Extended family time

“We sit huddled together in a jeep that winds its way up the hills of Chitwan on dirt roads. The serpentines are so narrow that the driver has to start several times. Suddenly the jeep got stuck, it doesn’t go backwards or forwards. So we get out and walk the last bit drenched in sweat up the hill to the school. There we are received with great joy and warmth – in the middle of the jungle.

This exuberant, but natural joy and gratitude, which the children and also the parents and teacher Stella show, touches me more deeply than I would have thought possible. Somehow I am – even if we are mostly divided by continents – very close to her again. After all, as her uncle, I have been able to follow her whole life.

The stormy greeting is followed by a colorful program that is fun for everyone. First they sing Nepalese children’s songs together, then two older schoolgirls perform traditional folk dances. They also give an encore to great applause. In the fierce competition, games of skill follow, the children cheer their classmates on loudly.

Then we move the games outside in the sunshine. After initially being amazed, the children chase after the soap bubbles that fly across the schoolyard and try to catch them. The happiness of the children and their joy in small things are touching. The Back to Life team, Stella, her son and we play together with the children all afternoon. Hours that are filled with carefree children’s laughter.

Carefree children’s laughter and pure enthusiasm

The menu for a week is posted on the notice board, the children get a warm meal every day. Since Dashain is currently being celebrated in Nepal, there is a feast today. I am amazed at how quickly they consume the large portions and then queue up again for a second serving. It is praiseworthy that everyone wash their hands beforehand at a tap next to the school building and after the meal the clean, empty plates as thoroughly as they have learned to do here. This is also an important preventive contribution to keeping children healthy.

The children and their families belong to the Chepang tribe, an ethnic minority. Once nomads in the jungle, the government forced them to settle there several generations ago. Unable to read or write or to cultivate agriculture, they fell into abject poverty. The men often work as simple day laborers, on construction sites, in road construction or in markets. Others are desperately looking for work in the big cities or abroad.

To give these particularly disadvantaged people in a very poor country the opportunity to go to school for their children is an outstanding act. For 10 years, Back to Life in Chitwan has been helping girls in particular to go to school, many of whom are Chepang. Thanks to years of support, the first ones have already passed secondary school and are aiming for the Abitur. That is a remarkable achievement. Back to Life in Chitwan currently supports 600 students, a third are Chepang. In addition, Back to Life is building another school building for Dhamili, the foundation wall and the first pillars are already in place.

The day goes by in a flash and we have to say goodbye. Dozens of children’s hands wave after us. It was deeply impressive – for me also very emotional. “

Update: The school building was completed in spring 2020. The school can now apply to the school authorities for lessons up to grade 8. This is an important development for the village and the neighboring settlements.

Dr. Wolfgang Deetjen

October 2019

Education and School, Travel Diary

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