Thursday, August 9, 2012

Our return to Bara School

We finally managed a return trip to Bara School yesterday. It was beginning to feel as if everything was conspiring against us returning, with a big landslide on the main highway postponing our last planned trip 2 weeks ago. While yesterday, a strike almost stopped us. These strikes were fairly regular a few months back with the deadline of the constitution looming, now frustration with the lack of a constitution and with the various political parties each trying to force a change of the president and prime minister there have been strikes the past few days. Basically this means that the streets are shut down, with no vehicular traffic permitted. People who risk driving risk their vehicle being damaged by the political party supporters (who have called the strike). Yesterday a strike was called from 6 till 10 am in Kathmandu and the other major cities. It’s a long drive to Bara, so we made a particularly early start getting on the road at 4am to get through Kathmandu before the strike started. One the way we saw lots of police in riot gear preparing for any conflict that might take place.

Safely through Kathmandu we took the winding short cut road through from Pharping to Hetauda. This road is only suitable for cars (no trucks or buses), with the frequent landslides reducing the road to single lane traffic in many places. In the early morning the scenery was absolutely amazing and we climbed up and over the mountains out of the Kathmandu valley.  We got our first glimpse of the Himalayas for the year. Just stunning!
Awesome views at breakfast - you can just see the snow peaks in the background
Overloaded trucks - doing the job of a local bus on the narrow mountain road
At breakfast in a small roadside village we saw our waiter had a damaged eye. We were able to refer him to the eye hospital in Banepa – simply providing him with this information means he will now be able to seek treatment. It seems to us that everywhere we go, we come across people with eyesight problems – and they often do not know that treatment is an option.
In Hetauda just before 10am we left our car behind (due to the strike) and walked around to Kamalas brothers house for a catch up and a cup of tea before continuing on our way after the strike was over.

We arrived in Kalaiya in the early afternoon where we met Bhaiyaram, our local NGO contact who came to tell us about the problems facing  Shree N. R. Higher Secondary School in Bara District last year.  They were holding a political meeting, with local parliamentarians speaking to the community about the work (or lack of it!) they have done in the past year. It turned out to be quite a heated debate, and went much longer than planned so we continued onto visit the school without Bhaiyaram.
Political Program
Slums - The view out of the window from the Political Program in Kalaiya
Driving to the school we pass through small villages of mud huts, children run around almost naked, and the poverty just sinks to a whole new level. At the school we are greeted warmly by some of the teachers and the headmaster, it’s a lot less formal than our visit last year. We were pleased to be able to see and ask questions, with only a ‘small’ crowd of onlookers crowding around.
Driving through the villages on the way to the school
Since our last visit (check out our blog from our last visit and this short video on the school) the government has provided funding to the school to build 4 new classrooms. The damaged rooms that were leaking (with snakes in the roof) and holes in the walls have been demolished. In its place the foundations have been built for 4 new rooms, raised up off the ground to avoid flooding in the monsoon season. A new toilet has been built for the girls (they now have 3 toilets for around 700 female students). Theres also a new hand-pump and 1000L water tank which provide all the water to the schools 1700 odd students. We saw the school library which really consists of one half filled cupboard - crazy!

The library!

The school is severely overcrowded with some classes having over 200 students (even 250 in one class!). This creates a lot of difficulty for the teachers with discipline, and resources are very stretched. The government is supposed to provide textbooks to all students, but in reality one textbook is shared by around 6 students. Around 500 students are taking additional classes at the school, after normal class hours, where class sizes are smaller. They pay for this (around Rs200 per month) which helps the school to pay for additional teachers etc.
Despite all of these difficulties the headmaster was very proud to inform us that the school has one of the highest pass rates for school leavers in the Bara District (83%).  The school has in the past year also started holding 10+2 classes (the equivalent of the last two years of high school). Around 200 students are taking these classes.

All in all it was great to revisit the school and see the progress that has been made there in the past year with support funding from the government and the community. We really feel that the fundraising we are doing for the school to provide classroom resources etc. will really complement the work being undertaken by the school at present to build new classrooms. Bara really is a forgotten district, and we want to thank those Rotary Clubs that have jumped on board with this project for helping a community in such need.

Ashok and Yvonne meeting with the School headmaster

Meeting with School teachers and the community

Extra class for year 9 students - usually this room holds 210 students for the normal day class

The school - this currently caters for almost 1700 students

The new girls toilets

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