Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Emergency education

Although Lamjung District has not been nearly so badly hit by the earthquakes as other districts, the damage to homes and schools is still quite severe in some areas.  The continuous aftershocks, there have been more than 200, have compounded the initial damage caused by the big quakes on 25th April and 12th May.

Fallen wall and cracks in corner of classroom.
Many schools have large cracks and structural damage, rendering them unsafe for lessons to be held in their classrooms.  Others have damaged toilets which need replacing or repairing. Understandably parents are concerned to send their children back to school, to sit in rooms that may collapse with another shake.  In order to allow pupils to return to lessons VSO Nepal have been hard at work developing a plan to help.

Cracks in another classroom wall.

VSO Nepal's 'Emergency Education Initiative' has obtained funding and permission to work, initially with the worst damaged schools in Lamjung District, and then to move onto two other Districts, as people are ready to think about schools again once they have personal living accommodation.
Bamboo frame being constructed

Having surveyed all the schools reporting damage in 8 VDCs ( similar to Parish Councils in UK), those unable to continue with lessons have been selected to receive temporary Learning Spaces (TLS, Temporary Classrooms).  These will be erected nearby or on school premises as soon as possible, using local labour and materials as much as possible. Bamboo frames will be covered with corrugated iron sheets for roofing and walls will be constructed of iron sheets too, or bamboo, tarpaulins, wood or woven straw. All metal will get hot in the sun, so some insulation covering for the roof will also be required.
Students helping with clearing the inside of their
temporary classroom

Contents of the Early Years resource bag.
UNICEF have donated equipment to be distributed to the schools too. Bags of lovely puppets, books and games are for the youngest children in school, the ECD classes. How excited the children will be when they see these!

Recreational kits; balls and sports equipment have also been provided for each school.  We plan that these will be used by the Youth Volunteers to provide extra curricular activities in each of the villages.

Classroom equipment - School-in-a-box - also from UNICEF will ensure that everyday resources are available for each class, so that lessons can continue as usual. These boxes contain exercise books, pens, pencils, rulers and coloured crayons along with lots of other essential things for the classroom.
Boxes and bags of equipment awaiting collection
by tractor and trailer for delivery to schools.

All this equipment has to be transported by tractor and trailer to the schools, many in very remote hilly places.
Loading the trailer containing the building materials for
the temporary classroom, with bags of educational resources.

"Put my fingers in the paint?!"

The Youth Volunteers, five for each VDC, have been employed to assist with recovery and ongoing activities for the students. We held a training day for them, where they were taught to recognise and help children and young people affected emotionally by the earthquakes (psychosocial effects).  There was also lots of fun and laughter as they experienced art and music therapy and learnt easy games to play with students.  Finger painting, which they had never done before was a particular challenge, as they were unwilling to get their fingers covered in paint!
Team games - not something these Youth Volunteers had experienced before.

Finally, teachers are being given training so that they understand and are able to help students who are suffering emotional effects as the result of the earthquakes. When completed, around 400 teachers will have been trained in the 8 VDCs (Village communities).  This training has included using art and music to help students, as well as games to allow them to have fun.

Teachers role-play living in a shelter.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Early morning in the village

6am. Rural life in Nepal starts early in the morning, just after it gets light.  In the house where I have been staying, whilst working for a few days in a nearby school, everyone is busy at this hour! By 6am all the family are up and about.  There are many jobs to do; water to fetch, animals to feed and water, washing to do, sweeping and cleaning, cooking and a multitude of other tasks.
6am - The terrace has been swept and mats and cushions
put out for sitting.
Firstly, the lady of the house sweeps the surrounding terraces, and puts down the straw mats and cushions so that the terrace can be used for sitting and as a communal area where visitors are received. Each morning she presented her residential guests with a cup of tea, before continuing with her work. The family's clothes are hand washed in a large bowl and hung up to dry. 
She also takes responsibility for producing the morning meal. The family eats daal bhat before leaving the house for school or work. Rice, with a daal sauce, takari (vegetable curry) and aachar (a spicy pickle) need to be made, ready to be eaten before 9am. The takari is made from fresh produce, picked that morning from the ground near the house. During the few days staying at this house we ate different takari each meal, using potatoes, onions, pumpkin, beans and bitter gourd.

The teenage son has settled at the table to do several hours of homework. He did not need to be told to do his work, because he knows how important it is for him to do well at school. I hear him chanting facts he needs to remember for his social studies lesson; about the advantages of sustainable agriculture. He works for a couple of hours doing homework each morning as he doesn't leave for school until 9am. In Nepal most homework seems to be done in the morning, probably because the electricity supply for lighting at night is not reliable, and besides, few rural houses have many lights.

Grandmother, hajuraama, is busy picking vegetables that she then peels and chops ready for the morning meal of daal bhat. Whilst sitting crossed-legged on the floor, she uses her traditional long curved knife, a kukri, which she holds with her foot, leaving both hands free to slice the vegetables onto it. She takes the peelings to feed to the buffalo. When she walks her back is stiff and bent, probably from the strain of many years carrying heavy loads in a dokko (basket) suspended from her forehead. She has a beautiful smile, and though we can hardly communicate, I often find her watching me and her face lights up and she beams when I catch her eye. We feel have a special bond as we are both grandmothers, and she was interested to see photos of my grandchildren.

Grandfather, hajurbaa, returns from the nearby fields, wet from the overnight rain that has dripped on him from the tall maize plants he has walked through. On his back he carries a huge load of cut grass and leaves, food for the buffalo, which lives tied in the shed beside the house. Before he went to the fields, I saw him polishing his grandson's black shoes, ready for school today. (Sadly no individual picture of him)
The buffalo waiting for her food

Father, a local teacher, takes responsibility for the water. Drinking water is stored in large metal containers beside the house and water for washing in a large black plastic tank, perched on the roof of the toilet and bathroom. This family has the luxury of a separate bathroom, with a shower from the above water tank - much to my delight, as it has been very hot whilst we have been here, and I have been able to have a good wash. (In most of the rural houses where I stay, there is only the outside communal tap to use, so a shower is my first priority when I get back to my flat.)

How busy everyone is, and it may be difficult for people from a different culture to imagine all this happening before 7am.  
Thank you to the family for looking after us and allowing me to write about their morning routine and include their photos. I look forward to returning to stay at the village again soon.
5.45am The family and my 2 colleagues (in red) before we left to walk to catch the 7 o'clock bus.

Saturday, 13 June 2015


In earthquake-hit Nepal, life for many has gradually returned to normal.  People have moved back into their homes if they were not damaged, and offices, shops and schools have mostly re-opened.  The aftershocks have almost petered out; we hadn’t had one for a week and then overnight everything shook again, not once but twice!  

I went to Kathmandu at the start of last week for a training course. The journey was the first time I had travelled back to the city since the earthquake.  As we climbed the hills into the Kathmandu valley, all along the road, in each village that the bus passed through, there were rows of multi-coloured temporary shelters; small tent-like structures made from a bamboo frame covered in tarpaulin or any other waterproof material that people could find or acquire.  Lots had the aid donors name emblazoned on them. “UK AID – from the people of Britain” was one that caught my attention several times, along with ‘Red Cross of China’ and several others. Many families had taken their beds into the shelter, so that they did not have to sleep in their damaged houses, fearful of another quake. I could not bring myself to photograph these shelters, it seemed such an invasion into these poor people's lives, when they were already suffering.

Also on the main road I saw a convoy of long lorries, empty now, but each proudly bearing a banner on the front "UN - Emergency Relief Supplies". 

In Kathmandu, it is the modern houses that mostly remain standing and in many cases are little damaged.  The old streets of Thamel near the hotel where I stayed, narrow and normally full of bustling traders and tourists, were much quieter and in many places filled with rubble from collapsed buildings. Houses still standing, old and traditional, had walls propped up with wooden beams.  The temples in Durbar Square had mostly fallen and those that hadn’t were surrounded in bamboo scaffolding.  The tall brick walls of the beautiful ‘Garden of Dreams’ (see blog 'Dream of a Garden' from November 2013), the renovation of the old palace garden, had become piles of bricks on the pavement below and the garden was closed.  The large open space/sports ground, the Tundikhel, which acts as a massive roundabout in the centre of the city, was full of temporary tent homes.

However at 6 weeks since the first earthquake, there are now many signs of recovery and rebuilding to be seen. Rubble from collapsed houses has often already been sorted and any materials suitable for re-using is stacked neatly on the sites. Many lorries and trucks on the roads were loaded with sacks of cement or building materials.  New bricks, stones and sand were piled by the sides of the road waiting to be used for new buildings. 

The Nepali people are resilient and determined to bounce back. New homes and schools will eventually be built, but in the meantime, people will manage, despite the hardship and inconvenience, in their temporary shelters and classrooms.  The aid donations from the rest of the world will continue to be vitally important in helping with the rebuilding of this nation.