Big mountains, Small Children

5893777The giant, snow capped mountain hung in the air, floating on top of a cloud, as if little things like gravity were entirely inconsequential. Far away from its peak, a lazy river wound it’s way through a valley. Terraced fields cascaded down the hillsides, and little houses dotted the several hills and mountains that made up the rest of the scene.

“Sir, chai?” a voice beside me asked.    I took the cup of steaming hot tea, the only thing that could make the vista better, and continued contemplating the scenery with the other awestruck volunteers. We were at Future Village, a remarkable initiative in the Katunge district of Nepal, about 7 hours from Kathmandu on a sometimes bad, and mostly non-existent road. Our backs were stiff, our butts sore, and our eyes weary with dust, but the evening sunset over one of the most languorous landscapes I had ever seen made it all worth it.

The best was yet to come though. After many moans and groans, we opened our eyes the next morning to a valley blanketed in cloud, and the sun lighting up Mount Manaslu, the 8000m+ floating mountain in a blaze of orange. A bunch of little kids was waiting for us at the two small buildings that served as both the enrichment school for these kids, as well as our accommodation. The children ranged in age from 5 to 12, and even at 6 am, they were wide awake and all ready to begin with their classes. We were to teach these children over the next 2 and a half days, at 2 different times of the day – mornings, before they went to Government school, and evenings, after school.

The children are simple, enthusiastic and full of life. Despite them not being able to understand us, they were keen to impress us and do their best at whatever we gave them. That morning, the teachers taught English, while in the evening, we tired ourselves out by playing football and badminton with the kids. Being city slickers, we found ourselves completely exhausted as we dealt with both the children, and the challenge of living in the hills. Then night would come, and the 7 of us would sit beneath the entire expanse of the Milky Way, talking, deprived of our electronic stimuli but no less happy without it.

Two and a half days is little time to make permanent change, but we did the best we could. The most valuable lessons we could give them were the ones on hygiene, and brushing their teeth, simple acts that are not taught in schools, and not emphasised on in villages. Our indiscretions on day one also gave us one more valuable lesson to teach them; that of conserving the environment. On the first day, we had distributed chocolates and candies among all the kids. A gesture that was appreciated by them; however, we discovered later on in the day that the wrappers had been littered across the hillside. Not meaning to do more harm than good in our short stay there, we took the kids up and down the hill from the school, picking up all the litter we could. They enthusiastically obliged.

Living away from the distractions of modern life, and being surrounded by these happy, constantly smiling children works wonders. The mountain air and the views have an anaesthetising effect, while playing with and teaching the children brings a smile to your face. I wondered who took a bigger benefit out of this sojourn; was it the children, who had learnt how to keep themselves and their surroundings healthy? Or was it us, who had our smiles dutifully returned to our faces by the kids, our lungs filled with mountain air, and our eyes blessed with stunning views?

Either way, it’s worth visiting this valley of big mountains, and small children.

This is also published at http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-903340

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