Empowerment Through Digital Literacy
Alad, Nepal and Kathmandu, Nepal
June 3, 2015
Hello everyone! My name is Sujata Singh and I am a first year graduate student at Harris School of Public Policy. I am really excited to have received the Davis Grant. I am an international student from Nepal, so being able to do a grassroot project in Nepal is something very special for me!
Initially I was planning on working with the Bhairav Secondary School, located in the Far- Western part of Nepal. However, on April 25th Nepal was struck by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, which killed almost 9,000 people and destroyed a lot of schools and homes. Because of this recent devastation, and the immediate need for support and relief, I have decided to change my initial proposal a little bit. Along with doing my computer training project in the school in Alad, I will be working with a school in an earthquake affected region in Nepal. I am so thankful that the Davis Project and I-House community were so supportive of my decision to put some of the funds towards helping with the recent destruction due to the earthquake.
Even though I am currently busy with finals, I have started preparing for my first project in Alad. I am excited but a little nervous about the reverse culture shock I will be facing in Nepal, having not been home for almost 4 years! Although, the village (especially the school) has some solar generated electricity, the house I might end up staying in has no electricity at all. And there is no internet, so I am kind of looking forward to being cut off from the hustle bustle of the world for about 2 weeks!
Below are some pictures of the village and the school sent to me by the headmaster.
June 19, 2015 (Day 2 in Nepal)
Wow! What a day! I completely forgot about the crazy traffic in Nepal. Its CRAZY! There are so many vehicles here, so many motorbikes, and so many more people! I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to cross the road here on my own without praying to God! The heat combined with the smoke and the blaring sounds of horns create an atmosphere of utmost cacophony!
I managed to buy the computers, and printer I need for the school. After standing in line for hours and going to seven different rooms in about three floors, I applied for a new MRP passport. I’ve got all the things I need for my trip to the village on Monday and I’m glad I’m getting away from this madness for a while.
June 23, 2015
I took a two hour flight from Kathmandu to Dhangadi early on Monday morning with the four computers and one printer. From Dhangadi, I will need to take a four hour bus ride to Alad, which I will be doing on Wednesday. Dhangadi is very different than Kathmandu, it is much hotter and more remote (even though it has the fifth biggest city of Nepal).
I met the headmaster of Shree Bhairab school today, and he will be escorting us on our ride to Alad on Wednesday. The headmaster, Keshab sir, told us that the students are really excited about the computers and about the project. The computers will be used only by students in Grade 6 and up, therefore I decided to buy a notebook and a pencil for each of the students in Grade 1 – 6. We will also be buying some extra books and learning materials! I am just as excited as the students to go to the village and start classes with students!
June 29, 2015
We reached Alad yesterday evening. We had planned on getting here in the morning, but it started raining yesterday, so we had to change our plans a little bit. Alad is a very very small village and very rural. The house I am living in is completely made of mud and wood and has no electricity, or indoor plumbing. We bought mats to sleep on. There is a small restroom outside but close to the house.
We installed the computers at school today and everything went smoothly with that. The school recently received three computers from the government, so now there are seven in total. Everyone seems to be very happy and excited about it. I met all the teachers and some of the students. The teachers and students were vey welcoming and helpful. The school had ordered new desks and chairs for the new computers. I will be giving some training to the teachers on Sunday and Monday about the usage of the new computers.
Monsoon officially started in Nepal on Thursday and it has been raining nonstop all night and all day. There are no roads in the village, and the walking paths get very muddy and slippery, so I am having trouble walking these paths. It usually takes me more than twice the time it takes villagers to get to places. Today a girl from grade 10 held my hand and helped me walk some of these paths that are full of stones and mud, and often have to jump across little streams. Also, because of the heavy rain, there are these small leeches that stick to your feet and suck your blood. I have already had three leeches suck my blood. It does not hurt when it sucks just a little itchy and very gross.
But overall the place is very beautiful. It is green and luscious. Everyone has huge farms. Usually wherever we eat, the food is straight from their own farm. I can see green hills, banana trees, and beautiful forests from the window of my room.
July 1, 2015
Everything is going really well! I installed all the computers and printer with the help of the teachers. We tested them and they all are working in great condition. On Monday and Tuesday, I gave some basic training and orientation to the teachers. Some of the teachers already knew how to use the computers, but they have been gaining more practice with the new system.
On Wednesday, with the help of one of the teachers, I gave some computer classes to the students in Grade 6. From last year, computer has been introduced as a mandatory subject for grades 6 and up. However, many of the students in villages such as Alad might have seen a computer or a picture of one, but they have never touched a computer. Even when we held classes for Grade 6, many of them had no idea even how to hold a mouse. However, I am certain that they will learn fast. The students are really excited about the computers and they are filled with a new sense of purpose and motivation.
July 1-July 3, 2015
I taught classes 6, 7, and 8. The students have been doing really well. I usually teach classes during the assigned computer class period with the help of a teacher. Many of the students were very nervous to even touch the computer initially but they have ended up being bolder with many demonstrations and practice. The teacher and I demonstrated how to do certain tasks while the rest of the students watched. Then we made each of them come forward alphabetically and made them individually practice the task. We taught them how to open programs and how to type. The students and the teachers seem very motivated.
On Friday, I also individually distributed a notebook, pencil, sharpener, and an eraser to all the students in Grade 1 to Grade 10. The students were very excited. Some of them let me know that they had never received such gift individually from anyone before, which made me very happy.
July 4, 2015
Today there was a formal program to denote the donations of the computer. The teachers, headmaster, board members of the school, along with students were present in the program. It is usually customary that they honor the chief guest (which was me) with garlands and vermillion powder on the forehead. The present guests and board members all said really nice things about me and about the importance of education. The program went really well. This also formally ended my first project. Next week I head back to Dhangadi to finalize my second project of working with a school in Dhangadi.
July 7, 2015
Last week while talking to many schools in Dhangadi out of curiosity, I found the school system in this part of the country to be abysmally weak. I have decided to do my second project in a school in Taranagar area in Dhangadi called “Rastriya Secondary School.” Almost 95% of the students in the school are from Tharu and Dalit communities. Tharu and Dalit are two of the lowest caste in Nepal and these people are usually the poorest. Recently, the government has mandated that grade 6 and up students need to study computers but this school has no computers. The students are of low income, therefore, most of them have never touched a computer. The students overall have really good grades despite being from such low income families. I noticed a certain spirit and determination in the teachers and students of the school that has touched me.
I initially wanted to spend the funds towards the earthquake, however, almost all of the schools around Kathmandu affected by earthquake have received a lot of funds and support internationally and from the government. But, this school in Dhangadi has not received any support or help from government or other organizations. Therefore, I have decided to do a project in Dhangadi similar to the one in Alad. I know this will mean a lot to the students and will have a big impact on the community.
I plan to give them about 5 computers and a printer, do some training with the teachers, and run classes for a week with students. Through the five computers and other educational support, I know it will encourage not only the immediate students but also the broader community.
July 13, 2015
I have been working with Shree Rastriya Secondary School in Taranagar, Dhangadi. The school teaches up to grade 8, has almost 500 students and 14 teachers. The situation in this school is similar to all the government schools in this area: the infrastructure of the building is weak, the school has little to no supply of stationary materials for the students. Most of the students are of dalit and tharu community, which are two of the most marginalized groups in Nepal. Almost 70 percent of the students are girls. This is because most families tend to send their sons to private schools where the standard of education is much higher, but girls are relegated to studying in government school where education is free. I have heard some girls tell me that they have to drop their younger brother off at boarding school every morning, before they themselves can come to the government schools- so they are always late for school. Even though it is good that all girls are gaining some form of literacy education, boys' education is still considered most important by families.
I taught/observed Nepali and other classes taught by teachers on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Even in the class setting, boys are more active and engaged, as they have always been encouraged to study and speak up, however, girls are usually super shy, huddled in groups, and rarely speak out in classes.
We set up a computer lab and installed four computers, and a printer. I start teaching computer classes starting tomorrow.
July 18, 2015
Last week I taught computer classes with the help of the trained teachers at the Shree Rastriya Secondary School in Dhangadi. Since the students have been studying computer in theory, when asked how to open Microsoft Word, they had the answer memorized (click on Start, go to All Programs, open Microsoft Word). However, almost none of them had ever touched a computer before. So, when I asked them to open it on the computer- most of them struggled immensely. They were really nervous and could not move the mouse properly. However by the end of the week, the students were getting more and more comfortable using the mouse and opening various programs. It was immensely gratifying both for me and the students themselves to see the progress they were making.
However, I still could not help but notice the difference in learning styles between the girls and the boys. The boys were all eager to learn and would come forward while the girls were usually huddled in the corner and had to be coaxed to come forward to practice on the computers. I focused my energies on trying to encourage the girls to not be shy and make them understand the possibilities and opportunities they would have after learning how to use computers. I could definitely find positive change in some of the girls towards the end.
July 21, 2015
Today was my last day at the Shree Rastriya Secondary School. There was a formal event at the school to mark the end of the project and to inform the community about the donations. We invited all the parents of the students, board members of the school, some government officials, and other community members. When I reached the school, I was very happy to find an overwhelming presence of parents. The parents of this school are mostly poor farmers and laborers, which means they are currently extremely busy as it is monsoon season. They had come despite their busyness. The interest they showed in their children’s future, studies, and in the school gives me a little hope about the status and future of education, especially in Nepali villages. Since, it is usually hard to get the parents to come to the school to meet teachers, the principal and school took it as an opportunity to reinforce the importance of making a suitable learning environment for the students at home.
The principal, the teachers, and the community members expressed their sincere gratefulness for all the grant and the project. The headmaster of this school has a vision towards the school, and deeply cares about the school and the children’s future, which is really evident in all his work. This kind of attitude is hard to find among the headmasters of the government schools in Nepal. Most teachers are concerned about personal gain or only care about politics even in educational sector.
In addition to the computers, I donated a set of notebooks and geometry box to all the students. I found that most of the students fail Math classes because they cannot afford to buy a proper geometry box. In addition to the stationary supplies, I also provided ten ceiling fans to the school. Currently in Dhangadhi the temperature reaches up to 108 degree Fahrenheit. However, the school has no fan or any sort of indoor cooling system. In such conditions, the school had been struggling to keep students motivated. The students today seemed really energized and positive. They all recited poems for me and kept coming up to me to let me know that they wanted to study hard and one day give back to their community, just as I had. This really made me feel like I had accomplished what I had come for. The students had motivation and encouragement- they were feeling like they could amount to something and could in the future help their communities.
July 27, 2015
I have ended my project and am back in Kathmandu. I am really grateful for the Davis Grant for giving me the opportunity the help communities in Nepal. I am also thankful for the support of the UChicago International House without which I would not have been able to achieve any of this.
I was able to help Shree Bhairab Secondary School in Alad and Shree Rastriya Secondary School in Dhangadi. Both these schools have students from poor and marginalized groups in Nepal and most of them are women. I was able to provide both the schools with not only one fully equipped computer lab but also stationary materials and supplies to the school that will ensure that the students are able to excel all round. I have also provided training to the teachers to make sure that they teach the computers to ensure that the students get the most out of them. The schools, in the long term, are also thinking about making the computer lab available to the community. When the schools are not in session, they can start a computer training program for adults in the villages. This will provided extra revenue for the school as well as empower other adults in the villages.
Dhangadi and Alad are two communities in Nepal that have had inter-religious and inter-ethnic conflict because of poverty and lack of education and opportunities. I am sure that these computers will emerge as a silver lining to not only the students in the school but will go on to positively affect their families and the broader community.