This has been a long summer in California. The fog has been relentless making it cold and very “unsummer-like.” On top of that, I got a total knee replacement on July 18. It was much harder than I expected. My knee did not function well, but my brain was also quite impaired. So, I took a break from fundraising, accounting, web designing, donor managing and all the other the tasks in my role as the Executive Director of PiSL.
As I was recovering, I spent time a lot of time reflecting on my trip to Nepal in April of this year. It was wonderful in many ways. Working with VIN, our Nepali partner, we began an early childhood education project in a new region closer to Kathmandu called Okharpauwa. I was happy to meet and train 18 new teachers. I walked around the region and visited schools that had been damaged by the 2015 earthquake.
But there was one place that stayed with me. This village was completely devastated by the shaking. All 85 families lost their beautiful stone and mud ancestral homes that once filled the landscape. The road to their village was basically impassable, but when the principal found out that we were planning to visit, he rallied the villagers. We met them on the road with hoes and spades, trying to make it passable. It was an impossible task, so we started walking. Along the way, the villagers talked excitedly with the VIN driver, Akkal, who spoke the same Tamang dialect.
When we arrived at the school site, it was heartbreaking. There was nothing left of their school but rubble. They had tried to make temporary learning structures of tin roofing and bamboo mats, but these were flimsy, small and drafty. They asked me, “No one else has been here. Can you help us?” Through tears, I smiled, saying, “Yes, I will try to build a new preschool classroom.”
I knew it would not be easy. Construction would have to wait until monsoon season was over in September. It would be expensive to build an earthquake-resistant building which was, of course, the only option. The road would need to be fixed before the large trucks could bring cement and the steel framework necessary to make the building strong. Community members would need to put in sweat equity to get it built, but they were ready and eager. Illiteracy rates in this region are high. Only about 40 % of the women can read and write. The men have slightly better skills. But they know the importance of education and are willing to do whatever it takes to give their children a better chance than they had.
The big news is that construction on the classroom has started!! We were able to get the funds and they were able to fix the road. Stay posted for the latest updates. Soon, the Shree Devi Early Childhood Center will be preparing the youngest residents of their village for a future of learning!
PS My knee is getting better every day and I am leaving on October 28 for Nepal. I will definitely be visiting the Shree Devi Center!
Diann Grimm is the Executive Director of PiSL. She is back at all of her PiSL tasks and is counting on her new knee to get her around Nepal.
“Namaste” You hear it all over the country of Nepal; in busy Kathmandu, in a rural village, on a trail or in a school or shop. It is a beautiful greeting that is used throughout the gentle country of Nepal.
When you say “Namaste” you pair it with the Ajali Mudra, the placing of your hands together at the heart. You make eye contact, smile and say “Namaste.” Everyone uses the greeting; adults, teen and young children. The youngest are often provided assistance with parents, teachers or older siblings guiding their small hands to the Ajali Mudra position and encouraging them to look up and say “Namaste.”
Namaste is a Sanskrit word that is roughly translated as “I bow to the God within you.” or “The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you.” Namaste is really the recognition that the life force within us as individuals is the same as that within everyone else.
In the last year, Nepal experienced a devastating earthquake that destroyed thousands of houses and schools and killed over 8,000 people. Then the country was under siege with a blockade at the Indian border of all fuel, cooking gas, medicine and basic supplies for four months.
Despite all of the hardships of the past year, the people of Nepal still smiled and said “Namaste” to me everywhere I went on my recent trip. The practice of kindness and compassion is deeply embedded in the culture of Nepal. It is a gift I receive each time I visit.
After three long flights and 36 hours, I am home from my latest trip to Nepal. This was my first trip since returning home last April, shell-shocked after experiencing the earthquake that rocked the country and caused so much death and destruction.
I was hoping to see reconstruction, new homes and repaired streets. But, unfortunately, Nepal’s dysfunctional government has done little to help the kind, gentle people who live there. An ambitious plan to give families money to rebuild homes that were destroyed has stalled. As a result, families who lost their ancestral farmhouses throughout the country continue to live in small, cramped transitional shelters made of scavenged tin, plastic and bamboo. inflation In Nepal is currently at 9.7 percent, a result of the recent fuel and supply blockade that lasted for over four months. It is reported that the prices of essential items, such as food and beverages, have soared by 9.3 percent, and prices of non-food items have increased by 10 percent.
In villages throughout our project region, Okhaldhunga and in our newest region, Okharpauwa, many students are still attending school in temporary learning centers. These flimsy structures made of woven bamboo with insubstantial tin roofs provide little shelter from the rain, wind or cold. I visited one village where two classrooms were literally blown apart by a large storm that passed through the one evening. In another village, an angry bull plowed into the walls of a bamboo classroom making it unusable for teaching. Another early childhood classroom was flooded by a torrential rain storm. So far, the Nepali government has not provided any of these communities a commitment to repair the damaged classrooms or rebuild ones that are dangerous.
What is amazing is that the teachers and children continue to show up for school, even under these extremely difficult conditions. Our job is to help make their lives better by providing a safe and secure place for teachers to teach and for children to learn. PiSL is as committed, dedicated and passionate as ever to providing access to quality early childhood education to children in rural Nepal. By the end of this year, we intend to build six new earthquake resistant classrooms to replace ones that were lost in the earthquake. The failed government cannot make it happen, but you can help us make it possible.
When we think of the word sustainable, we typically think of the environment or agriculture. At Partners in Sustainable Learning, we use the word in a similar way, indicating that our curriculum is “able to be used without being completely used up” (Webster online dictionary).
Many international volunteers and organizations have good intentions when they travel to developing countries to help teachers and schools. They often bring crayons, markers, coloring pages and arts/crafts materials (I also did this in several countries as a summer volunteer). However, these materials do not last. They are “used up” which is the opposite of “sustainable.” This leaves the teacher in the same place she was before the volunteers visited. When traveling to these countries, we need to ask ourselves questions such as; Did the teachers learn new teaching strategies that can be implemented with no or very limited materials? Are the teachers able to engage their students in fun and engaging learning activities without crayons or markers?
Our philosophy at Partners in Sustainable Learning is to provide teachers with instructional materials that do not get “used up.” We have developed activities that use natural items. For example, children can count rocks as easily as they can count plastic chips. We try to purchase as many materials as possible in Nepal. This way we are contributing to the local economy. Wooden alphabet blocks (purchased in Nepal) can be used for letter recognition, counting and stacking. Colored paper clips can be used for counting, sorting, sequencing and small motor development. Felt finger puppets (handmade in by Nepali women) can be used for storytelling, creative expression and social-emotional development. Our curriculum includes many other examples of materials that support our sustainability model.
We are so excited to bring developmentally appropriate early childhood education to rural Nepal in a sustainable way!
Diann Grimm is the Executive Director of Partners in Sustainable Learning. She is also the author of the PiSL Early Childhood Curriculum which was developed specifically for preschools in rural Nepal.
Women in rural Nepali villages have very few opportunities to earn money. So when Rima heard that Partners in Sustainable Learning was hiring and training a preschool teacher in her community, she was eager to apply. Although Rima had a limited education, her husband was a teacher and he encouraged her to give it a try.
Rima was selected and attended the 7 day PiSL teacher training in April 2013. Initially, she was shy and reluctant to participate in the singing and active games. However, she gradually became more confident. The last day of the training, she got up in front of the group and read a story aloud. This was a big step for her!
One of PiSL’s roles in rural Nepal has been to give young women the chance to become teachers and become empowered to lead and contribute.
Rima completed the teacher training. She walked back to her village carrying her new teaching materials, accompanied by her proud husband. However, unlike the other 9 teachers who were returning to their newly renovated classrooms, Rima was planning to teach in the front porch of a neighbor’s house because she had no classroom.
Rima started teaching in this small space with her nine students and did the best she could. Meanwhile, PiSL’s partner Nepali organization, VIN, had found a community member who offered a piece of his field where the new classroom could be built. PiSL committed to support the cost of the building materials. It became Rima’s task to organize work days with the villagers to build it.
On the first work day, only a few women showed up, but Rima was undeterred. She continued to organize work days, and gradually more villagers arrived to contribute their labor to get the classroom built. Rima was beginning to experience the transformation that happens when people are provided the ability to positively influence their own life and the lives of others.
Several weeks passed and with the continued support of the villagers, Rima’s classroom began to grow and was ready to be whitewashed inside and out to make it bright and cheerful. Three child-sized tables, a storage cabinet and cubbies (purchased by PiSL and made by a local carpenter) were moved from a storage barn to the new classroom. Rugs were placed on the floor so children could sit comfortably at the tables and while playing on the floor. Parents were asked to make simple cushions made from rice husks and left-over pieces of fabric. Rima was ready to continue her teaching career in a new classroom!
Rima’s story is really about empowerment. As Rima gained confidence and conviction, she found the power inside herself to move beyond what she might had thought was possible. In addition to her teaching, she became involved in the newly formed women’s group in her village. Rima was taking chances, stepping up for her community, and, ultimately making a difference for the people around her.
PiSL is happy to be an integral part of giving Rima the chance to grow and excel. We would like to help other women in the developing world have this opportunity. Would you like to become part of this movement?
Diann Grimm is the Executive Director of Partners in Sustainable Learning. She is proud to have had the opportunity to train Rima and watch her develop as an Early Childhood Educator and empowered community member.
The Nepal blockade began on September 23, 2015 and has become an economic and humanitarian crisis that has severely affected this small, developing country.
The blockade has stopped the supply of all fuel from India, including petrol, aviation fuel and cooking gas. As Nepal gets most of supplies from India, the blockade has basically brought all trade, transportation and tourism to a screeching halt. As a result of this, over 2,000 factories have shut down. Medicines, including vaccines, antibiotics, oxygen and surgical supplies, are becoming scarce. Basic living supplies and food are also in short supply. Unfortunately, much of the earthquake reconstruction work that was planned has been delayed.
This all began when the ethnic Madhesi community who live on the southern Nepal-India border started protesting for proportional representation and alleged bias against them in the new Nepali constitution. They believe that the constitution divides the country in a way that does not adequately or fairly represent them.
Many in Nepal think that India imposed this undeclared blockade. India has denied the allegation, stating that the supply shortages are the result of the Madhesi protests in Nepal. Whatever is true, any blockade is illegal as there is an international agreement that landlocked countries have free access to ports. A task force from the Madhesi community and the Nepali government have been engaged in talks the last three weeks. Unfortunately, the leaders of the Madhesi party left the talks on January 19 and no consensus regarding their demands for the changes in the constitution was reached. The government will continue to negotiate for a resolution, but many Nepalis continue to be disappointed in the lack of progress.
The Nepali government has met with China, their northern neighbor, as a possible source for fuel and supplies. However, the need is so great now that it would be extremely difficult to transport enough goods or fuel over the treacherous, mountainous roads to make a difference.
As is so true in most crises in developing countries, the common people are the ones who suffer the most. The Nepali people are ready to begin reconstruction of their country after the devastating earthquake in the spring. Let us hope that this impasse will come to an end soon.
Diann Grimm is the Founder and Executive Director of Partners in Sustainable Learning. She is returning to Nepal in April to continue teacher training and to initiate the process of rebuilding early childhood classrooms.
My favorite American holiday has always been Thanksgiving, which is about remembering just how full my glass really is. It is so easy to take my access to good things for granted, yet this day reminds me that I am the exception and that so many make do with so little.
On our last trip to Nepal I was struck once again by how gratitude is visible in the Nepali culture. It's not just that the people there tend to be polite and considerate (which they are), but that a sense of thankfulness pervades the air. Especially in our project area, Okhaldhunga, we return home from each visit with a sense of appreciation. The villagers there are very thankful for the classrooms we have built and the teachers we have trained, but they are also sincerely appreciative that we have chosen to be a part of their world.
This gratefulness is displayed through a smile, a gesture, a look in the eye. Their sincerity is palpable. And it seems that this is no big deal to them, just the way they see the world. I realize that I leave Nepal having received much more from these folks than I have given them.
The scale of need in Nepal is hard to overstate. As if difficult terrain, a fragile government and lack of infrastructure were not enough, this year has brought earthquakes and ongoing political gridlock that has made life there even more challenging. How can I make sense of their gratitude other than by being more thankful myself? Because when I see a direct connection between their gratitude and my own life, I am enriched and more purposeful. That's the true gift.
As we join together for the annual celebration of abundance, family and community, I will be thinking of my own good fortune, to be sure. I will also be reflecting on how I've learned about a generosity of spirit from people living a much simpler life far away. May their gift motivate me, and all of us, to a greater commitment to serving others very day.
Dan Schwab is the PiSL Chairman of the Board, and a Leadership Educator and Coach. He will be spending Thanksgiving with his wife and good friends in Paradise (a lovely town in the foothills of California).
On September 7, our Nepali nonprofit partner, Volunteers Initiative Nepal (VIN) celebrated a significant milestone - 10 years in service to marginalized communities of rural Nepal. We are proud to have worked closely with them over the last three years to bring Early Childhood Centers to Okhaldhunga. Without their support and assistance, we never would have been able to train 60 preschool teachers, renovate 19 classrooms and build 11 new Centers.
VIN's mission to empower marginalized communities is evident in the huge accomplishments they have completed over the last 10 years. These include; creation of 150 women's clubs, initiation of a micro-financing program for women, development of 32 children's clubs, educational improvements and renovations in 50+ partner schools, 600+ toilets built, over 14,000 beneficiaries of free medical treatment, thousands of villagers who have benefited from health education programs, 1500+ local and international volunteers mobilized, 50+ long/short term work camps and thousands of monks and nuns in 14 partner monasteries who have learned English from VIN's international volunteers.
VIN's response to following the April 25 earthquake that devastated Nepal was impressive. In a period of several month, VIN was able to distribute over 1200 tents, build 550 transitional shelters, construct 50 temporary classrooms and employ over 160 local workers.
PiSL congratulates VIN on their inspiring and important accomplishments in Nepal. We look forward to working together over the next decade to continue to empower the women, men, youth and children of Nepal!
Diann Grimm is the Founder and Executive Director of Partners in Sustainable Learning. She went to Nepal in 2008 and volunteered with VIN in Jitpurphedi.
Partners in Sustainable Learning (PiSL) has trained 60 enthusiastic young women to become preschool teachers in 30 remote, rural villages in Okhaldhunga, Nepal. As we taught these teachers how to implement the PiSL Early Childhood Curriculum (translated in Nepali), we watched each one of them gain confidence and assurance as they became more willing to demonstrate a newly learned skill or read a book aloud. One group even had the courage to demonstrate activities from the curriculum to their community’s members on graduation day!
It was incredible to watch these shy, cautious women grow in their skills and confidence. But the best moment came when we asked them to individually come to the front of the classroom to answer this question, “What are your hopes and dreams for the future?” As children and adults in the Western world, we are often asked to consider this question in school, in our jobs and in our relationships. However, as women with limited independence, arranged marriages that require them to leave their home village to live with their husband’s family, and very limited resources, thoughts of the future might include having enough food to feed their children tomorrow. We asked them to try to think further ahead. After modeling our own hopes and dreams, each teacher came to the front of the classroom, one by one. They responded to this difficult question with introspection and honesty. Some of their replies:
What do dreams provide us? They guide us, help us reach goals and give us hope for the future. Through education, encouragement and reassurance, these women were given an extraordinary opportunity to feel strong, smart and confident. When asked to reflect on their path, they responded with simple, yet powerful answers. Okhaldhunga has hundreds more villages where young women are waiting to recognize what their dreams for the future could be. You can help by sponsoring a teacher in one of our villages or invest in our continuing early education projects. Any way you choose, you can help make dreams come true.
It has been almost 4 months since I experienced the disastrous earthquake while sitting in a quiet, outdoor cafe in the middle of Kathmandu. Although I reside in California and have lived through several earthquakes, nothing compared to the shaking and moving of the earth for 56 seconds that warm spring day. I took cover and was safe, but I immediately flashed on images of Kathmandu buried under piles of rubble. At that point, I didn't know that over 9,000 people would lose their lives, over 23,000 people would be injured and that hundreds of thousands would be left homeless with entire villages flattened.
I wandered the eerie, almost empty streets of Kathmandu and ended up at the British embassy. They welcomed me in, and as Brits do, made me feel better with a "cup of tea." I eventually contacted my husband who was able to get me a plane ticket out of Nepal in three days. I was one of the lucky ones. The Nepali people were left behind.
Everyone on the flight to Singapore seemed to be in shock. I knew that we were all asking ourselves similar questions, How could such a terrible tragedy happen to such kind and gentle people? Why did this occur in a country that already needed so much help? What will happen to all the homeless families when the monsoon season starts? How will the international community respond to such a massive disaster?
I returned home with a commitment to raise as much money as I could to make a difference. Friends, family and PiSL donors came through in a big way. PiSL was able to provide financial assistance to our Nepali partner nonprofit organization, Volunteers Initiative Nepal, to buy tarps, food and clothing. We later contributed to help build over 100 transitional shelters for families who lost their ancestral homes. I constantly thought (and worried) about my friends, colleagues and teachers I came to know so well on my seven visits to this amazing country.
Knowing that PiSL has supported families to recover from this disaster has aided in my own healing. I still might jump when a big truck goes by and the ground shakes. But, I then think about how the Nepalis are coping with aftermath of this catastrophe and remember how much work needs to be done to help them rebuild and mend. Moving forward is where my energy is now focused.
I am returning in November to hold follow-up teacher training and make visits to the 30 Early Childhood Centers we helped to create over the past 3 years. My husband (and PiSL Chairman of the Board) will also travel to Nepal and supervise the construction of a "demonstration" earthquake resistant preschool classroom. Two good friends plan to accompany us to help with teacher training and building.
What sustains me and gives me courage to go back is the knowledge that the Nepali people are strong and resilient. They will need help from the outside world for many years to provide the materials and resources needed to rebuild. We will continue to do our part and stand side by side with the Nepali people as they restore, and ultimately, improve their beloved country.
Diann Grimm is the Founder and Executive Director of Partners in Sustainable Learning. She can't wait to get back to PiSL's project area and see all the preschool teachers!