Volunteering in the Nepali Jungle

Patient readers…
apologies about the lack of posts, as well as the shortness of this one. We have been in very rural Nepal, in Thakurdwara village, near Bardia National Park in the Terai region. It is the far south of Nepal, right near the Indian border, and thus not at all mountainous or cool. It in fact almost oppressively hot here during the day, but for the last 10 days we have been staying in such an amazing place that it fortunately doesn’t matter. For the last week we have been volunteer teaching at a local school, the private BBAS Memorial School. Ignore the Western perception of a private school, however, the uniforms are the main similarity…
We are teaching Class IV, V, & VI, most subjects including English, Math, Science, Social Studies, Geography, and whatever else comes up. It is definitely the most challenging job we have had yet. The students do have books, but there are essentially no teaching supplies, except a few marker boards. Pencils are in short supply, and often quite short, and although it is an English-medium school, there are at times a definite language barrier, partciularly with the lower classes. Our first day we tried some lower classes, too, like I & III, but they were pretty challenging. Class I was overwhelming at 30 students, and Class III has a few troublemakers who bring the pace of class down to very slow. But the older kids, which also are in smaller sized classes (16, 8, & 6), understand much more of what we teach. So much to say, so little time to write… internet is only available at one lodge in town here, and only during certain hours, and even then some days it simply doesn’t work at all.
We are staying at a lodge called Jungle Base Camp, run by a nice local man named Hukum and his family. This area of Nepal is inhabitated by the traditional Tharu people, animist farmers with their own language and culture. Most of our students are Tharu, and that is the language that they speak at home, although they also speak Nepali (it is the one class at school we can’t teach :-). We are right on the border with the national park, many Tharu people even live in the border zone, still a protected area, around the outside of the park. We have gone rafting in the park one day, and on a jungle trek another, though we plan on doing work trekking while we are still here. We plan on at least another week, maybe 2, maybe more…? Who knows, certainly not us – we just have a 60 day visa and want to see some other parts of Nepal, too 🙂
We have not yet seen a tiger, though odds are actually good that we will if we go trekking a few more times and have patience to wait by the river for many hours, but we have seen one-horned rhinoceros’, wild elephants, boars, 3 types of deer (hog, spotted, & swamp), a crocodile while rafting, plus all sorts of birds, and even a furry mongoose.
The park also has an elephant breeding center, with all sorts of domesticated adult elephants, plus babies of all ages, from 1 month old. The young ones you can play with, they are rather like pet dogs, though much bigger and cuter. They let you rub them all over, and play with their trunks. They will roll around on the ground, and some play rough and try to headbutt us!
Food is relatively unvaried, but all top-notch; Santosh, the cook, is amazing, and makes great dal bhat, chutney, vegetable soups, veg fried rice, and momos. Our favorite is Dhikri, the traditional Tharu food, which is rice-flour rolled us somewhat like breadsticks, but very chewy, served with a spicy chutney sauce and a vegetable curry. We had it tonight in fact, for like the 4th time or so…
Tomorrow is our only day off for our week, so maybe we can write more then, but things are going well, save the internet availability.
We did see the Taj Mahal while in India, overrated and overpriced but amazing, and then headed to Nepal pretty much directly from Agra, though we had some hilarious travel misadventures in and around the city of Lucknow – more later.
No photos until we make it to Pokhara, which is our next planned destination after Thakurdwara/Bardia. We will definitely be staying and teaching for one more week, after that we have not decided. Wait and see!
Many of the schools teachers, and the vice-principal as well, are new like us, so there is not really a schedule or anything, and up until today every class was going teacherless at some point during the day. Definitely an eye-opener in many ways. No electricity to speak of, no fans to keep people cool, no running water in the bathroom (just a pump outside), etc. – although the rampant hunger amongst the children is definitely the biggest problem. Many kids stop listening after a while, or put their heads down, and between the heat and the fact they haven’t eaten all day, it’s rather hard to blame them, though a bit frustrating to teach them 🙂
There are also two government schools, which are Nepali-medium, but they do have English classes, however they have been on summer holiday thus far. We are hoping that they will reopen while we are here, so we can try and help those students (who are much more numerous, and primarily poorer, since they cannot afford the US$5/year private school tuition (plus another US$10/year on uniforms and books), and also in much, much larger classes of 100+ students…
We are trying to help the school out for the longer term as well, though it is a struggle to get the facts on what improvements need to be made, costs related, and practicalities of doing so. Getting “real” is challenging inter-culturally at times 🙂
We know money cannot solve the world’s problems, but it can possibly make a difference in education, if used properly… for example, a government-school teacher here, for the lower grades, makes 4000 Nepali rupees/year, which is, at 70Rs/$1, around $60 or so. Student lunch sounds to us the best idea right now, since it could have such an impact on the children’s ability to learn, but coordinating that, even in the very early stages, is definitely a slow, uphill battle.
So it is hard, but good, work, and is very fun, though challenging and tiring at the same time. School is only 5.5 hours/day, but that long teaching in the heat leaves us pretty exhausted!

Well, much more later, whenever “later” may end up being!
Anderson & Liz

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