Iain and I never expected to visit Nepal for a second time. We had always remembered our first visit early in 1985 when we went to Nepal to do the Everest Trek. Our trek was amazing, and climbing Kala Pattar on Pumori, was spectacular. In 2011, Eleanor, our younger daughter decided to do volunteer work with ISPICE in Dharmasala Valley in Northern India and then visit Kathmandu for 10 days on her way back to NZ. Iain contacted Uttam Niraula from SOCH, Nepal’s Humanist Society, and asked him to meet Eleanor at Kathmandu airport and see her safely to her Hotel. Eleanor did a Kathmandu Valley walk, and then visited Chitwan National Park. She arrived in Kathmandu at the very time in January 2012 that SOCH purchased a school. This was the dream of several SOCH activists who want to enable Nepalese children to think freely without any preconceived notions. They want the school’s students to enjoy the process of discovery and to reflect upon the vast possibilities of being human.
In 2005 a long awaited secular state was established in Nepal, yet all national institutions had been created during the earlier Hindu regime. Even though now a secular state, Hinduism remains deeply entwined in Nepalese daily life. SOCH realised that a movement was needed to help people become aware of the importance of secularisation and the creation of a science based society. It is essential that scientific and rational thinking is encouraged from childhood. Because of the deep entwinement of Hinduism with daily Nepalese life SOCH did not want to establish an anti religious school. They desire a school where students are encouraged to think for themselves. Many of the parent’s of the school’s students have a religious background, and it is difficult to convince them of the need for free thought. It is challenging to work in a closed society using new ideas, but SOCH is very determined in their goal to help coming generations understand the need for free thought and a scientific attitude for Nepal’s future prosperity.
With Eleanor’s visit coinciding with the school purchase, a school visit was of great interest to Eleanor. In her travel blog Eleanor and Elephants, http://eleanorandtheelephants.blogspot.co.nz/#!/2012/05/library.html, Eleanor writes about this visit. On her return to NZ, Eleanor was determined to return as the vision of SOCH was compelling.
Eleanor returned to Kathmandu in March 2013 for an initial 4 months, to volunteer with SOCH and Ambience International College as the SOCH school is called, but events transpired to convince her to stay for a further 8 months, until early March 2014.
Iain and I found ourselves contemplating a second visit to Nepal, to see Eleanor, meet up with SOCH, and to do another trek in the Annapurna region. Preparations were made and Rochelle Forrester, another Humanist Society Council member decided to join us. Rochelle had also helped Eleanor with some sponsorship, to enable her longer stay in Kathmandu.
As our departure loomed, a message came from Eleanor requesting that we bring over some of her books as one of her classes were very eager to create a school library. Already they were bringing books from home towards this end. I love to buy books and with some support from the Humanist Council I purchased a suitcase full of books to take with us.
Once in Kathmandu, and after instruction from Eleanor we braved the Taxi system out to Old Baneshwar, the Kathmandu suburb where Ambience College is situated, about 15 minutes walk from SOCH headquarters. We attended Eleanor’s class where she discussed with the students how they would organise their library. It was a delight to witness the students’ eagerness with their library venture. More books were forthcoming from various sources and I purchased more from Pilgrim’s Book Store in Thamel. After we left Eleanor purchased some more to fill in gaps in subject material. While in Kathmandu we helped cover some of the books. Students helped complete this task. A corner in the school staff room has been set up as the library, with a dedicated bookshelf, colourful rug and library system for cataloguing and lending books being organised by the students, with Eleanor’s initial assistance. While helping out with the library venture we shared the lunch provided by the school for the students. Our favourite dish was rice pudding.
Another activity we were able to attend was a Science Open Day. Students were encouraged to set up their own science experiment, individually or as a group with their friends. Working towards this Open Day, had its difficulties but the Open Day afternoon was immensely successful.
Currently the school has 200 pupils ranging in age from 4 years to 18 years. There are 26 staff members, with the management team and advisors having a Humanist background. SOCH has established a fund to sponsor poor children to study at the school, as there are many without access to a good education. An illustration of the need, is a 9 year old boy offered sponsorship because he does not have a father and his mother earns only RS 3000/month. (approx NZ$36.00) while school tuition is Rs.2000/ month, (approx NZ$24.00) and it is not possible to pay this fee and their room rent. SOCH has plans to provide accommodation for very welcome international volunteers. Already the school has enjoyed help from volunteers from Australia, NZ, Scotland and The Netherlands.
We did do a four day trek in the Annapurna region with a fabulous guide Shiba Adhikari and followed this with a visit to Chitwan National Park, where we saw amazing animals and birds including a very large Nepalese Owl.
On our return to NZ we remember the warmth and welcome of SOCH.
After discussion with our Humanist Council we would very much like to continue an association with SOCH and their school. While visiting we noticed some badly needed school building maintenance. On request, a quote to do this work was provided, and the Humanist Council has decided to help with these repairs. Further, members of the Council have decided to share the cost of providing sponsorship for one student. We invite Humanist members, if you so wish to join us with providing some more sponsorship opportunities for Nepalese students. More details will be outlined in upcoming newsletters or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org