We arrived at the village in the afternoon, around 15:00 or so. We put our backpacks in a room with a local family, before sitting down for a short conversation with our host. My translator, Suman, did most of the talking, of course. We spoke a bit about the surrounding villages and we asked her if there’s a school around, which we can go and see before the sun sets. “There are two”, she said. “A big one just nearby, and a small one, about an hour walk from here”.
We met several locals on the way, each of them telling us there’s still an hour walk ahead.
An hour later, we stopped seeing locals, and started wondering whether or not we had missed the school. It is a small one, after all. Finally, we saw a man standing next to his house, fixing a water pipe. “It's very close”, he said. "Keep walking down, and you'll see it right before the second turn". He also said that his son and daughter, whom we’ve since then come to know very well, also study in that school. We walked a few more minutes, but the school was not there. As we were walking back and forth, a small path, as if out of nowhere, reveled itself to us.
'Salgari' School (in the middle), and a local house
It was indeed a very small school. I later discovered that it had only 15 students studying there, and three teachers.
It was built in 2001 as a solution for the young children in the surrounding village, called ‘Salgari’. The school has the same name, and it has only students aging 3 to 9 years old (until they finish the 3rd grade), when they are still too young to walk the long ascend to the bigger school.
We were back in the school the next morning. I spotted a very happy and energetic little girl, called Kritika Waiba. She was in the 2nd grade. She liked talking, and didn’t mind being photographed either. Kritika has two younger brothers, Kriton and Pasang, and they live with their parents, just a few minutes walk from school. Their father, Aishing, is mostly out working, and the house is under the care of their mother, Bisnu. Like everyone else around, the Waiba family has also suffered damages during the earthquake that had hit Nepal in 2015. Four - year - old Pasang was born in the community shelter, not long after the village got hit. Four years later, the family still lives in the temporary shelter they built after the earthquake. Income comes from farming, as well as some occasional jobs that Aishing manages to get. It’s usually enough to survive, but not much more.
In the midst of these life struggles, the local families maintain hope that their children could have a better future. Some put faith in education, while others find it difficult to believe that school could bring any significant change for them. There are 3 teachers in ‘Salgari’ school, one of whom also serves as the head teacher. The school is divided into 3 classrooms – ECD (Early Child Developemnt) + 1st grade; 2nd grade; and 3rd grade. Once they finish the 3rd grade, they will attend ‘Saraswati’ school, located more than an hour walk from their village.
The road is often a very big problem in this area. While already very poor road, it becomes nearly impossible to walk during the rainy season, which poses a challenge not only for children walking to school, but for everyone else as well. Since the 3 teachers are not from ‘Salgari’ village, they have to walk for up to two hours to school, and more than that back home. They do it everyday, six days a week, and get a monthly salary starting from 60 dollars for the ECD teacher, up to approximately 220 dollars for the school head teacher.
The school building had also collapsed during the earthquake, but was rebuilt shortly after that. Unfortunately, it still lacks what we consider to be basic facilities, but might be seen as luxuries by others – electricity, clean water all year round, and a basic fence around the school. Other challenges come with the students from home. Whether it’s the parents, many of whom don’t put much faith in the education system, or the fact that students often don’t have enough food to eat at home, which causes them to miss school, or go hungry.
The question of education is not a simple one to answer. For most of us it’s not even a question, but a taken for granted reality, in which school is simply another stage of life that we all have to go through. But to others, school could sometimes be their only genuine hope to break out of their seemingly inevitable fates.
Miss Dipa Waiba, teaching the ECD and 1st grade students
Bimala Tamang, sitting in the classroom
Students eating lunch in the yard
Pasang, leading the way to school
Kritika, on her way home
Bisnu, washing the clothes
Getting ready for school
Kritika, about to head out to school
Pasang, eating breakfast
Pasang and Bisnu, taking an afternoon nap
The school girls, playing during the break time
Dipa Waiba, in her classroom
Miss Bimala, with the 3rd grade students
Masali Maya Ghalan, the school head teacher
3rd Grade class
Bisnu, getting Pasang ready for school
Kriton, taking a rest