School in the clouds

On the mountains of Nepal, amongst the clouds, is a bamboo school filled with happy pupils. Their classrooms were destroyed in the earthquake, but have been replaced with temporary learning spaces constructed by Finn Church Aid.

  • Bibek Humagain, Nikhil Timalsina, Arun Lama, Bikash Gole and Krishna Dahal say they like their school in the clouds.

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  • A bamboo school is simple, but does its job.

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  • 9-year-old Saugat Timalsina hopes to become a teacher.

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  • Style above all else. School director Navaraj Dahal, wearing a pinstripe suit, says he is grateful for the bamboo school despite its shortcomings.

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  • School director and pupils.

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  • Friends Anusha Chamlagain, 7 years old, and Rachana Dahal, 9 years old.

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  • Friends Swastika Humagain (left), 7, Anusha Chamlagain, 7, and Rachana Dahal, 9.

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  • Even though surroundings are modest, joy is abundant. 7-year old Swastika Humagain and Anusha Chamlagain, and 9-year-old Rachana Dahal.

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  • After noon, Kaleshwor is engulfed in clouds.

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Text and photos: Antti Helin

Past the shining yellow rice-fields, over the crest covered in conifers, beyond the narrow, paved serpentine road; along a muddy, potholed mountain road as far as the jeep can go and then on foot for the final stretch of trail.

That is how you get to the village of Kaleshwor and the Navodaya Primary School shrouded in clouds.

After noon Kaleshwor is engulfed by clouds.

After noon Kaleshwor is engulfed by clouds.

The school sits on top of a mountain ridge which is swallowed by mist around noon and hidden from view.

The school buildings stand like ghosts in the mist. Both ends of the stone school building have crumbled down into piles of stone.

Finn Church Aid has constructed a temporary learning space out of bamboo next to the old school building with a tarpaulin serving as its roof.

Two dozen children are playing on the yard. The fact that children play without supervision adds to the eerie atmosphere. It feels as if adults have vanished in the mist with the rest of the landscape.

Then again children in the remote rural regions of Nepal have surely learned to take care of each other.

The children explain that the school director and the teachers are on their tea break. One of the children run away to fetch them.

Children feel safe in school

While waiting for the director, the children show us the bamboo school. The classrooms are simple but roomy and bright. They are furnished with a few long benches and desks.

“I like studying here because I like learning. The bamboo school is beautiful although the walls have already darkened. I am pleased”, says nine-year-old Saugat Timalsina.

9-year-old Saugat Timalsina with his classmates.

9-year-old Saugat Timalsina with his classmates.

The farmer’s son says he wants to become a teacher.

His home was damaged in the earthquake; big cracks appeared in the walls. Now, he lives in a hut made of corrugated iron.

“I love my new home”, he says. The boy says he feels safe in the hut and in the bamboo school. They are not in danger of collapsing on him, even if Nepal is hit with yet another earthquake.

Timalsina says there is nothing he misses from the time before the earthquake.

The other school children seem happy too. They laugh and smile lightly.

Problems with moisture and draft

The director, Navaraj Dahal, arrives. Even though we are in a remote region, the director is immaculately dressed in his pinstripe suit. On his head he is wearing the traditional, colourful hat of the Newari people.

“I am happy about the temporary learning space. It has really come in need. Without it, we would have to do the teaching under nothing but tarpaulins”, Dahal says.

The earthquake destroyed both of the school’s two buildings containing classrooms. Now, the 25 students are studying in the bamboo school. The students are aged between 9 and 12.

Inevitably, the arrangement is not without its problems.

“The clouds bring moisture inside. During the monsoon season the building didn’t hold water. And I’m afraid a draft will pass through the bamboo walls in winter”, the director explains.

The bamboo walls have already begun to darken from the moisture.

The director immediately adds that he is extremely grateful. “We have no other alternatives”, he says.

The government has not released a timetable for the construction of new, permanent school buildings in the rural regions.

Director Dahal’s school is small and remote. Rebuilding it is hardly a priority for the government.

New toys and toilets

Dahal also expresses his gratitude for the school supplies FCA has been distributing in cooperation with Unicef. The supply packages contain both teaching and hygiene supplies, and toys.

“The toys have brought enormous joy. They have helped the children cope with all this”, Dahal says, referring to the fear and uncertainty caused by the earthquake.

The toys are stored in the director’s room which doubles as the school office.

“Every day we allow the children to play and draw here for 40 minutes.”

The room is filled with a joyful chaos as the director invites the children in. They bounce balls and play with building blocks.

In addition to the bamboo learning space, FCA has provided the school with two new toilets.

The toilets are bright green, their frames bolted together from metal pipes, and sturdy plastic panels as walls.

A toilet designed by Finn Church Aid.

A toilet designed by Finn Church Aid.

The toilets get unreserved praise from the director.

“I would gladly have one of these at home”, he says and wonders why the temporary learning spaces are not made from the same materials.

The reason is, the learning spaces are made according to official designs from the Nepalese government, but Finn Church Aid has been given complete freedom in designing the toilets.

FCA is planning to improve the learning spaces for the coming winter too. The plan is to strengthen the bamboo walls with insulation to prevent draft.

Let us hope that the plan will materialise and the clouds enveloping the village of Kaleshwor will remain outside the school walls.