Nikita has Spina Bifida and is 11 years old. She had been a student at Children’s Paradise Preschool, a centre run by Buntty Gurung that assists children with disabilities, from the age of 22 months until recently when her family wanted to give a mainstream school a try. Unfortunately the school wasn’t a great fit for someone with Nikita’s special needs. Nikita has very limited movement and sensation from the waist down, which makes it very hard for her to get around. The only wheelchair she has access to was made for a full grown man, which means she cannot reach the wheels to use it on her own. Due to these issues Nikita needs help throughout the day just to get around.
The staff at the mainstream school have not been taught how to assist a student with such disabilities and the students are uneducated on children that are physically different from themselves. This left Nikita in a very sad and awkward position at her new school. Her parents withdrew her from class as they learned of these problems arising. Not sure what to do next with their daughter, they left her at home with a family member to watch television or, when no power, to sit in the sun and to watch her little brother go to school every day. Nikita’s education stopped.
Buntty continued to stay in touch with Nikita’s family hoping that she could help them find a solution. Then GVI arrived! Buntty had stated from the start that she’d like our volunteers to work one-on-one with the special needs children at her preschool and she explained what was happening with Nikita. She asked if she could convince Nikita’s parents to bring her back to Children’s Paradise would we work with her. Of course the answer was “Yes! Absolutely yes!”
After we’d met with Nikita’s family, and Buntty continued to discuss the options with them, we finally received the amazing news that Nikita would be returning. Her parents have signed her up through a private program that will let her sit her exams and study at her grade. To say Nikita is flourishing would be an understatement. Ady was our first volunteer to begin working one-on-one with Nikita, slowly assessing her levels in subjects, having fun with arts and crafts, and helping her to interact and socialize with others again.
Ruth, our Project Manager and a Physiotherapist, has put together a basic exercise plan for Nikita to do with the volunteers to help her work on her upper and lower body strength. Volunteer Adele has now started with Nikita and will take over when Ady leaves. The girls are constantly noticing an improvement with Nikita’s confidence and can see how happy she is to be studying again. The highlight of our visits to the centre is seeing Nikita’s huge smile and her passion for learning. When discussing with Adele what her favourite thing about her project was she replied “Knowing that if it wasn’t for us Nikita wouldn’t be getting an education. It really feels like we’re making a difference.”
It’s not only making a difference for Nikita but also for Buntty. She takes in and treats each child as her own and her heart was breaking over Nikita missing out on so much. Now you can’t wipe the smile of Buntty’s face every time Nikita’s name is mentioned.
Children’s Paradise is a preschool here Nepal that was founded by local woman Buntty Gurung. What makesthis preschool different to any others is that some of the students have mental and physical disabilities and teaches up to grade one for these particular kids. The centre has 53 students and 7 of these have children that have disabilities that include Autism, ADHD, and learning difficulties.
In Nepal there is such a stigma attached to children with such disabilities – parents blame each other for their children being born with such ailments and extended families blame the parents leaving families too ashamed to leave the house with these children. When families do take their children to the Doctor, quite often the kids are misdiagnosed or the parents are told their children will grow out of it in five years. There are no Doctors here that specialize Paediatrics or Mental Illnesses in Children so finding help and support can be extremely difficult.
Buntty takes in such children and supports their families. She encourages the parents to not give up and that their children can be valued members of society. Buntty and her teachers show that these children can make huge improvements with patience, consistency, and a stable learning environment.When starting out this project four weeks ago, Buntty asked that GVI’s role be to work one-on-one with the disabled children to give them more attention and use our experiences to help these kids progress. Also for GVI to reach out to the parents and let them know that they aren’t alone, that children all over the world have these problems, and how they are treated elsewhere. The later was to be addressed in a presentation for the parents of those children with disabilities. Amanda, our first volunteer on this project, took on this task with gusto. She compiled information on the different disabilities that affected the kids at Children’s Paradise, and then discussed with staff members Ruth and Jo about their experiences with such disorders. Amanda and Ruth spent time with the students logging and photographing their progress to show the parents, and researched how children on other countries were supported. All of this information was put into a power point presentation and on Saturday the 26th of January Buntty had assembled as many parents as possible to listen to and discuss this information.
A two hour presentation turned into a four hour open forum. The parents listened intently to our experiences, definitions, and ideas on different disorders and could see how much we wanted to help. Ourlong term goal for their children is to help them transition into mainstream schools as they advance and to help the families with support and ideas for their kids at home. Those parents whose children have been at the school for longer discussed with the new parents how their perseverance with such ideas had led to their children doing much better in class.After the open discussions we stuck around to talk one-on-one with some of the parents. Two fathers approached Ruth and Jo and told them how grateful they were to have a chance to discuss their children with people going through similar circumstances, and that they would fully support us holding a presentation and discussion once a month. With this monthly meeting parents could come to us with topics they’d like to hear more about and could help them and their kids.In all the day was a great success – we were able to convey the information compiled, show the parents that they’re not alone, and let them know that we are in it for the long haul right alongside of them! Buntty is grateful for the assistance, as for so long she has had to support these families on her own, and she continues to be excited about working alongside GVI to reach a common goal for each of these children.
The Street Children Rehabilitation Centre works with children found on the streets of Pokhara. At some point each one of these children ran away from their homes - it isn’t always clear why - maybe there wasn’t enough food to eat or their parents were away working in order to provide food. But in doing so, their family wasn’t able to provide the watchful eye or support a child needs.
The aim of the centre is to rehabilitate the children and family, and if it is suitable for the children to re-join their family and return to a normal healthy and safe family environment. The children attend school and during the Dashain festival school break GVI wanted to provide a fun and stimulating festival camp for them to get activated and learn in a relaxed and creative way.A schedule was set up consisting of homework help, where the children decided what they needed help with for school, English, math, arts and crafts, and games. Every day had a specific theme like Environment, Friendship or Health. All depending on the strengths and creativity of our volunteers, schedule changed from day to day, true to the Nepali style of life.
Some amongst many highlights where a true Dashain feast in one of the Committee members house, swinging in giant bamboo swings, learning about the tradition of Halloween (getting dressed up and trick or treating!) paper maché making, tie dying your own t-shirts, dancing, singing and of course a casual movie with popcorn.It has all been good fun and volunteers and children alike had a great time, interacting, teaching about responsibility, sharing and caring for each other in a festival fun kind of way. The children have been great and have surely taught the volunteers a thing or two as well.
In the past week we have been making regular visits to a little school in a rural community by the name of Pame (30 minutes outside of Pokhara) to discuss and organize volunteers helping out in classrooms and with general projects on the school grounds. Lekhnath, a local teacher, set up the Little Daffodils English Boarding School 18 years ago as he could see a good education was far out of reach for the people in this community. He has managed to keep school fees down and transport to and from affordable. At some times this has meant he has had to pay out of his own pocket to keep the school running. The buildings are in disrepair and could certainly use a good lick of paint.
We took our first teaching volunteer into the school with us on Thursday and spent most of the day attending classes and teaching a few. We were met with huge smiles from the children and warm greetings from the teachers.
Our aim is to first help the current students with their English fluency by introducing practice activities in their English classes to get them talking more. In the process we hope to show the local teachers how they could apply these practise activities to their other classes. Our volunteers will be teaching alongside the local teachers and holding regular workshops with them to bring new ideas into the school.
In just the few days that we have spent there, we have been approached by several teachers who have tried to spend their free time practising their conversational English with us. This has been very encouraging for our hopes for this project.
Most of the teachers are from this community and many of the women were housewives before Lekhnath hired them to teach his classes. He has tried wherever possible to supply employment to local people who also have family here. We believe that GVI’s presence in this school will benefit not only the students and teachers, but also their families nearby as our project develops. Helping with supplying teaching techniques for English will eventually mean the school will be self-sufficient with a more advanced English program.
Mondays through Thursdays a loud chatter can be heard coming from a normally quiet café as Nepali girls age 10-50 learn English through conversation with our volunteers.
Conversation club doesn’t start until 4:30 pm but the local girls start trickling in around 4. Pinky and Priya, sisters, arrive and immediately walk over to Brendan, a 20 year old Australian and greet him ‘you were sick yesterday.’ Brendan nods his head and replies in Nepali. The sisters giggle and introduce a friend who is joining the club for the first time.
It’s a typical start to conversation club and routines have quickly set in even though the group is only in its infancy. The conversation group was formed just two months ago in response to a local volleyball coach’s concern for his players. Most Nepalese learn to read and write English in school but they have little practice speaking which is vital when it comes to getting a higher paying job.
So far the club has seen regular attendance and new locals join each week as word spreads. Through conversation, doodles and the occasional vocabulary list volunteers and girls share cultures. As bonds form discussion topics progress from favorite foods and hobbies to religion and sometimes even dating.
So far the club has relied on an informal system of teaching English in which volunteers have created flashcards and practice worksheets to cater to individuals. Due to the success of the group more resources are being collected. The GVI hub in Thailand is working together with GVI Nepal to share resources and secure some English teaching books to cater to the girls who need to review the basics.
No matter the level of English, the hour of speaking and hanging out is just as enjoyable as it is educational. Pinkey, 19, says she couldn’t stop laughing one day while she was teaching Josh, a British volunteer, some Nepali. Meanwhile Priya, 18, is gaining self-assurance, she says she’s learned that ‘we should be more confident, we don’t have to be shy while talking with people.’
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