Monthly Archives: December 2016

Trekking to Tanting – will definately be back ! 

After visiting Chachowk and Taprang schools I set of to walk to Tanting down paths that are used a lot less today than when I lived in Nepal in 1992 since the building of the roads both along the top of the hills and along the Mhadi Khola river in the valley below.  In the main, the path down was clear to follow but now and again it was hard to work out which way to go – luckily for me I was walking with Guman Gurung who is a youth group leader and very active in the ACAPs Conservation Area Management Committee.  It was well worth the walk for both the views, excercise and also the conversation with Guman. Who would have thought I would have been wandering down a mountain side in Nepal trying to explain the madness of Brexit and Donald Trump and how it links to the need for unity and understanding and compassion.  The need for unity and compassion was something Guman totally agreed with and could relate to from living in Nepal and from his experiences of working in local villages supporting parents to encourage them to not only send their kids to school, but also to support their children to study at home, do their homework and realise their potential. It was a  real pleasure to meet him and he quite happily carried my bag which was very much appreciated ! I also learnt all about Tanting’s youth group and the very successful basketball teams that they have – two of which are champions of the Kaski district. 

I last walked along the Mhadi Khola in 2011, 5 years ago, with a small group of Geography students, Hom and Jit Gurung as well as my ex student Alyn. At that time a new macro hydro project was being discussed.  Today, 5 years later, it is almost complete and a second one is planned a little further upstream.  It’s being built at Chasu which is on the old path that I used to walk along to Sikles which used to have a small cluster of houses that always felt a little odd – a crossing of paths of people that when you entered always felt a little like entering a saloon bar in a western movie as people would just stare at me and whoever I was travelling with with a mixture of curiosity and hostility that is unusual for Nepal – Rose and I used to refer to it as dodge city and it always felt good to have passed through it ! 

The new hydro plant which now stands in that place is massive compared to the one that was built in the early 1990’s much further up the river and I’d never seen it up close.  I had mixed feelings as the new plant will obviously bring much needed power to people in Nepal – but the paths I walked so many times back in 1992 have now gone forever – still I have the memories of them and seem to be able to walk all over Nepal now saying I used to come here when it was all fields – literally !

Water power flowing from the mountains down to the almost complete macro hydro project

 Hard to capture the size of the plant that’s being constructed 

From here the walk up to Tanging was a mixture of road walking and taking short cuts along the old paths and stopping for noodle lunch –  about half an hour before reaching Tanting we hitched a ride in a passing jeep meaning we got to Tanting a little earlier to the most amazing welcome by Prakash Gurung, who is the the local headmaster, and a group of students from school who had come to meet us. I had met Prakash a few years earlier at a conservation day event in Sikles and have heard very good things about his school which I had wanted to visit for along time.  Walking there made the visit even more special as it brought so many memories back of walking to Sikles and made me realise whenever I can I must make the time to walk from village to village and has even given me some new ideas for potential education environmental tours. 

A warm welcome and lovely light in Tanting 

Tanting, for those of you that don’t know is on the opposite hillside to Sikles and is now only a two hour jeep drive away from Pokhara. So I have spent many a night looking over and wondering what it’s like compared to Sikles.  Many of the people I know, especially women, in Sikles were born in Tanting and I know quite a few people based in the UK from Tanting so I had heard a lot about it over the years.  

Sikles by day and by night – no words 🙏🏼

Tanting in many ways is similar to Sikles, though smaller, it has a vibrant community, strong leaders and an active youth and an excellent school with dedicated teachers and students.  Tanting though has more home stays than Sikles which it has opted for instead of hotels which are run by a committee to ensure that guests who arrive rotate between the various homes – I need to check but I think there are 13.  I stayed with a local teacher Manju whilst I was there as a big group of Austrailan and New Zealand guests were arriving the next day in an Engineers Without Borders study tour, facilitated by the Three Sisters, which quite luckily coincided with ACAPs Conservation Day Celebrations the next day on Saturday 10th Dec.

Waking up in Manju’s home felt so like waking up in Sikles with the sound of tea being made, cockerels crowing and the gentle hustle and bustle of people starting to wake up.  I was gutted that my camera battery had run out and due to a damaged micro hydro there was temporarily no electricity in Tanting and my spare batteries had been left in Pokhara.  The previous evening sitting round the fire light with no electricity again took me right back to Sikles in 1992 when none on the villages in this area had electricity. I took up the offer of a hot shower at the local Gomba which meant I washed my hair, but it had no door di I just washed my hair  – the local monk assured me there would be one there next time I visited! He was busy preparing for a puja that was being held later that day and the following day for a local man who had passed away and many people were traveling up from Pokhara and the surrounding villages to attend this ceremony. Back at Manju’s Prakash turned up and took me off to a local hair cutting ceremony that takes place when a boy has his first hair cut.  The young child seemed most displeased to be having his head shaved and it seemed as though half of the village had turned up for the most delicious breakfast and sit around chatting. Again it’s hard to explain how and why but just being here on my own, joining in with the rhythm of everyday life, really did feel like being back in Sikles all those years ago. 

It made me realise I need to look back through all my diaries and letters from that time and work on a paper that reflects my changing experiences of Nepal.  To do this I’d need to get a sabbatical and have an aim such as a book to write or bid to develop and at the moment I have too much new research and work to be done but I’ll add it to my to do list. We then set off to spend the rest of the morning in the school which as you can see is on the edge of the village in a stunning location.

Tanting school and grounds constructed with support from the Pahar Trust Nepal 

Both primary and secondary schools are based here and the school has a good play ground, a computer lab with wifi, a well stocked library, separate toilets for boys and girls and a hostel for children in class ten so they can concentrate on studying for their school leaving certificate exams in their final year. It’s not just the building and locality that make this school special though you could feel the enthusiasm of the teachers for their school. Tanting is twinned with Debden and Wimbish in Essex and has benefitted from training, friendship visits and Prakash the headmaster has visited the UK and Isle of Man as part of this school link.  In addition to this Prakash has recently completed his masters in South Korea and is full of good ideas on how he and his team can work together to continue to improve the school for the local children.   They are also working towards a British Council International Schools Award and teachers get the opportunity to attend training sessions in Kathmandu on a variety of topics such as internationalising the curriculum. Some of the children had conducted a clean up campaign the day before and the rubbish collected  was ready to be sorted and disposed off appropriately. One dilemma they face though, like most rural villages, is what to do with all the plastic that ends up there  as rubbish.  Often it is thrown into the water ways or burnt, neither of which are actual solutions. One teacher suggested there was a ban on plastic in the village and another suggested it was sent back to where it came from for disposal.

Rubbish ready for sorting  but what to do with the plastic ? 

The rest of the morning, being mindful not to disturb the school day, I visited each class asked them what they were learning and then linked what I said to that class to the subject they were studying. With the younger children I took the opportunity to show them the Baby Monkey puppet story and then Manju took the set to use in her class next door.  As Friday is a half day it was good to see that they school had organised extra curriculum activites and a debate taking place on the importance of education.  Boy and girls took it in turns to share their opinions  as to why school was important in front of their peers giving them a great opportunity to develop their public speaking skills.  This young girl was very passionate about education and was someone I would meet again later that day ! 

Public speaking practice after school 

Following on from this I was invited to explain my puppet story sacks as well as share my thoughts about what I thought was needed to improve the school in a staff student interaction session.  Both teachers and the students enjoyed the story of Fairis and his adventures with teachers and students taking on the roles of key characters in the story.  Teachers thought it was an excellent resource and one said that it was ‘beyong the imagination!” Then I turned the next session into a ‘what do you think needs doing to your school to make it better session’ using the if your dream is to have a better school what needs to be done for you to plan and achieve it question –  everyone had to write down one one idea on a post it note before sharing them and seeing what key ideas emerged. There were some great suggestions and things like unity amongst staff, commitment amongst students and more training and interactive teaching methods being used featured high on the list of things that would help develop the school even further.  There was an obvious respect between students and teachers and vice averse which was refreshing to see and both the student body and their teachersare all really committed to making Tanting the school the best that it can be.  

Handing over Adventures of Fairis a Nepali Frog and the puppet story sack 

After leaving the school and wandering into the village I was so happy to meet up with Mana from the Three Sisters who had arrived with a large group of students who were there on a study tour with Engineers Without Borders to learn from the local people over the next 5 days.  I was especially pleased as Mana had brought up my spare batteries which meant I could use my bigger camera. As they were heading to the school that I had just left I headed off into the village to try to capture the ambience and sunset.  I had hoped that my good friend and social activist from Sikles, Ganga Maya, who was from Tanting , could have been in the village with me but due to family commitments she had had to remain in Pokhara.  As I was clicking away towards the mountains that were turning pink in the evening light a couple of children came along and joined in my photo shoot. Their mother looked on as they played with my hand puppets and I couldn’t have have wished for a better location or better light to capture the atmosphere. 

One older girl was watching me inquisitively and welcomed the opportunity to have her photograph taken. I starred to explain to her in Nepali that I had lived in Sikles 24 years ago and that one of my good friends Ganaga Maya who lived in Simles, had run the day care centre, ran my very first literacy discussion group and was one Ithe the ohitograohers in the Our Village Our Life project came from Tanting – the young girl looked at me and said that she was “Ganga Mayako  bahinniko chorizo” I’m Ganga Maya’s younger sisters’ daughter. 

Ganga Maya’s bahiniko chorri 

 Supirsed I asked her where Ganga Maya’s Amaa lived and she pointed to the nearest house.  I was so excited to not only find Ganga Maya’s maternal home but also to meet her mother that when she wandered into her courtyard I instinctively bent down to touch her feet as a sign of respect.  This is normal amongst Gurungs but isn’t something that I tend to do but Ganga Maya is such an amazingly active social worker in Sikles, who I have known since 1992 when she was a traditional birthing attendant and she also ran the first ever REFLECT centre in Sikles and after much discussion about caste and exclusion with her group they decided to build the first community hall in her ward to enable women from Gurung and Non Gurung castes to come together to learn to read and write. Anyone who has met Ganga Maya will understand why I was so emotional at meeting her mum, who to be honest was a little taken back by this random stranger telling her how amazing her daughter was! I was invited in for tea and transported back in time to when I spent so many hours round the fire with Bir Kumari and Grandma, both who have now passed away.  Talking to the family about Ganga Maya’s work and showing them her pictures in the ‘Our Village Our Life’ coffee table book really was one of the highlights of my visit to Tanting and next time I’m there I must make sure Ganga Maya is with me. I have presented papers in Kathmandu  with Ganga Maya and co-written a paper with her and others about literacy and empowerment in Sikles about gender and education in Sikles and her experiences of running a literacy centre. 

Ganga Mayako Amaa

 The next day was conservation day which ACAP hold in an annual basis, usually in Sikles, but this year in Tanting.  This was perfect as that coupled with the puja meant so many of the people that I knew had come to Tanting so I git to see lots of old friends as well as meet new ones whilst at the same time visit a place that was on my to go to list.  Being able to meet and see how the EWB group organised their meetings and interviews was also useful Mae me raise when I bring my students here in February it will be useful to have the suppor tot translations guides from the a three a sisters as they provided much more than just trekking support.  Catching up with Dicky as well was great as she and her two sisters feature on our Inspirational Women  resource kit which will be launched soon.  Plus she makes a mean pancake and had a real affinity with the local cat which was very cute. I would have liked to have spent more time talking to people and attending the whole conservation day but I was due back in Pokhara that night due to interviews I needed to do before heading back to Katmandu.  To that end I hitched a ride on the local bus which was jam packed gpfulk and meant I stood up all the way back down what can only be described as a road along a massive cliff edge which I would have rather walked down.  Next time I will definately arrange a jeep 😁

Just a selection of images more can be found on my Flickr site

Overall I had such a god time in Tanting and much prefer the road to it which is wider and quicker than the one to Sikles that from now on, whenever I can,  I will come to Sikles via Tanting. In  February next year I plan to bring my students here to test out the home stay, interact with local people  and the those who are keen can then walk to Sikles with me the next day, those that don’t want to can return to a Pokhara to continue their research – one thing a that is fir sure those …. as with Nepal – once is never enough 

Dhanyabad and pheri betaunla 🙏🏼❤️🙏🏼

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Walking old paths making new friends 

One of the main reasons for me visiting Nepal this December has been to follow up on how schools have been using the story sacks that I gave them a year ago to see if they are being used, having an impact and to get ideas on how they can be used in Nepal to help schools in their journey to becoming more child friendly, interactive fun places to be.  One thing which is clear to me is that my story sack isn’t an entry point product.  It’s definately a resource that has been designed for schools who are already on a journey working towards improving the quality of the education.  Too often in the past I, along with so many others, have donated books or toys to schools without much thought as to how and if they will be used.  Going all the way back to the mid 1990’s when myself and a friend donated some money to one school for books only to return the year after to find that a large metal cabinet had been bought and the schools library books had had been locked away in it to keep them neat and tidy.  This wasn’t what we had intended but it was what the teachers had wanted so what could we do? At this time books were scarce and keeping them in good condition was seen to be important so it’s nice to see in so many of the schools that I visit today that they have well stocked, well used libraries supported by local Government, local people and a whole host of International and local NGO’s. 

These book wall sets from USAID are an excellent idea making books accessible to all as they are in each classroom 

I also wanted to visit Chachowk school too help explain and plan a visit that is happening in Februrary 2017 by a teacher from their friendship school in Liverpool.  I, and 15 students from LJMU, will also be joining a Pahar Trust Nepal group who are visiting in February. It was so nice to go alone and spend time just hanging out at the school, without any fuss or welcome, just blending in and observing and chatting to the teachers. Schools in the Sikles Kaski area have benefitted from schools being built by the Pahar Trust Nepal and libraries being developed by the Cairn Trust as well as from training and support by Global Action Nepal. Local people have supported these projects and it never ceases to amaze and inspire me how the local communities work together to help collect the rocks and material needed for the building work to be completed and the commitment they have to improving their schools.  This commitment goes way back as communities have always had to work together to build local schools in the mountains of rural Nepal. All of this support has had a visible impact not only physically but also on the atmosphere within the schools. I wasn’t there to evaluate them in any way just to get feedback on the puppet story sack I had given them last year to see how they were using it and what suggestions they had. The teachers and children had really embraced the story and characters and used them in different ways in different classes.

It was so nice to just be there on my own quietly joining in.  The visit in February will be more of a big group visit when we we will be welcomed and treated as guests so I made the most of being just ‘Sara didi’.  I already knew that the teachers were using the puppets and story creatively and that they has asked Kiran if there were any more stories that could be used.  So it was great to share with them the forthcoming Baby Monkey story written by Susan Green from PTN with its set of new animal based characters.  Again all are made by women working at Suriyamukhi handicrafts in Pokhara, associated with Children Nepal.

This new book is aimed at the early childhood age and has a simple message of the importance of being polite. Sharing the puppets gave me some good feedback and ideas on how we can develop the ‘how to use the puppets’ section at the back of the book as well as well to adapt the way we store the puppets – more detail on this will follow in the new year. The response I got was great though and I can not wait to share it with these schools in February  when we plan to launch both Sue’s and my book. I also handed over some great work done by children in Liverpool comparing things like weather in Nepal and the U.K. in terms of temperature and rainfall in both a table and bar chart and also ven diagrams of what is the same and different in terms of things like clothing and food between the Uk and Nepal – all ideas the teachers loved and one of the great benefits of having a friendship link like this – the children in both link schools get so involved and learn so much from these connections.  I left with a whole pile of letters being sent back to their school in Liverpool which helps to keep the link alive.

Doing a quick needs analysis activity with a local primary school.

Sharing the puppets – very exited children 

I then left the primary school and walked up to the secondary school to spend some time with teachers I had met there in the past. Currently only the primary school has a friendship link and the teachers at this, as well as many other schools, are keen to develop links with schools overseas so that their children can also write letters, learn about global issues and make global contacts – so if anyone out there is a teacher in either a primary or secondary school interested in setting up a friendship link the please do get in touch and I can point you in the right direction of connecting you to an organisation who can help you create a link that will benefit both schools in Nepal and also your own children. I am always amazed and touched by the letters that are sent between friendship schools and the way that young children can learn about the similarities as well as the differences between their own environment and that in Nepal.  

As the two schools have sepearate  buildings they hadn’t heard about my story sack and book so I took some time to explain what is was and how it could be also be used for secondary as well as younger children. It was quite useful to  have the time to demonstrate it and the teachers seemed to be interested in using it. In many villages in Nepal all classes from day care to class ten (ie from infants all the way through to school leavers when they are 16 or 17) are in one building but in others they have separate buildings, as they do in Chachwock, and when schools are in two separate buildings it can be hard to coordinate and share good ideas. Creating a link between a secondary school in Liverpool and the secondary school in a Chachowk could also then help to develop links between primary and secondary schools within both Liverpool and Chachwock as well which would help with the transition between primary and secondary for young people as well. Another benefit of school friendship links is that it can help developed links between schools within the UK who share a common interest in Nepal. In the UK St Michaels in the Hamlet in Liverpool have developed links with Grange Overs Sands primary school due to their connections in Nepal. Children and teachers in Nepal have so much to learn from and with each other – all that’s needed is some fair connections! 

In the Kaski area both GAN and Cairn Trust are working together to help support and train teachers in Early Childhood teaching methods. This programme covers 5 of the schools in the Sikles side of the Valley.  Workshops and training events are provided as well as resources which help to make the schools more child friendly but also this programme always helps develop a network of support between the schools involved in this programme.

I then walked from Chachowk to Taprang, past the small hidden away school in Melbot which is due to be upgraded soon, with the support of Malcom Peck and his contacts from Australia and then hiked up the hill to Thak to avoid the dusty road which is used by the Jeep.  I was rather excited when we reached Thak, much to the confusion of my two guides, as this is the village that Alan MacFarlane had lived and studied back in the late 1960’s, in fact he lived there the year I was born, and I’d never had reason to go there.  His book The Gurungs of Nepal is a must read for anyone traveling in this area as its full of information and just to walk through Thak was amazing – the views were stunning and I can easily see why this is a place that Alan and his wife Sarah continue to visit and support today – home stay is available and I’d love to go there for longer next time as it was great to avoid the dusty jeep roads which makes life so much easier for local people but less romantic and remote for tourists! 

To truly get off the beaten track I would book with Dil Maya Treks  who is from Thak or the Three Sisters who are based in Pokhara.

View from Thak just breathtaking 

Arrived rather later in Taprang to be met by the ex headmaster from the local school,  Nanda Raj Gurung, who despite being retired still helps out in school. Quite a quiet night in the local hotel and next day visited the secondary school and took the opportunity to join  in an extra English class and use the puppets to help teach the idea of is, is not and isn’t – my name is Fairis my names is not Fred my name isn’t Ram …. Good to see the children using their imaginations to come up with new names.

I didn’t have long in Taprang but I did manage to observe a class where the local teacher used the puppet story sack and had written his own story about Fairis and Chalak visiting the zoo – I will blog about this separately but it was great to see both the teacher and students really enjoying and responding to the puppets. Again the extra story and puppets which are coming will ally help develop the value it the story sack that I have developed. 

Using Chalakh and Fairis in the classroom 

Amazing views from Taprang and good to see teachers doing such a good job 

I then set off to walk to Tanting, the village opposite to Sikles that I had never been to, as back then after an 8 hour hike to Sikles there was little motivation to go down the hill and up the other side – this year however Conservation Day was in Tanting plus I had always wanted to go so that’s what I did! See next blog post …. 



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My own impact walk …… 

This post is to thank all the people that have sponsored me for the Impact Marathon walk – which I wasn’t able to do as I had to delay my flight to make sure my mum didn’t need an operation on her shoulder – which thankfully she didn’t. Since I’ve been here I have probably well more than walked a marathon running round in my usual manner working, researching and developing new contacts.  I’m well known for saying in speeches in Nepal “Ma aaune jaane aaune jaane dheri paltak kukra justai laag cha” which when said in my very village based Nepali accent (a little like Peter Kay) I come and I go come and go many times – just like a chicken! Though I have been told the saying in Nepal is that I rush about so much I’m like a goats tail ! 🙏🏼😂🐐😂🙏🏼  I discovered I have a health app on my phone which shows how much more active I am where I’m here so I’m going to challenge myself to run around as much when I’m back in the UK ! 
So what have I been doing ? Well my flights are paid for by a British Academy grant so my main reason for being here is to start this  research project on the impact of reuseable sanitary pad kits on women and girls lives here in a Nepal.  A number of NGOs Kay and I know asked if we could help evaluate the work they were doing to see what impact they kits are actually having here in Nepal – we have a short prezi on this that we will update as well go along and learn more which can be viewed here – and already I have learnt so much from the NGO’s I’ve talked to – can’t wait to get the actual research done and then bring all the amazing people together that I have met, and am sure will meet, to share good practice and see how we can influence policy and eduction on the a of reproductive and sexual health.  Genuinely inspired by all amazing people who I have met, who need to stay anonymous for research purposes but includes international and local contacts and one person who, inspired by this Ted talk, on world menstration day last year got most, not all, of the men in his office to wear a sanitary pad for the day – and I’ve been challenged to see how many men in my work I can get to do this next May 28th – so watch this space and wish me luck ! 

Sanitray pads  – reusable washable hygiene kits 

Also on Friday the 25th I supported Global Action Nepals first ever school international fun run ‘Run for my School’ involving schools in the UK and Nepal running in the same day to raise money from their local communities.  This event was inspired by the Impact Marathon Series and some of the runners visited GANs projects to learn more abou their work on the Tuesday before this run.  I have taken photos and video of the event to share back in the UK once I have stronger  wifi but the day involved sharing a short video message from schools connected to each other by GAN EASEL project and it was such a joy to see students here in Nepal not only running but raising funds for their own schools from their own family and friends.  The main organiser Katherine in the UK said that from her end that it was a great success and definitely thinks it is something worth repeating and that for her it felt so powerful, everyone running together. Really felt like it brought us closer together. 

At the start line of the Run For my School event Nov 2016 

I then managed to get up to Kakani to join the Impact Marathon Series runners and catch up with the amazing Trek Nepal team who had set up the most magical campsite it truly felt like you had arrived in never never land it was so pretty.  I won’t post any photos if you want to experience it sign up for next year ! The event brought international and local runners together who ran either a 10k, half or full marathon which most people said was the hardest thing they have ever done. My job that day was a little less tiring as I was roped into capturing the event with my camera.  What made the event special for me was the large numbers of Nepalis who took part in the event – including a team led by Beni from the STEPS Foundation, a team from Global Action Nepal and so so many girls ! I will write a full blog on this later to share some of these stories but having the one and only Mira Rai there provided such a buzz for the local participants and I was genuinely moved by the amount of time she gave to talk to the young runners, share her advice and basically just inspire all that net her with her smile determination and presence #powerofrunning #girlpower #icanrun 

Mira’s presence was a great source of inspiration for this group of young runners 

My Heath app tells me the day after race day I didn’t move about as much as normal but I think this will be offset by the energy it took us all to pack up the whole camp site which wasn’t helped by the wrong size truck turning up the next day.  I spent the next day with one of the runners who had come from the UK, Misha, and we went to the most powerful and emotional street play on gender based violence organised by Durga Ghimire and her team at ABC which moved me to tears  and highlighted how much more there is to do in Nepal for gender equality.

The drama was so well acted it made me cry – will post video on my you tube later 

In addition to the above I have also been getting feedback on my story sacks that I distributed last year as well as helping develop a new puppet based story and story sack written by Susan Green from the Pahar Trust Nepal, which compliments mine, and is based on animals found in Chitwan and featurs a very rude baby monkey.  I will do a separate blog on this later as My Health app also tells me that since arriving in Nepal on 23rd Nov until Dec 1st I had indeed walked a marathon doing all of the above – thankfully interspersed with some lovely nights at Sams bar and the Maya cocktail pub catching up with old friends and some visits to some temples along the way.

Meeting up with some of the runners over the next few days also highlighted to me that the impact of the run was not really in the run that they had done, nor the pipeline they had built with the local community nor even in  the funds that the race had raised (over £75,000 and counting) but the whole being in Nepal and interacting with so many local people had left everyone changed – and I hope that they, as well as you,  will be back in a Nepal very soon as Nepal really needs tourism now more than ever and as we all know……

Once is never enough ! 

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