  We wanted to know what the teachers felt was the most pressing need for the school and how student performance could be improved.  The most common answer that came out of these meetings was that they’d like an English-speaking teacher to help both the teachers and the students, and that they wanted more training in teaching methodology.  The reason for the former, as I would discover, is increasingly complex and somewhat controversial, but essentially revolves around the fact that the current government is pushing English learning and that the exam to pass the 10th grade is only given in English.

Our next step was to observe the classrooms, see how they were teaching, and see how we might be able to assist with their process.  Magda and Hugh were able to challenge the teachers to go beyond the traditional Nepalese methods of rote memorization.  We stressed that the teachers needed to show the children why they were learning and get them to probe the material, and also encouraged the use of school supplies to help get the students involved and learning at a higher level.  I had the chance to be involved in a younger math class that demonstrated how effectively this could be done.  I’d observed the teacher taking a bag of connecting blocks from the supply cabinet.  I set out to help him in the classroom where I found him teaching division and having the children come to the front of the room to use the blocks to help them.

After instructing teachers and talking to students, our next task in a community was meeting with its members to ask about adult literacy and find potential income-generating projects.  In both cases the meetings were heavily attended by women who were encouraged to take advantage of literacy programs and asked if they needed additional help.

During the final few days we met with former and potential partners—Room to Read, Education for Children, and Thus Thought.  We also met with the Board of Directors of the newly formed Namlo Nepal where we attempted to coordinate our efforts for the future of Nepali educational opportunities.

Nepal is a nation of extraordinary individuals who only need an opportunity to succeed.  Education gives them a chance to seek opportunity, to grow and evolve within their communities and country.  Namlo is helping the people of Nepal to educate, develop, and empower themselves.  I am grateful to have been given the chance to see this firsthand, and it was truly remarkable.