A three-legged stool

Written by Philip Holmes on Saturday 6th March 2021

Shree National Primary School, Dhanusha District, south Nepal

In June 2020, we launched a 2.5-year reforestation project at Bhatighadi, just to the north of Janakpur. This involves the restoration of 32 hectares of community forest (with a possible additional ten hectares being considered), all fully funded. The project has provided immediate, vital, employment to poor people from the area many of whom are from the "Dalit" (untouchable) or "Janjati" ethnic minorities. Indeed, during lockdown these proud people asked us to provide work, not food, for them and, through this project, that is what we did. Once the forest is restored it will be cared for by the Community Forest Users Group (CFUG) ensuring that forest products will be utilised sustainably. Needless to say, the relationship between our implementing partner NGO, the Mithila Wildlife Trust, and the local community is extremely good. We can count on the community's future collaboration in new projects such as with this new plan for the local school.

The Bhatighadi school and playground

The community is served by Shree Rastriya Aadharbhut Vidyalaya (Shree National Primary School) which was built in 1962 and offers basic education up to class 8. Students who wish to continue studies into classes 9/10 need to attend either Dharapani school (8km to the east) or Dhalkebar school (7km to the west). For Higher Secondary education (classes 11 and 12) students must attend college in Janakpur or in Kathmandu. The school is used only by the children of the poorest families; the better-off families send their children to private schools which are better resourced. These include the children of migrant workers - in the absence of local employment, many of the men work in the Gulf states, India or Malaysia.

Out of 538 school-age (4-14) children from Bhatighadi CFUG, 142 attend school regularly (90%+ attendance) and a further 200 are irregular attenders. 196 children do not attend school at all. Of the 142 regular attenders, 47.89% are boys and 52.11% are girls. The imbalance could reflect some gender discrimination as, sadly, many families prioritise the education of their sons whom they will send to private schools. We will see what we can do to address that!

The poor attendance is partly because the buildings are now dilapidated and dangerous. The galvanized iron sheet roofs make the rooms unbearably hot in summer and leak when it rains. There are currently 10 classrooms, but of these two are unusable. The other issue is that there are only four teachers, which would be inadequate to cope with the potential numbers of students if they were all to attend.

The Bhatighadi school and playground

Mr. Shyam Lama, Chairman of the CFUG, has recently been selected as Chairman of the School Management Committee. He aims to ensure that all of the 538 children attend school. For this goal, he has the eager support of a young and energetic Head Teacher who lives locally. Mithila Wildlife Trust has agreed with the Committee a five-year plan towards developing an attendance of 800, based upon the assumption that another 300 children, who are currently attending private schools, may well transfer to the new school. 

The five-year plan assumes an increased attendance of 100 children per year and has the following features:

  • Through new building and refurbishment, to have 12 functioning classrooms
  • A computer room, fully equipped
  • Other infrastructure such as toilets, office and stores
  • Classroom furnishings and play equipment
  • Biogas installation, allowing preparation of snacks to incentivise attendance
  • Teacher numbers increase annually, with 8 additional teachers after five years
Dilapidated school buildings
  • Teacher training (with advice from our Trustee, educational consultant Caroline Milne). This is to include environmental education. We will develop and print teaching resources.
  • Student incentivisation through prizes and attendance awards
  • Classes and field trips in environmental issues
  • Teaching of English
  • A full-time education and community engagement officer
  • A bursary scheme to encourage progress to class 9 and beyond, especially for girls. This will have an impact on reducing child marriage
  • Support to the poorest families (e.g., agricultural training) in return for children attending

We are developing an all-important sustainability programme, for which costings are awaited. But, our top priority is to introduce production of organic fertiliser that will replace the harmful chemical fertilisers that are imported from India. This has been introduced very successfully elsewhere in Nepal, underpinned by government subsidies. Our project partner, Our Sansar, is driving this aspect of the project, including through inputs from the charity's personal contacts in academia and business. Also we are investigating potential school revenue income from mushroom farming; mushrooms can be cultivated successfully on poor quality land that can be leased very cheaply. Both compost production and mushroom farming will provide local livelihoods and particularly for women from the poorest families.  Finally, Mr Lama is confident that once the school is up and running he will be able to use his influence to find government funding for the new teacher salaries.

Dev Narayan Mandal, Founder Chairman of Mithila Wildlife Trust meeting with School Management Committee members

So, there is the three-legged stool: education, environment and community livelihoods all in harmony and providing the essential ingredients of a sustainable way forward. The budget for the five year plan currently stands at £321,700 (capital and revenue costs) with the bulk of this, £101,700 being in year one as we build and restore classrooms. That may sound like a lot, but it can be broken down into constituent elements according to what a donor can afford. For example, a classroom desk/bench costs £25, a monthly salary for an additional teacher is £135 and a computer costs £490. We would particularly welcome a major donation towards building costs from a Foundation, corporate or school - maybe from an individual in memory of a loved one. The really good news is that we will be fundraising for this project through a special Big Give appeal in May when all donations can automatically double in value. And we're off to a great start with a grant pledge of £25,500 towards the set up of a fully equipped computer classroom by Guy's Trust in memory of Guy Joseph.

If you would like further information on funding possibilities or how to make a Big Give pledge, then just drop me a line.

 

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