This article is about the Humanist School that Eleanor Middleton visited in Nepal earlier this year. On her return to New Zealand, Eleanor spoke about her experiences at a Wellington meeting of the Humanist Society of New Zealand. The school, previously named Harvard International School, has been renamed SOCH School.

Nepal is the youngest secular country in the world. A people’s movement in 2005 established a long awaited secular state in Nepal erasing the label of ‘the only Hindu country’ in the world. Though its constitution is now secular, yet all national institutions have been created during the earlier Hindu regime. The idea of Hinduism has been so deeply injected into the population that many people cannot think beyond it even after the secularization of the nation. Thus, in transition, Nepal realizes the need for a strong movement to make people aware about the importance of secularism and the creation of a science-based society. This realization has led to Society for Humanism (SOCH) Nepal going national.

Society for Humanism (SOCH) Nepal is a very active Humanist organization in Nepal. It is also a member organization of IHEU. It has been campaigning for secularism and against retrograde cultural practices in Nepal. It has also started working with the government to fight against violation of human rights in the name of religion and culture.

SOCH realised that scientific and rational thinking is essential from childhood. When a person has grown up with a religious and superstitious mindset, it is hard to make them realise the importance of free thinking even if they want to know. Thus, along with several activists, SOCH Nepal realized the dream of opening a Humanist school in Nepal to make children think freely without any preconceived notions. The mission of the school is to get children to enjoy the process of discovery and reflect upon the vast possibilities of a human being. It is not an anti-religion school, but one where students can think for themselves.

The school is called SOCH School. It was started in January 2012. Currently, 181 students from 4 years to 18 years are studying there. There are 26 staff members. Apart from the regular curriculum SOCH organizes online classes with international schools, international teacher volunteers visit the school to share ideas, and organize debates on scientific thinking and discovery etc.

SOCH Members have established a fund to sponsor poor children to study in the school. There are many brilliant children without access to good education. SOCH sponsors some of them. All management team members and advisors are from a Humanist background. Some of them are internationally renowned Humanists.

SOCH also offers accommodation to international volunteers who come and teach in our school. Utilising that facility, teachers from Australia, Scotland, and The Netherlands have already started volunteering in the school. This has helped students to understand and appreciate different cultures and broadened their minds. SOCH appeals to all Humanists to volunteer in this school if they can manage the time.

Most of the parents of the school’s children have a religious background. Therefore, it is difficult to convince them of the need for free thought. But SOCH Nepal is ready to tackle this problem as a movement based organization. It is always a challenge to work in a closed society using new ideas. But our mission is to make the coming generation in Nepal understand the need for free thought and scientific attitude for future prosperity. SOCH wants support from all Humanists around the world to achieve this mission.

Reprinted from International Humanist News August 2012