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Social Evening - 6th February 2015 Mountainous Nepal - Trekking Living and Learning

Reporter: Ernie Metcalf

Ian and Lindsay Harford gave us a fascinating insight into several aspects of this very different country, with many excellent photos. Nepal is a desperately poor country; stunningly beautiful yes, but breathtaking views do not fill empty bellies or educate eager minds.

Like so many poor people the majority of Nepalese seem, to the outsider happy with their lot, always smiling. They get on with the life they have been given in all its harsh reality. Yet they are desperate to improve that lot, as we would have been, and education is seen as a major step in that direction.

The talk started with a sketch of a visit Ian and Lindsay made in 1993 to Samathang school, in the village of the same name, where their daughter Chloe was a volunteer teacher in her gap year. Interestingly a student they met in 1993, Chiring Lama is now Chair of Governors and another, Jimmy Lama, is Director of the Helambu Education and Livelihood Project which funds new classrooms and equipment for 25 schools. So education does have its rewards. Ian and Lindsay revisited the school on their trek last year and we saw some of the enormous improvements. Even now getting to the school is an adventure in itself over dirt-track roads where landslides are common in the steep sided valleys, and death could literally, be just round the corner.

Since 1993 the school has expanded considerably with many more students. Ian and Lindsay were involved in “Operation Orbitz”, a project which provides computers and IT training. Orbitz is a travel based company in Chicago where their son Barney works. Normally these computers would be scrapped after three years, but by donating them to Nepal, Barney has found a much better use for them. One of the difficulties, in addition to irregular power supplies, is that so many of the teachers are themselves poorly qualified and lack IT skills. Much of the teaching involved copying from ancient textbooks and learning by rote, (thinking back much of my first schooling was very similar in the early 1940’s). Lindsay described how she held a seminar, “Improving Teaching and Learning Skills” to introduce some modern teaching methods.

As for the students themselves, a clean and presentable school uniform was obligatory. Some had a long and difficult walk to reach school at all, and there were boarding facilities for those who lived too far away. Yet in spite of these difficulties absenteeism was very low. We take education for granted, in Nepal it is a privilege. Only 28% of girls go to school.

As in many poor countries families tend to be very large. Infant mortality is high, 4% of children die before the age of five, often due to bad sanitation. By having many children there is a chance of being looked after in old age.

After visiting the school Ian and Lindsay did the start of the trek to the Annapurna Base Camp. Trekking and the provision of guides, porters, hotels etc. is a vital part of the economy. The conditions for the trekkers of soft beds, flush toilets and western food were in stark contrast to the conditions and diet of the locals. Even so things are improving for the population. There is still a long way to go with the terrain one of the biggest handicaps. The very beauty of the country, so necessary for the tourists, makes progress difficult and expensive. Nepal has seven of the ten highest mountains in the world, and some of the steepest valleys. Infrastructure, roads and communications are still primitive in so many places and likely to stay like that for many years.

Finally we had some lovely views of Kathmandu with its temples and thousands of pigeons.

There were 22 members present and those who stayed away missed a very interesting presentation.

Thank you Ian and Lindsay.

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