On April 25th an earthquake hit Nepal. Our village, Mankhu, was severly damaged and up to 85% of the homes were destroyed in the initial quake with more damage taking place in the two large aftershocks. As a result all of the classrooms at Her Farm were turned into temporary housing for those in the village who had lost their homes.
We are happy to report that though the classrooms are still occupied by families who were displaced by the earthquakes, we have been able to restore our classes in the former dining room of our volunteer house at Her Farm. The monsoon season is underway at this time and it is impossible for people to rebuild at this time so they remain living in our classrooms.
In spite of some space constraints we've gotten our regular sessions back underway. The day begins with homework help, followed by English lessons. Computer lessons remain temporarily suspended until we can reoccupy the classrooms. Breakfast is served all the children and they wash, brush teeth and depart for their regular classes at the local school by 9:30am.
The number of children coming to our village school everyday keeps growing and growing, which is great. We've had to divide up the day into two sessions, girls come in the morning and boys in the afternoon. Still, we ran out of room to hold classes and we just added a second classroom to the school. The building that houses the school has a total of four rooms, each approx. 18ft by 18ft. One is the home of our new women's health clinic (see Her Farm project on GlobalGiving) and now two are in use for classrooms.
One classroom is now the media room. English is taught in that room via the use of a computer connected to a large screen TV for classes or on individually paced learning programs on several laptops. The new classroom is where the homework club meets every morning at 6:30am with English class starting at 7:00am.
Many of the children walk an hour (or more) to take part in these classes. Keep in mind, these classes are in addition to their normal school program at the local government school. These are very dedicated students who understand how important learning English and how to use computers is for their future.
The new classroom was added with nearly all volunteer labor. I am adding a link to a short video we made about the building of this class and urge you watch how it came into being. The link is below.
Everyday we see nearly 40 children at the little school. They come early, some as early as 6am having walked an hour or two to reach the farm. Some need help with homework, all want to learn English and how to use computers, many come because the hot breakfast we serve them after class is the best meal they will get for the entire day.
This time of year, as winter approaches one of our biggest concerns is warm clothing for the children. Many do not have much more than their school uniforms to wear. We got a group of our volunteers together with some of the children and handed out jackets, sweat pants and socks a few days ago.
I'm including photos of the children getting breakfast, clothing and working on the computers so you can see for yourself how they are all doing. The photos were taken by various volunteers at the farm/school but as I don't know for sure who took which ones, forgive the lack of photo credits.
We are still getting more warm clothing for the children before winter and could really use a hand to make sure they all have at least one warm outfit this winter.
An astonishing thing happened recently at our little school. Five teachers, including the principal came by and asked if we might send our volunteer English teachers over to the community school once a day, during the teachers lunch hour, to teach them all English. This was a landmark moment. We've kept a bit of distance between ourselves and local school the past two years due to bitter political infighting on the school management committee that we wanted to stay totally out of. It's crazy, I know, that such infighting over politics takes place at a grade school, but this is Nepal and all things are political here. At the same time we kept distance, we let it be known that whenever the management of the school was ready to put a stop to the fighting, we were ready to cooperate and help. Things seem to be cooling off and moving in a better direction now so all the teachers are keen to have us teach them English. One or two can speak a small amount of very broken English. It's critical these teachers learn though as the statistics for their students are horrid. Out of every 100 children enrolled in a rural school like this, 50 will leave school at the end of the 5th grade, which is the highest class in this village. For the 50 who do leave, we have to get them all the education and skills we possibly can while they are still in school as it may well represent the extent of thier life's education. If we can improve the school, we can hope to retain more students as well. Out of 100 who enroll, only 3 will make it all the way to the 10th grade. At the end of the 10th grade there's a huge, final exam required to get a School Leaving Certificate, which is the same as high school graduation. Without that certificate, which is sometimes called the "Iron Gate", there's no future for jobs. Rural schools like this typically pass just 28% of the students in the SLC exams.
The same teachers, just one week after starting English classes showed up in our brand new electronic classroom asking to learn how to use computers too. So now we have two sessions with them each day, one for English and one for computers. This could be a huge turning point for the village and the school.
The Breakfast Club at Her Farm doesn't star Judd Nelson or Molly Ringwald and certainly isn't about a bunch of kids spending time in detention, though I admit that was a good movie in its time. In the village of Mankhu, The Breakfast Club is quite different. We have students who come early, hours before their regular school time just to study English. The regular school in the village starts at 10am, but these students show up as early as 7am for English classes as they are that eager to learn. Many of them don't have enough food at home, or they arrive at Her Farm so early, we were concerned about them getting a good breakfast so they'd have the energy to study all day as we know a great many of them will not have any lunch. Unlike our western schools, there isn't a lunch program at the village school in Mankhu. Students must pack a lunch, which they call tiffin, and we see very few children with lunch packed for school. So, we began the breakfast club. At 7am we have a good hot breakfast ready at Her Farm and all the children who have come for lessons first enjoy a good meal, then attend English class. We know we've given them a good start for the day and served up a hearty meal that will hold them throughout the day. Attendance has gone up for classes as a result, especially amongst the girls. In many Nepali families, the men and boys eat first, the women next and last to eat are the girls. That means for many of the young girls it's slim pickens for breakfast and we think that's one reason so many young girls are joining the breakfast club at Her Farm.
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