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megha's blog #1 : my first trip to Sarlahi

Hello! My name is Megha, I am seventeen, and currently studying in the US. For the past 7 months, I've mainly been promoting Project 3K while also managing Hoste Hainse's social media pages.

Aayushma, our US volunteer coordinator, and Vasti helped initiate me into the Hoste Hainse team last August. They helped me get comfortable with concepts I had no experience with before, like CSR grants, proposals. We also worked long hours brainstorming ideas on how to promote our projects.

Thanks to them, I quickly integrated myself into the Hoste Hainse family and truly understood our work’s depth. What I loved most was the work’s autonomy-- I could contribute how much I wanted, whenever. Last December, I was allowed to visit our four Hoste Hainse schools in Sarlahi, Nepal. Initially, I was planning to go to Sarlahi for four nights. But due to certain circumstances and COVID, I had to shorten that trip to only two nights instead.

I drove to Sarlahi on Saturday morning, accompanied by Krishna Dai (executive director) and Rashmi (executive program manager). Although the drive was around 6 hours long, it went by fast -- I was mesmerized by the scenery that compassed my view. Green hills and a peak of the Himalayas kept me busy enough to forget about the long drive. But unfortunately, due to “seet lahar,” a smog covering the Terai region in the winters, the Himalayan range was not fully visible.

What stood out during this peaceful setting was my first experience seeing Nepali highway drivers, especially those in a "micro" and even those big buses -- swerving left and right on tight curvy roads - dangerously close to the edge. Talking about driving, an incident that stuck with me was when a black cat crossed the highway before us, and our driver, Sunkaji Dai, came to a complete stop, refusing to drive forward until someone passed him first. It reminded me of how superstitious we Nepali people still truly are. Despite having a modern persona now, we all still possess the same traditional beliefs we were raised with.

To help the local community, we conducted a litter pick around the highways of Bardibas. By recycling the litter, we can garner some additional funds back into the schools (learn more here). Soon after, we arrived at the hotel and slept early in preparation for the next day, on which we were going to visit every HH school.

Our car on the highway during the litter pick.

Visiting all four schools in one day seemed overwhelming -- and it was. I‘m not quite sure how to break down each school in a consumable way, but I have decided that giving each school a brief section should hopefully suffice! :)

1. Shreepur School

Our drive to the first school, Shreepur, was under an hour. Here, you can see a glimpse of southern Nepal’s beautiful forests, which almost resembles a painting due to the smog.

After arriving, we were kindly greeted by the teachers and staff with garland necklaces.

The first thing I noticed about this school was that nobody was wearing a mask. Also -- its size. This is our smallest school, with only around 250 students. I quickly visited all the classrooms with Rashmi and was greeted by the students. After introducing myself, I would ask a few students their favorite thing about school and something that could be improved in each class. This helped me get a grasp of the school and its conditions. All of them seemed very content, though they did want some new toys and balls -- which I promised to keep in mind for next time :).

Some of the younger students couldn’t speak fluent Nepali yet, so communication was difficult at first. Regardless, I was still impressed by their ability to read Nepali books -- much better than I was ever able to!

In one of the science classes, Rashmi asked if a student could volunteer and explain what COVID-19 is and how they can help prevent the spread. The students were timid to speak initially, but one boy bravely volunteered and gave a descriptive explanation of the virus, and taught his classmates that covering coughs, wearing masks, and washing hands can prevent the spread. We were thoroughly impressed.

We then distributed books for the students that Book of Joy kindly donated.

My time at Shreepur School went quickly, but I was excited for the rest of the day. :)

2. Dhangada School

The next school we drove to was Dhangada, our biggest school, with 700 students. I went with Binay, our coordinator in Sarlahi, his wife, and Rashmi.

After reaching, we were greeted with more garlands and smiles. The students mostly had their classes on the school’s large field as a COVID-19 precaution, and to soak up some of the winter sun. Shortly after being there, I completely overcame all shyness. The children there were so confident and vibrant; I felt so comfortable talking with them.

Here are some of the girls showing me what they were learning in science that day.

I was having conversations with as many students as I could per classroom before collecting information for my co-volunteers back in the US for other projects. I really admired how many of the students had a passion for science. Some were even asking for a proper science lab to be set up -- which, hopefully, can become a reality soon. :)

Vishita showing me her much-loved science book!

Despite the abundance of positive comments from the students, there were surely renovations and adjustments that needed to be made at Dhangada. The lack of a gate is one -- this means that villagers are able to access the school and use its facilities, which had resulted in vandalized bathrooms. Currently, we are in the process of building new bathrooms and a library.

Dillon, an architecture major from UVA, is volunteering with HH. He has designed furniture, planned layouts for both the library and bathroom, made the blueprint, and the structure. Having Dillon on the team has been especially rewarding, as he is very thoughtful in keeping his designs in line with our goals of being sustainable and eco-friendly. :)

Here, is Dillon’s sustainable and comprehensive library design, which aims to encourage younger and older students to use it -- hence the varying sizes of tables.

This is Sanskriti, the student I sponsor for Project 3k!! Meeting her was such a memorable experience, and I am beyond excited to watch her progress throughout the years. More info on how to become a sponsor can be found here!

Some of you might recognize Muskaan and Aarti from our Project 3k poster. While speaking with them, I came to learn that Muskaan was just recently married at 18. Despite being newly married, she plans to continue her education until matriculation. In the past, marriage would have been a barrier to education, but now, education has become a priority. It was relieving to learn that marriage no longer hinders our students from receiving their education, as seen in Muskaan’s case.

3. Sahodwa School

After reaching Sahodwa, we were once again kindly greeted by the teachers and staff. The students had their classes outside as well, sitting in large circles, similar to Dhangada. We are currently building a library at this school. The students were incredibly excited about this new addition, and the teachers are even willing to add a designated library time during the school day. One kid was especially enthusiastic about the new books from Book of Joy -- when I asked if he would read them, he said “naya kitab payebhane padhihalchu ni… kina na padhne!”

Here, two boys are showing us an impressive Bollywood dance performance to a song they learned

from TV.

4. Padariya School

Padariya was the last school we visited. It was a fairly small school in comparison to the others, with roughly 250 students -- like Shreepur. This school has no bathroom at all, so we are definitely considering adding one shortly. We have a library at this school, but it is unused by the students, despite it having some great books. In my opinion, it looks like a conference room, which is not interactive or personalized for the students' needs. The students here were lively, nonetheless, and we were able to distribute backpacks and other school bags to a few classes. We finished off the last school by distributing the rest of the books donated by Books of Joy!

Here's me reading to a few students about otters. :)

To finish off the day, we visited our local income generation programs in Sarlahi which currently include fish farming as well as milk delivery.

Saying goodbye :(

And our drive back to the hotel.

Although the remote work I have been doing these past few months has been highly fulfilling, being able to visit the schools and see the progress firsthand proved that Hoste Hainse truly does invest in the youth of Nepal. By providing them with an education, they are given the opportunity to explore themselves, academically and intellectually -- beyond what they may have thought to previously have been possible.

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