Teaching and Volunteering in Nepal

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Written by: David Firth

A Teaching Placement in Nepal

My first day teaching at Anal Jyoti School, in Dholahiti, a small village area in the Kathmandu Valley, was very nerve-racking but I really enjoyed it. I had six classes a day and I taught from Class 2 (6 year olds) all the way to Class 6 (13 year olds). On the first day I did an introduction class where everyone said their names, ages, where we come from and our favourite things. This allowed me to get to know my students and for them to get to know me whilst also allowing me to gauge their level of English.

Generally, all my classes would behave really well and I was very lucky. I had one “trouble class”, my Class 3B, that sometimes got out of control but I would use games at the end of a lesson as an incentive for good behaviour. In Nepal, each teacher has a large wooden stick with a metal tip and they have free reign to hit the students if they are bad – I was asked if I wanted my own stick when I first arrived at the school. I turned it down.

Memories of being a teacher in Nepal

I have so many good memories of being a teacher, from getting a pile of cards from my students and being presented with flowers on Valentines Day to telling my students the story of Helen of Troy and watching them perform their favourite parts of the story. I got such a buzz walking out of the classroom knowing that my students had enjoyed the class and had just learnt something new from what I was able to teach them. I loved all my classes and all my students – even the bad ones!

The 4th March is one of the days I will remember the most; the school’s annual Parent’s Day. A Parent’s Day in Nepal isn’t where teachers meet parents and say such things as “Well, your son is doing very well, could be a littler quieter in class though”. Instead, parents and special guests come to watch the students perform dances, songs and dramas and the best students of the year are awarded honours and prizes.

Amongst the special guests invited was the District Governor, who came with a big entourage and opened the ceremony. Miss Nepal came briefly as did a man called Krante Ali. Ali sang on stage and performed one of his ‘mega hit songs’, ‘She’s the Bomb’. At the time, I didn’t actually know who he was and simply had a friendly chat with him. After being in Nepal a while longer, I felt very star-struck having met Krante Ali who is actually very famous in Nepal and is their equivalent of Robbie Williams!

Relating to the caste systems of old

Students performed in their social caste grouping, which was very interesting, as each caste has a different traditional dance and song. There were around 8 different caste performances, including, the Rais, who wore light brown clothes and danced with tree leaves – trees are holy to the Rai caste. The Sherpas (Sherpas are a caste who commonly live in the mountain regions and it is the destiny of every Sherpa to climb a Nepali mountain) did a very fast dramatic dance which was supposed to symbolise the drama of mountain climbing!

Then came my turn! I had taught my Class 3A and 3B, ‘Yellow Submarine’ by The Beatles (following the trend from India where I sang ‘From Me to You’ on stage to 300 Indians at a village wedding) and they got on stage and we all sang it at the top of our voices with a bit of clapping to help keep them in beat. It was the only English performance and the students really enjoyed it – to this day I have people singing ‘Yellow Submarine’ to me!

Parent’s Day was immense and it is one of my best and most memorable times of being in Nepal, not only because it was so interesting to see all the different cultural performances but because I also felt quite proud, seeing my students winning prizes and doing really well in their performances that they had been working on for so long. Especially touching were the hostel students who didn’t have parents in the audience and came to me instead to show me the prize they’d won or ask if they did well.

Teaching in Nepal

Experiencing life in the school hostel

Living in the school hostel was a great experience as the community I lived in was so big; three hostel teachers and over 50 students. My room in the hostel was much bigger then my room in India, although my bathroom was outside and so I often would have hostel students and teachers walking past as I brushed my teeth or had a shave. I once gave a great shock to 10 year old Rebika, from Class 3B, who saw my face covered in white foam and didn’t quite understand what I was doing!

Nepal was a great place to live in; nicknamed the “land of festivals” – every week or so there would be some national festival or local celebration. Shivaratri – “the night of Shiva,” the Hindu God of Destruction – was particularly eye-opening. For Shivaratri everyone partied in the Pashupatti district of the Kathmandu valley – a place where people are cremated in the streets and river because of its sacred location. As Shiva is the God of Destruction it is a good thing to be cremated, ‘destroyed’, on Shivaratri. Hindus come together to celebrate the passing of loved ones onto the next life. That night I partied with some Nepali friends, was blessed and watched and danced as bodies burned yards away from me.

Sticking around for Holi festival

Another festival I enjoyed was Holi – the festival of colours. Holi is celebrated by throwing paint and coloured water at each other. Water balloons are commonly sold everywhere on the streets and children, adults and even old men will be seen throwing balloons. To celebrate Holi, we had a hostel picnic in a local park. Everyone ate rice, danced to loud Hindi music and of course, chucked paint and adorned each other with face paints.

My school’s Dakshunkali pilgrimage is something I will never forget. Kali is the Goddess of Death and every Saturday animals are taken for sacrifice to the Temple of Kali – Dakshunkali. I watched as goat’s heads were sliced off and then taken to a pedestal while the rest of the body is cut up into smaller pieces. The legs of the animals were writhing for quite some time after the head had gone; it was a bit disturbing. All the blood from the animals must come out and they smear it all over the white stones in honour of Kali. It was quite something – I thought I’d be prepared for it but it kind of takes you by surprise.

Leaving Nepal to carry on travelling was obviously sad but I was taken by surprise by all the gifts and things I was given by students and fellow teachers. One of my favourites was receiving an authentic Nepali khukuri knife – famous for being part of the Gurkha regimental weaponry – from KiranMiss, a teacher from the school. She also gave me her recipe for the traditional Nepali food “dahl baht” – rice and curry – so when I get back home, I’ll definitely be cooking some of my own!

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