Wishes for Nepal
Transforming Early Years education in the Himalayas
When they were living in Nepal with their twin toddlers, it was difficult for teacher Fionna Heiton and her partner Durga Aran to ignore the challenges faced by local schools. Fionna takes up the story.
When we were bringing up our twins in Nepal, it had become clear to us that hundreds of thousands of children across the country were spending their days in dark, dirty, empty classrooms, taught by poorly-trained and demotivated teachers. The urge to make a difference, however small, was strong, so we raised funds and travelled with our children to the village of Sangachok in the area where Durga had spent his childhood, with the somewhat idealistic goal of creating a quality Early Childhood Centre there.
Looking back, Durga recalls those early days:
“We borrowed a jeep and drove up to the remote hillside village each day. Our days were long, hot and dusty, but the need was so clear, and we were convinced that simple activities and changes could make a world of difference for the children.”
This was the start of First Steps Himalaya a charity which has now been working on the ground in Nepal for over 10 years, changing the lives of children by transforming their classrooms and training and empowering their teachers.
We focused first on the environment. With the help of generous donors, rooms were cleaned and painted. Dirt floors were transformed and carpeted. Wooden pallets for seating were replaced with low tables suited to young children. Most rural Nepali early childhood classrooms start with only a single chalkboard, but after being refurbished, the children have access to crayons, paper, books and quality, culturally appropriate learning resources.
Empowering rural teachers
After refurbishing a number of classrooms in remote village schools, we realised that the real key to transforming the lives of young Nepali children wasn’t just the physical classroom but the actual teachers themselves. We were able to raise the funds to build a teacher-training centre in 2015, so our growing team could run effective, hands-on teacher training courses across the country, empowering rural teachers to create simple, engaging lessons. After learning how to make resources from things they can find in their village, teachers can then transform their own classrooms into safe and stimulating learning environments.
“We came to believe that the key to bringing about positive change in rural Himalayan schools is the quality of the teaching” recalls Durga. “We added a new string to our bow and began training local teachers throughout Nepal in modern professional teaching methods, appropriate to the children and their culture”.
Many Nepali teachers working with young children have no knowledge or experience with child-led, play-based learning, nor with appropriate behaviour management techniques. We try to fill the gap by training nurturing, engaged teachers who are the key to improved learning and life skills for the young children in their care.
“Wishes for Nepal”
Although only a small amount of money can make big changes to rural Nepali classrooms, First Steps is reliant on generous donations from a wide range of different people. With this in mind, they developed a teaching and fundraising resource for schools around the world called Wishes for Nepal.
“Making it easy for teachers to run a Wishes for Nepal day in their school or centre has been key” says Durga. “We wanted something that would not only raise money to help support improved education in rural Nepal but also teach children around the world about others who have a very different life to them.”
With the current global situation, this is even more relevant. Learning to be grateful and not take things for granted is a lesson that we all need to learn.
Wishes for Nepal has fun, easy-to-follow, downloadable educational resources about Nepal created by teachers, for teachers. It includes arts and craft projects with instructional videos and templates, a Wishes for Nepal song and video and a colourful story book about daily life in Nepal. The fundraising part is easy. Simply send home a printable donation envelope, personalised by each child. Children love learning about the lives and culture of children in Nepal. On fundraising day, they often enjoy dressing up in prayer flag colours.
Developing a love of learning in difficult times
Children in Nepal are used to challenging times. The majority of children in rural Nepal live in poverty, many with absentee fathers working as migrant labourers in the Gulf, Malaysia or India. By the time they have repaid debts to the agent, little money trickles back to their families. Each year monsoonal floods, landslides and diseases make life a struggle. Now, due to the Global Pandemic, literally hundreds of thousands of fathers are returning to Nepal, jobless, increasing the strain on Nepali families.
Yet, despite these daily struggles, all over Nepal, young children arrive at school, neat and tidy, ready to learn. First Steps Himalaya believes passionately that all children deserve quality early education and we will continue to strive to make this simple goal a reality.
Fionna Heiton and Durga Aran are the founders and directors of First Steps Himalaya. Find out more about their story and how First Steps Himalaya has transformed the lives of thousands of children and their teachers here: https://www.firststepshimalaya.org/our-story
Please contact Fionna for more information about our work in Nepal and how you and your school or centre can get involved with supporting First Steps in a number of different ways, including the Wishes for Nepal campaign.
Images kindly supplied by Fionna and Durga