By Rutger Tamminga
Right in the middle of the rainy season, Lien Ching Fa, Miss Jiang and myself went to Nepal to meet the teachers of seven AMSAI schools in the different parts of Nepal. As we started off from Kathmandu I was ill prepared for the condition of the mountain roads in Nepal. There were landslides everywhere, and while life seems to be relatively quiet and slow, for over four hours we drove at neck breaking speed to Heitouda, a town not far from the Indian border in the Southern region of Nepal.
There we stayed in the hostel of the AMSAI school that caters to students from KG 1 to High School and started our first three day teacher training session for the teachers from AMSAI schools in the area. As I was new to their environment, I focused on storytelling and singing games, kids yoga teaching methods and phonics. For three days the teachers practiced storytelling techniques and story based lesson planning, kids yoga and spelling methods. They were very inspired and positive during the training.
The last day of the training coincided with the worst rain in over 20 years! The rain was so loud, we couldn’t hear each other anymore, even with a loudspeaker system. The river next to the school tripled in size and the houses close to the river were submerged up to the first floor. Later we heard that 500 people had died due to the rains that day. Fifteen million people were affected in Nepal, India and Bangladesh. The agricultural damage was astronomical.
In spite of the rain we had to leave for the next program in a remote village, Sarlahi. However the road had been partially washed away and what normally would take one hour, took four to five hours. We had to sleep half way due to lack of transport and could only continue the next day early morning. Luckily we reached just in time for the training session in Sarlahi. There Dada Kamalakantananda with help from AMURT Italy, and help from the UK and Portugal, is building a double story school in a very isolated and disadvantaged village. He has been there for over five years and the whole village sends their children to him. He has ten teachers and 300 children.
The third and fourth trainings were in Kathmandu, where Didi Shantimaya has a beautiful school with 100 children. The program was shortened due to lack of time.
What we noticed in these trainings is that the AMSAI schools are run by very devoted people, who often basically volunteer to provide the best education for the children. The salary they get ranges from one to two US dollars per day. The teaching methods used are traditional and test oriented. The children learn through copying and are managed in a commanding way. This limits their training in self-expression and personal development.
In order to change the Nepali teachers asked for volunteers from other parts of the world to visit them, stay with them even for a week or two and through interaction help them incorporate better teaching methods. This time we just showed them how to use storytelling for teaching; they would love to learn about dance, music, art and other techniques.
The Nepali’s hospitality and spirituality is overwhelming and it is a great joy to have been there. Now that we have several good schools with reasonable infrastructure, the need for Gurukul’s guidance in improving the contents of their teaching is urgent.
I hope we can move step by step to help the teachers find new and more child centered ways of teaching, as well as bring in some different teaching material. The teacher-student ratio is still very low, with one teacher having to work with thirty to forty students at times. This very much limits their scope of experimenting. Still, any idea outside their present teaching experience may help them create a more child friendly learning experience.
If you would like to be a volunteer in rural Nepal, please contact Dada Kamalakantananda at to discuss details. There is wonderful fresh buffalo milk and yogurt, chapatis and dal and the most beautiful eyes of hundreds of innocent children infinitely curious waiting for you! One piece of advice, if you want to volunteer, avoid the rainy season!
From my side, I am researching how to print cheap editions of the school books we have made for Taiwan and China and introduce them in Nepal and different parts of India. We want to move phase wise and initially start with the Nursery and KG 1 and KG 2 classes. If that goes well, we can progress to offer alternatives for the bigger students.
And finally a word of thanks to all Dadas and Didis and local supporters who helped make this training so memorable. Unforgettable love and devotion!