It all began with an ad on my company’s intranet looking for volunteering at Snowland school in Kathmandu, Nepal.
After finding out this is a school catered for poor students from extreme remote areas in Dolpa, some of which never say their parents for over 10 years since they entered the school and graduated in grade 10, my mind was set.
A local guru founded this school, which provides complete free schooling and living for these kids. All the funds are sourced from contributions, including this Future Villange Foundation I joined.
We set off to the school from the nearest hotel we stayed at. Our hands were full, filled with donations, IT items from ex-volunteers, clothings from Singapore’s international school and stationary from ourselves.
I thought the school was very remote, so I was surprised to find it only after 10mins from the hotel. But immediately the school exterior reminded me how deeply in need of help the school is.
When we squeezed through the gates, a dozen students were already lined up on two sides holding the khata with their cold hands waiting for us. Their smiles were so warm and unforgetable.
After a school assembly, we were handed the grade 3 and 4 students to look after.
We brought music and speaker, thinking we can teach them pop songs and dance. Very soon, we realised they should be teaching us. Their English is also 10000000 times better than my Nepaliese, so communication was also not much of an issue.
In class, they just utilise the natural light. There is no marker pen lying around, the teachers keep their inventory very tightly controlled. Their desk and chair are 2in1s, made of steel some a bit rusted, longly shaped that can probably squeeze in 4 kids. I cannot imagine the chill of touching them during winter.
That day was filled with fun and laughter and went past faster than we realise. I brought back a laptop and 3D printer to discuss the action plan for tomorrow, the off day for the whole school. (In Nepal, people work 6 days with Saturday off)
With more volunteers joining us today, we had started the day with a full team breakfast and consolidated on the plan of targeting the senior students as they are the ones who need our advices the most.
Five of us spent the day with grade 8-10 for a crash course on crowdfunding for them, teaching them how to startup a crowdfunding website, write up personal descriptions and interact with sponsors.
Because after graduating from year 10, these teenagers will be released back into the real world, without the same shelter and support. Without such support, for all of it means no tertiary educations. Our resources are limited alone, but if we can teach the students how to reach out to the world, then the resource is endless and they will feel the self accomplishment.
We got many to read their own descriptions, all were very touching.
Many boys wants to be an engineer, so they can built a road to their village, make it easier to visit the family.
Many girls fear going back to the village, because only arranged marriage, parenting and farm work awaits them there. Education is seen as a useless expense there for girls.
While the seniors are busy planning for their future, our other volunteers were leading their talented younger students on an Art & Craft fun session. One of the drawing topics was, “My Dream Home”
3rd Day. The Last Day.
Time flies by when you enjoyed it. Suddenly, it is the last day. With a mind knowing at the end of the day we would say good and maybe not see these lovely kids again, we strived to give them all the knowledge we can in the next few hours.
I personally wanted to show the seniors there is more than a job to earn a living when they graduate. With the growth of internet worldwide, and the inevitable penetration into Nepal in coming years, I showed them how an online retail business works, from registration to delivery and getting paid. Also unintended initially, I compared how selling goods online is remarkably similar to them marketing themselves on crowdfunding websites, both sharing many of the same principles.
We also showed them how technology is empowering the world outside, from Tesla to Amazon Go, before we came to another highlight of the trip.
Video conference with Germany European School Singapore.
Our grade 10 students dressed in traditional Nepalese costume started with a magnificent cultural dance. Such dance would easier top the chart at any of our company’s annual balls.
Then they have Q&A with GESS.
I still remember the first question came from GESS and it was, “where do you go for activities outside school?” The answer was a complete silence. What GESS students of the same age takes for granted is something unimaginable for these kids.
Another GESS girl asked, “how many girls sleep in the same room?” They were stunned when hearing it is “12”.
The Snowland students started shy, but grew more confident as they got more familiar with the video conference.
The outcome was great. GESS wanted to do more follow up communications and possible support for Snowland.
We dismissed our reluctant to leave students to their assembly and then packed our bags.
Seeing we are about to leave, all the kids swamped to us, hugging together for we-fies. Some of our volunteers cried together with their kids.
As an adult man, I was more composed. I thought I could walk out of here without getting too emotional.
After 15 minutes of hugging and saying goodbye, we finally reached the gate. Then all of a sudden, a school full of kids just went silent. Kids stopped playings, everyone was looking at us, sending us off their love and respect in complete silence.
That sudden silence touched my deepest emotions, something I never experienced before. I never even imagined I would be tearing due to silence. But I just did. It is a heart-warming silence.
After we stepped out of the gate, kids ran to the nearby school fence to continue sending us off. None of that was forced or even prepared, and we have only been together for 3 days, but the attachment they have shown towards us is nothing I experienced before.
They have given me realisation.
Wish them happier each day.
Footnotes: Local logistics and guidance for us were provided by Nepal tour guide Kumar from Himalayan Exploration Travel free of charge. Thank you.