Teaching English in a remote village, Nepal
Lakshmi Piette (2017, Natural Sciences)
This summer I worked with the charity HELP (Helambu Education and Livelihood project) which is a Nepalese NGO which works to improve the standards of education in Helambu: a mountainous region on the foothills of the Himalayas, North East of Kathmandu. The schools in this region are extremely basic, experiencing a shortage of teachers, supplies and classrooms.
I took part in the charity's volunteer programme which aims to improve the quality of teaching and English in such schools by sending English volunteers to a remote village to teach English: I was sent to Bhotenamlang where I had an unforgettable four weeks!!!
Arriving in Nepal - first impressions
I was somewhat expecting Nepal to be as frantic and hectic as India but upon my arrival in Kathmandu, I was immediately struck by how laid back everything was. Of course the roads and the streets are buzzing with activity but there is a calmness and strong culture of being helpful and friendly which makes Nepal the most warming country I've visited.
Bhotenamlang - the village
At 1800m above sea level, with its vibrant green terraced paddy fields, corn fields, waterfalls and a view of the Himalayas on clear days, Bhotenamlang truly is a stunningly beautiful place. I feel so fortunate to have had 4 weeks to soak it all in.
The conditions were not so idyllic to say the least (!) but I really enjoyed living with a host family and experiencing life like the villagers and it was fascinating to learn about their ways. As you might expect, the cultural difference is huge!!!
Shree Bhotenamlang Secondary School, with 600 children, is the largest school that HELP works with. This results in large class sizes ranging from 30 - 70 however attendance is low due to agricultural labour being prioritised over education. It has 13 teachers of which the majority are local to the village. One teacher is completely funded by the HELP and the school is also extremely fortunate to have 2 Teach for Nepal fellows; a scheme extremely similar to Teach First which enables high level teaching in disadvantaged schools.
What I did there
For 4 weeks, I taught classes 3 to 7 (equivalent to year 4 to year 8) English everyday (save for Friday afternoons and Saturdays which constitute Nepalese weekends). With the younger classes, vocabulary and pronunciation were the main body of teaching and with the older classes I was able to delve into more conversational English and basic grammatical concepts. The Nepalese system of education puts a heavier emphasis on reading and writing so I made sure my teaching was weighted on listening and speaking! However, I tried to and hope to have taught them much more than just English.
One of my teaching aims was to improve confidence and it was extremely rewarding to see the children grow in confidence over the weeks: At first they were too shy to speak a sentence and by the end of my 4 weeks they were volunteering to speak a whole paragraph! It was also especially touching to see a particular boy gain so much more confidence in his own ability after having rewarded him with a medal (following a quiz).
I hope that through trying to make my lessons a bit fun (word games, pass the ball, acting, stickers...) and employing a more pedagogical English teaching style (versus t he Nepalese traditional rote learning style) that I've been able to infuse an enjoyment for learning.
To engage further with the children and to give as much as I could, I started an art class which proved to be excessively popular! I've never seen children so excited and engrossed by colouring in (they have no access to coloured pencils or colouring books in the village.) I hope this inspired their creativity (possibilities to express creativity are virtually non-existent in the village) and taught them how to be proud of something they have done and to re-enforce these virtues I assembled the children's artwork into a school display. I also made art class an opportunity to practice English speaking and learn about English culture by engaging in conversation over photographs and English magazines and newspapers.
In addition to teaching the children, the teachers were most keen to be taught as well! This saw me teaching the teachers English 3 times a week through discussion activities and word games. We talked a lot about cultural differences including food, hobbies, festivals and also differences in education. It was particularly rewarding to see that one of the teachers split his class into 4 ability determined groups following a discussion on the English system of sets.
Becoming a part of the village
My experience in Bhotenamlang extended itself well beyond the classroom making my trip all the more enriching. My host family took me to the neighbouring (well, 2hours walk!) village of Gunsa on a festival day to see the traditional singing and dancing of the witch doctors: it was truly amazing to be a part of the local festivities. The teachers, being so welcoming and friendly, were also very keen to take me to the 2000m summit of Govre were we enjoyed eating a lot of local food, playing games and dancing together!
One of the most beautiful things about my trip is the friendships I managed to create despite the language barrier. It was wonderful to laugh over games with the family, interact with the Grandma purely with smiles and laughter and I developed a really close relationship with one of the female teachers over food and simple English/Nepali exchanges. It just goes to show that relationships are built from sharing happiness: no language required!
Impact on me
One of my more trivial expectations of my trip was to gain experience as a traveller - mission accomplished! I feel confident flying and learnt that whilst the cultural difference can be unsettling at first, one soon learns the ways of the country. It was a wonderful feeling when I felt so settled I felt Nepali!
During my trip I also proved to myself that I can be highly adaptable and I now feel confident I can adapt to whatever travel or life throws at me.
Having never taught before, I certainly left with a lot more teaching experience than I arrived with! I learnt how to plan lessons effectively, improvise/change the lesson plan according to the response of the children and how to manage children and have a positive interaction with them. Before arriving in Nepal, I was concerned I wouldn't be able to assert my authority but it turns out that I can which I was most happy to discover!
Something I didn't necessarily expect to gain is inspiration for my future. I am considering working in the charity sector following completion of my degree and talking to one of the Teach for Nepal teachers really inspired me. He himself came from a remote village but was fortunate enough to receive high quality education in Kathmandu. He is really keen to help such villages progress and has such a wealth of ideas to do so. It really caught my heart and imagination of the difference I could help make if I went into charity/community development work.
With the £1000+ I raised for the charity HELP, I hope to see through the purchasing of computers for the school. The teachers feel this would enrich the students enormously enabling them to see and research the world beyond the village, improve their English through the reading of online resources (e.g. BBC news), improve awareness of certain issues and inspire the children through the showing of videos/films, enable the development of now invaluable computer skills, enable communication between different schools in the area... as we all know, the possibilities of computers and the internet are endless.
In relation to the latter, I would like to set up a partnership with my former primary school and Bhotenamlang school to provide and fruitful exchange of culture and language to enrich the children on both sides of the world.
My interest in charity work has also seen me apply to be president of the Cambridge University branch of HELP (CU HELP President). A follow-up opportunity of my trip which will no doubt continue to teach me many things.
A massive thank you!
I can't thank the THA enough for the financial support you have given me. It means so much to me to have been able to impact the lives of so many children, teachers and to have been impacted so strongly myself. I am also extremely grateful for the step up into the field of charity work my trip, enabled by the THA, has given me. You have really helped kick start my future and have aided the beginning of what I hope will be a series of impactful works. Thank you!!!