After arriving in Batase on Sunday afternoon we were straight into teaching on Monday morning. The first day of teaching for any volunteer is a daunting experience, especially when the local teachers take the period off when you’re teaching their class because they assume you have it covered. With so many volunteers teaching at any one time, the Take On Nepal staff had their work cut out for them getting around to all the classes and translating for us to help our lessons run more smoothly. They did a wonderful job, and the disruptive younger kids really respond to their authority.
The 16 Monash students were in Batase doing an International Placement Experience (IPE) that counted towards their teaching degree. Monash offers IPEs in China, Israel and India, among others, but this was the first time they had gone to Nepal.
When I came back from Nepal two years ago I wanted to raise more interest and recruit some volunteers to go through Take On Nepal. As a Monash student myself at that time, I thought uni would be the best place for me to find like-minded people, and I thought education students in particular would be interested in a program like this. Not being an education student myself (my majors were history and communications), I didn’t know about IPEs, but through some strike of luck I managed to get in contact with Ange who is the IPE coordinator. She was so keen to make it happen, and once I connected her with Susan – Som’s partner who lives together in Cairns with him and their three kids, running the admin side of Take On Nepal – the two of them put incredible amounts of thought into the logistics of a Take On Nepal/Monash IPE mash up.
Then the earthquake happened, only five months after I returned from Nepal. It was deemed unsafe by the university to send students to Nepal in the aftermath of such a disaster and the concept of a Nepal IPE was filed away and somewhat forgotten. Then I got an email from Susan in the middle of last year to say that Ange had been back in contact and it was actually going to happen!! I signed up on the spot to tag along for moral support, and when Susan told me that Monash had asked her to arrange for an Australian qualified teacher to accompany the students I signed up Mum to fill that roll. I couldn’t believe it was actually happening after so long, something that began as a casual email that I sent to someone I’d never heard of whose email I got off the Moansh Education website.
The numbers were originally capped at 10, one for each year level at the Batase school, but the plans changed to accommodate 16 students in total with 6 walking 45 minutes one way each day to go to a school in a neighbouring village that had been asking Som for volunteer support for a while. This was the first time volunteers had been to the Jageshwori school, and if the Batase volunteers thought their lot was tough, it was nothing compared to the experience at Jageshwori, a much smaller school with significantly less exposure to communication in English and no previous experience with Western teachers.
By the end of the first day everyone was feeling a bit defeated. They were struggling with the language barrier, they had no idea how they were going to get any useful information across to the students or to have any kind of order in the classrooms, and they really wanted hot showers which was not going to happen. But by the last of the 15 teaching days everyone had made friends with their students, they were so much more confident, they knew how to control the kids (somewhat), and they had all had success in teaching different topics.
In these situations there are always going to be good days and bad days, difficulties and positives. But after struggling through a day when the kids just seem completely unresponsive and you feel like you are getting nowhere, nothing beats the feeling of walking into class the next day, testing the kids on what you tried to cover the day before, and realising they have actually retained the information that you thought went straight out the window. It gives you such a satisfactory feeling of fulfilment.
As I didn’t have an assigned class, I spent most of my time at school as a teaching assistant to the volunteers, mostly in Class 4. This is the biggest group of kids – 38 when all show up – and the same group that I taught two years ago when they were in Class 2. They have cheeky kids, smart kids, ratbags, shy kids, and altogether they make up my favourite group of munchkins. Many of them remembered me from last time and they brought me countless handpicked flowers, held my hands, chattered to me in a mixture of two languages that I don’t speak, played with my bracelets and watch, and were generally just super gorgeous.
I mostly walked around the room encouraging them to listen and do their work while Sam took the classes. Crowd control is necessary in Class 4. Sam struggled the first few days like everyone, but once he got into his groove he seriously just smashed it, and the kids loved him.
The final day there was a ceremony to thank us for our assistance in the classrooms and everyone was sad to be leaving. All the kids wrote notes to the volunteers, I have a plastic pocket full of letters and drawings, all addressed to “Maya Tamang”, Tamang being the name of the people in that area, the name of their local language, and the most common surname. “Maya” is a common Nepali name meaning “love”. When I’m in Batase I spell my name with a y because the kids love it, and I’m very happy to be adopted as Maya Tamang.