Karkhana seeks science teacher volunteers

Based in Kathmandu, Nepal, Karkhana is an education company and makerspace with a unique approach to learning. It seeks to introduce more hands-on and project-based learning into the traditional education system across South Asia.

Karkhana is looking for experienced science teachers to help improve its science kits, lesson plans, and teacher development modules. Science teachers with experience working with upper elementary and/or middle school are especially welcome. Some experience working in the developing world is a bonus, but not necessary.

Karkhana currently works with approximately 50 schools across the Kathmandu Valley and is expanding to 3 new towns this year. So your efforts will reach and benefit many families and schools.

Karkhana would like to find volunteers who are willing to spend a minimum of two weeks. They can provide accommodation in Kathmandu for a short period. For longer term support, such as an entire summer, they can also subsidize some travel costs. They can also help long-term volunteers identify and apply for grant opportunities.

Unlike some volunteer opportunities, this one responds to a specific, clearly-identified need. It also offers a vibrant work environment, which can be a learning opportunity for anyone. I’ll be working with Karkhana myself this winter.

Please contact Karkhana directly info@karkhana.asia if you’re interested. I can also answer some basic questions about it and this opportunity.

Deurali danda (hilltop)

Early morning bus ride to the SW hills

Early morning bus ride to the SW hills

A word to the wise:

If you’re in Nepal, and you get invited to join a group of 15 year-olds from Nisarga Batika School for their six-hour spring walk, ask a few questions ahead of time:

  • What kind of “walk” are we talking about?
  • Is a spring walk what we Americans call impossible mountain climbing?
  • Is this just a warmup for their upcoming seven-day trek in Pokhara?
  • Does your trip leader, Sudeep, happen to be a triathlete?
  • Did he recently come in third in the Pokhara triathlon sprint?
  • Are you older than 15?
On the way up

On the way up

Despite my lack of forethought, I not only survived the trek, but had a great time. We climbed Deurali danda, which I thought from a map lookup was far west of Kathmandu. Apparently, though, it just means hilltop, of which there are many in Nepal, even in the Kathmandu Valley. The summit is near Chandragiri Hill, where there is now a modern cable car for tourists.

A welcome rest stop

A welcome rest stop

Our ascent was gradual at first, but soon we heard some alarming advice from our trek leader: “It now becomes a single track, steep, and slippery from the rain. Watch your step. Stay in groups of four to watch for slips.”

Also, “Be alert for wild animals. We saw leopards on the last two treks. Clap your hands and yell when you see one.”

At the top

At the top

There were no leopards as far as I could see. Our mishaps turned out to be minor. There were many screams when one student picked up a leech. One had minor cuts and a sore wrist from a fall. Another sprained an ankle, reinjuring some previous damage from sports.

I broke the ice, or rather the leaf litter, when my foot sank through a deep hole. No damage except to my pride. That recovered a bit when I saw one after another of the others have minor slips.

Abandoned cable car, for industrial use

Abandoned cable car, for industrial use

The students were all in better shape than I was at their age, but a few appeared to have had a bit too much screen time, for which I was grateful. There were frequent calls for rest breaks.

Lunchtime

Lunchtime

A hilltop resident, turning 6 today

A hilltop resident, turning 6 today

An old stupa? Even my hosts weren't sure

An old stupa? Even my hosts weren’t sure

Fiddleheads, a favorite food treat in both US and Nepal

Fiddleheads, a favorite food treat in both US and Nepal

Beautiful fern cacscades

Beautiful fern cacscades

Golden trumpet trees

Golden trumpet trees

Celebrating near the end

Celebrating near the end

Some guys don't even recognize it's a trek

Some guys don’t even recognize it’s a trek

The book-tuk, libraries for all

Roaming Library, Kathmandu Post, Mar 17, 2017

Roaming Library, Kathmandu Post, Mar 17, 2017

I like to season my bad news with an occasional snippet of good news. One such is from an article in the Kathmandu Post, “The roaming library,” by Rhythm Sah, a grade 9 student in Biratnagar, Nepal. He attends high school about 250 miles east of the capital, Kathmandu.

Sah writes,

I had never thought that mobile libraries existed. That’s why when I saw the Book Bus in my school ground one early morning, I was amazed. The bus reached us after hundreds of kilometres of travel from the Capital. When the door on the side of bus opened, we saw well arranged rows of books inside…. The bus, also known as a roaming library, had wonderful books with poems, stories and novels. I looked at some beautiful novels and pretty picture books.

The Book Bus, one of two, was started with help from the American Embassy about three years ago. There’s also a book-tuk, with solar-powered wireless internet service. It was made by modifying a type of small, three-wheeled, electric van, called a Tempo, or more commonly, a tuktuk.

Sah continues,

The main aim of establishing such library is to build reading habit in the youth, to exchange culture and to improve English speaking and writing skills. The bus reaches different corners of the nation and teaches the students how to enjoy books. I was very happy when the bus came to the school and was saddened when it continued on with its journey. The bus has made my love for books even stronger and I cannot wait until it comes back!

Tempo electric van, Kathmandu

Safa Tempo electric van, Kathmandu

The provision of library services, including books, video, and internet can make a huge difference in a country like Nepal, where many people lack the most basic services. This is especially true in the countryside, but for many in the large cities as well. For an amount of money that doesn’t even register in the US budget, the US can provide Nepalis with tools they need for education, development, and peaceful progress. With relatively small expenditures of money and no endangerment of lives, we can do more to promote peace and stability in Nepal and elsewhere than we have with any of our recent, ill-conceived wars.

The cost of a single B-2 Spirit jet is ten times the sum of all US aid to Nepal, including for democracy and human rights, economic development, education, environment, health, peace and security, and humanitarian assistance (such as earthquake relief). That jet is just one small piece of a military budget larger than those of the next seven countries–China, UK, Russia, France, India, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Germany combined. And yet, with already the largest military budget in the world, the President has proposed a huge increase in US military spending. The increase alone is about the size of Russia’s entire defense budget.

The new budget includes draconian cuts for library and museum services in the US and for similar programs abroad. Even if the cuts were justified, the savings from those programs would go only a small way toward funding the military increase. Whether one is concerned about ensuring a peaceful world, about spending taxpayer money wisely, about economic growth, about reining in the National debt, about creating opportunities for young people, or helping those in dire need, this is the wrong path to take.

Cutting programs such as the mobile libraries in Nepal reduces cross-national understanding and promotes instability that costs far more in the long run.

I hope that Sah and his friends can take advantage of the book bus and the book-tuk as long as they last.

Mira Rai

Mira Rai (Wikipedia)

Mira Rai (Wikipedia)

A short while ago, while in Kathmandu, I had a beautiful walk in Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park. Later, I read that Nepali runner Mira Rai had been in the same spot two years ago. She was jogging on the hilly trails, then joined other runners, chatting and laughing. They invited her to enter her first race: the Kathmandu West Valley Rim 50K.

If you zoomed through this text so far without a jaw drop, you may need some additional background. The Park’s trails are well maintained, but few people jog there, much less while chatting and laughing. It’s more a place to walk or climb slowly, with frequent stops to catch breath. And if you do decide to run competitively, start with a 5K, not 50K (31 miles).

Rai had never competed in a trail race before. She didn’t have any food, water, or hi-tech athletic gear. But she entered this one. Despite hailstones and rain, Rai, the only female competitor, completed the race.


She had the one big advantage that most successful people have: She worked hard. Growing up in Bhojpur, a remote mountain village in eastern Nepal, she had chased goats, gathered firewood, and carried heavy sacks of rice and buckets of water up and down steep hills. Like many other Nepali girls, she dropped out of school (later than many, at age 12).

A BBC article quotes her:

“I would run to the market – three hours away – buy sacks of rice, then run back and sell them for profit,” she says, flashing that wry smile. She forgets to mention that the bags weighed 28kg (60lbs), and she was just 11 years old.

After that first race, Rai had a long string of running achievements, including the Mont-Blanc 80 km, where she set a record. She’s received well-deserved international acclaim for these many accomplishments.

When she was injured early this year, she began to train other village girls and now organizes running competitions in her village for young girls. She uses proceeds from Mira, the film about her life to provide equipment for them. That film was a finalist in the Banff Mountain Film Festival this year.

Rai herself is now a finalist for National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year. Although there are nine other excellent candidates, I had no hesitation in voting for her.

As my friend Chris pointed out, the world of running will be in for a big awakening if Nepalis start to take up competitive running.

First PENN conference, Kathmandu

15232068_1685659911459594_7389935162873165852_n
The First Annual Conference of
Progressive Educators Network of Nepal (PENN) held on Friday was a big success, thanks to collaborators from King’s College, Kathmandu Living Labs, Karkhana and Teach for Nepal. The theme for this year was “the community is the curriculum.”

15355647_1684340441591541_5119271557140173330_nThere were about twice as many people as we expected, but more importantly, many people directly contributed with activities or presentations, and everyone seemed to be engaged and committed to continuing the effort.

I was very fortunate to be a part of this. As the foreign visitor, I was officially the “lead facilitator,” but I felt that I was the one who was learning. I also shared quite sincerely that I can’t recall another such meeting with the same level of commitment or willingness to listen and learn from one another.

15267728_1684346728257579_116754909530787023_nWe talked about the issue of importing ideas from abroad. But there are impressive things underway here in schools, colleges, and informal learning that could be a model others around the world.

I’d like to add that when I heard the initial plans for my trip to Nepal, I couldn’t quite believe that it would all come together: workshops, community inquiry in a village, and a national conference.

15220016_1684347144924204_2798198498524614991_n But that all happened better than I expected. The reality went beyond the original plan and came to include multiple organizations, trips to excellent schools, and the creation of PENN.

I want to both thank and congratulate Umes Shrestha, Narottam Aryal, Nama Raj Budhathoki, Swastika Shrestha, Pavitra Gautam, Aakriti Thapa, Krishnakumar KC, Amrit Poudel, Shisir Khanal, Raj Poudel, and so many others.

(Now, I’m thinking of all those I just left off the list, some of whom made perhaps even more major contributions. Please accept my apology, but especially, my thanks to all.)

You can see more of the activities pictured in this facebook album.

Nisarga Batika School

Learning math through games

Learning math through games

On the US Thanksgiving Day, I was sorry to be away from family and friends, and looked in vain for a stuffed turkey. But i had something else to be thankful for.

I was hosted for the day at Nisarga Batika School. I was thankful for the warm visit and also that there are at least some schools like Nisarga Batika. At the same time it made me sad that not all students have such great opportunities.

Teachers at the school are eager to find ways to improve, but as of today, the school would be the envy of some of the best progressive schools in the US.

Backpacks of the little ones

Backpacks of the little ones

The school’s philosophy statement begins:

is a thriving community of learners who engage in education that is holistic, relevant and meaningful. As an experiential learning school, Nisarga Batika offers an environment where each individual looks upon the world as their classroom and values self-motivated learning as a way of life.

Discussion about paper money

Discussion about paper money

I visited every classroom and talked with children there and on the playground, where diverse activities were underway. Although that’s just a small sample, it made me feel that the school is doing as much as anyone can to realize the philosophy statement, including seeing teachers as facilitators towards goals of critical thinking, self discovery, and creativity.

If you click on the photo below, or here, you can see a series of additional photos that convey the flavor of the school, including field trips in natural settings and the vegetable market created by children for the plants they grow.

Teach for Nepal

Swastika Shrestha presenting at the PENN workshop

Swastika Shrestha presenting at the PENN workshop

Teach for Nepal (TFN) is a program in which recent university graduates and young professionals commit to two year fellowships to teach in public schools. The Fellows seek to improve education as they develop their own leadership skills.

Shisir Khanal

Shisir Khanal

TFN is a core member of Progressive Educators Network Nepal, a project I’m involved with here in Kathmandu. The co-founders, Shisir Khanal and Swastika Shrestha, have been big supporters of this initiative from the beginning, and many others involved with TFN have participated in the workshops or our community visit to Dalchoki.

Krishna Kumar KC

Krishna Kumar KC

I’ve now visited the TFN offices, met many of the TFN Fellows, administrators, and community coordinators. I’ve also observed actual classroom teaching. Throughout I’ve been impressed with the dedication, the knowledge and professionalism, and the desire to learn more and do better.

For example (and at the risk of leaving out several others), Krishna Kumar KC, Amrit Bahadur Poudel, and Nija Maharjan have been major contributors to our workshop, and absolutely necessary to the success of our extended community visit to Dalchoki.

Nija Maharjan

Nija Maharjan

The very need for projects such as TFN raises questions that people should also ask about Teach for America: Shouldn’t society as a whole assume the responsibility of full preparation and support for teachers? Shouldn’t it encourage and support teachers to stay in the profession? Shouldn’t it provide decent schools for every child?

Questions about quality education for all are even harder to answer in Nepal than they are in the US. Public schooling is limited and severely under-resourced, especially in rural areas.

In the very different economic and cultural conditions here in Nepal, Teach for Nepal is a positive force; it listens to criticisms; and it is committed to working with others. It also works closely with non-TFN teachers and the school plus community as a whole. I’ve seen little of the political agenda mentioned above.

Amrit Paudel from a deck at TFN

Amrit Poudel from a deck at TFN

In contrast to Teach for America Fellows, those in TFN typically stay in homes in the rural communities where they teach. This leads to a greater understanding of local needs and a deep personal commitment to the schools and the community.

TFN has also engaged with community members in an important student vision project. That led to an impressive mission statement,  not only for the students they serve directly, but for all children. It includes the idea that students should acquire knowledge, but also learn to “demonstrate a sense of responsibility towards people and the future of the community”. A key statement is ingrained in the TFN work: “One day all children in Nepal will attain an excellent education.”