From Virtual To Reality
After almost two years of operating remotely and at the mercy of covid related travel restrictions, Building Education founder Wendy Shew was finally able to spend two weeks in Nepal visiting the BE project sites. Her trip was illuminating and heartwarming, to say the least. In the following interview, she shares with the readers some of her thoughts and experiences.
What was the purpose of this trip to Nepal? And what was your itinerary?
The purpose of the trip was to check on our projects in Nepal including Siraichulli Primary School that was recently rebuilt in the Chitwan Hills for the Chepang people, a marginalized community. We also worked to build our operations in Nepal, launch new projects that have been put on hold, and look into potential new projects.
We flew into the capital city, Kathmandu, then went by road and later by foot to Chitwan district to see our 2nd (Siraichulli) and 3rd (Bharang) schools. Afterwards, we went to Pokhara to check in on our 1st school. Finally we travelled to Sindhupalchuk to evaluate a potential 4th school building project.
What was your most memorable stop and why?
Siraichulli Hills was my most memorable stop. After one full year of working planning, fundraising, negotiating with partners, and managing the building work on this project, it was very fulfilling to see the completed vision—the children in the updated classrooms and playing on the new playground—and to meet with the team on the ground who contributed to this project. It was even more amazing to see the whole community benefitting from the effort we put in together. They were all so happy.
We stayed for one night in the home of the Chief of the Village. His wife was very sick with cancer, but not once did he ask for money or any other support. He stayed focus on the school and our work together the whole time we were there.
What is your most eye-opening learning during this trip?
When we traveled to Sindhupalchuk, it was astounding to see the different levels and dimensions of poverty. I learned how social problems in one area can differ so much from the other— from basic food insecurity to caste-system struggles and rigid mindsets to domestic abuse and even, addiction to coco cola (sugar). These are related challenges that are exciting for me when trying to think of different solutions to alleviate poverty.
Did you have any conversations with the kids that you would like to share with the readers.
The students in our first school project in Pokhara can speak English. I was able to reconnect with my own personal sponsor daughter after not seeing her for almost 2 years due to COVID. She has 2 older sisters and 1 younger sister. It was an emotional visit because they recently lost their mother and then they lost their next caretaker, their grandmother. I’ve seen the girls grow and all the challenges that they’ve endured. It breaks my heart, and I wish I could do more. But I also know that the best thing I could do is support them in their education and give them the opportunities that they need to succeed in the future. So that is my commitment.
Most of the kids and parents in our new projects do not speak English. They speak the local Chepang language and are still learning the national language Nepali.
You have travelled to Nepal before. What stood out as unique to this particular trip?
It was amazing to see the work and the impact that the BE team was having in the community. Before, I felt more like a tourist. Now, I feel I am part of a growing community in the capital city of Kathmandu and in the remote villages. It feels like visiting family in a sense.
Also, during this trip, I realized how our organization has grown … from 1 project to 3 projects in 3 different villages and from 1 person, me, to over a team of 10 people. As a result, my responsibilities as the Founder … especially the fundraising and the marketing efforts are even more critical now.
What did you miss in Nepal that you would pack for yourself on your next trip?
A water filter! I tend to have the misconception that I am invincible and will be fine regardless of what happens. I got water parasites from the mountain water on this trip. It wasn’t too bad but totally could have been prevented.
If you had to take a small gift for each child and teacher in the school, what would you take?
A good pair of mountain walking shoes because the children have to hike, sometimes up to two hours daily, to get to school and back. Those are the things that they usually don’t get but would make such a difference in their lives
There are obviously many things in the context of Nepal and the community that puts the students at a disadvantage. But, what, from your observation, are one or two things in the attitude, in the community, in the landscape etc. that are working for the kids, that gives these kids resilience and even joy as they navigate their hardships?
I think it is the power of the community and the fact that Building Education is working in the community. These are extremely remote villages where no one goes—it’s no man’s land. For them to know that there is an international organization that cares about them, has taken interest, and wants to improve their livelihoods allows them to know that they are worthy and that they matter. Even more so, it makes them accountable to want to succeed. They do not want to disappoint Building Education in effort in the same way that we work hard not to disappoint our donors in impact.
As the number of projects, and the positive impact of the BE mission, increases steadily, the task of funding becomes even more urgent and sizeable. So, this holiday season, the BE team would like to wish everyone a happy and safe celebration and, at the same time, appeal to the generosity of the readers and the larger community to donate towards its goal of rebuilding 1000 schools in the effort to break the cycle of poverty that is so firmly established in the remote regions of Nepal.