This is a rather long post, but worth the reading time. Just wrote this for work. Well, the first page and a half or so is strictly a write-up for work. The rest I thought I’d add to expound upon the rest and put things in perspective for anyone who was just itching to know more.
I had read a great deal about the quality of Nepalese education before arriving in Kathmandu. I had even seen pictures. Nothing, though, can compare to the surrealism of walking into a living, breathing classroom. The commute was long and the weather was near unbearable. As the narrow roads wound farther and farther up the mountainous village, it became more and more apparent that I was to enter into my first field visit. The school was as I had imagined. If anything it was lesser than what I had imagined. It was an awfully blank and lifeless room upon entering. The only real source of life came from the children. The walls were concrete and grey. The roof was a simple one of tin—just enough of an umbra to secure an ample amount of shade. The students did not have any books, but rather read from a hand out. We were invited to sit in the front of the classroom along with the Nepali volunteers and representatives from CWISH.
Students stood one at a time and introduced themselves, each saying something particular about themselves as well. It was difficult to understand because everything was in Nepali, but for the most part the expressions assisted in our understanding. Some principals from neighboring schools as well as a few teachers and elders took turns speaking vehemently about what we would later learn was World Child Labor Day. One of the volunteers later interpreted the happenings of the day for us. He told us that just that morning they had held a rally to speak out against child labor in Nepal. The children served us a meal of spiced peanuts and beaten rice with peas and other vegetables and spiced golden potatoes. It was very spicy! I noticed one child drop his plate, which was easily done since the plates were more like flimsy foil discs. Some of his peers giggled, and I was surprised to see him giggle too. What surprised me more, though, was his resiliency and ability to make do. His friend sitting next to him happily offered to share his meal. It was a generosity I was not very used to seeing, especially coming from young boys, who are naturally possessive of that which is theirs. It brought me solace.
According to the National Labor Force Survey from 2008, 33.9 percent of Nepali children aged 5-14 years are economically active (CBS 2008). Many are involved in dangerous types of work, such as stone quarries, brick kilns, and transportation. As facilitators of the classroom discussion, CWISH performed a task that is quite familiar for many of their volunteers: they worked to facilitate a session of dynamic and useful education for the children. The organization aims not only to create better opportunities for education, but furthermore it aims to teach children of their rights and dignity by encouraging them to speak openly about their feeling and emotions. Children are offered an environment in which they can voice their opinions about child labor as well as share some of their experiences as children in the labor force.
The response I have had thus far in adjusting to this country in most certainly mixed. Half of me adores this culture, the way I get better everyday at dodging vehicles, the road-blocking cows, the fruit stands, the way people get excited to see a white girl and excitedly test their English by smiling and saying “Hello!” or “How are you!?” That same half of me loves the gratification of suddenly realizing I’m here after many long months of trying to turn my ambition into an actuality. There is another half of me, though that sometimes questions, “What am I doing here?” As I lay in my bed (which is not so much of a “bed” by US standards), I sometimes become sad. I want one of my cats to be there to lay beside me. The heat is usually as a level of intensity I am not used to. Breezes are heaven-sent, like the equivalent to a chocolate during exam week. This is the half of me that I know I must recognize, rather than suppress.
It is the stories of the children that have kept me going the most. The fact that I can openly ponder my choices for law school and future PhD plans is pure privilege, especially in light of what I have seen and read so far. Every time I see children passing by me, talking and giggling among themselves, I become enlivened and encouraged by their spiritedness. It is sometimes hard to look at them and not be saddened at knowing their educational condition, at understanding that where there are three it is more than likely that one is working in a fashion not so different from slave labor until midnight or later, at knowing that they do not and can not have the same information sources, reading materials, and classroom amenities with which we grew up.
They always look happy, though. They are always laughing, smiling, playing. They spend time outside. They eat and drink what they are given. They are respectful. They are sweet, smart, and some are even ready to stand up—at such young ages—for their personal dignity. And I am awestruck by them.