‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ (Charles Dickens, ‘The Tale of Two Cities’)
Let’s start with the worst of times and get it over!
Nepal went into Lockdown on 23rd March but it was not until 25th May that daily new cases began to grow from a few to hundreds – and of course very few sick people are tested and so many go un-documented. But as India’s parallel lockdown shows, even if you under-report, the evidence is there showing a virus spreading out of control.
In Hangdewa, the impact has not been the same for everyone. Those with land carried on much as before, calling out to neighbours and feeding themselves from their farms. All schools were closed on 19th March, with public exams brought forward, and teachers were furloughed indefinitely. It seemed reasonable to Q. Learning to pay our teachers’ salaries in total, otherwise they would have been without money – and this included any contribution that parents might normally make. Then, one day, a hungry man turned up at the schools’ Principal’s house and asked if he and his family could have some food. So Q. Learning, through Facebook, raised £1500 for the poor and those in trouble in Hangdewa because of Coronavirus. Next, we had a conversation with one of our alumni whose father, the family’s main bread-winner, was stranded trying to return from the Middle East, where many Nepali go to find employment. Some of these migrant workers made it back, but then couldn’t earn. Some found the border home closed. Other villagers had family arrive from the city, dependent on villagers for food, or asked for help for where they were. Life became increasingly difficult for the Nepali people who already live on the edge.
Just as the UK, who went into lockdown on the same day, began to feel its benefits and saw a reduction of daily deaths, Nepal’s daily deaths started to increase by first tens, then by hundreds. This has resulted in uncertainty about re-opening schools. The Government said they should open on 15th June, but then back-tracked and are now saying after Dashain in October. The teachers’ union called for the ‘every home a school’ programme to be created with the help of a co-ordinator for each area. In reality, nothing has happened in remote areas. So, Q. Learning has bought the next years’ books and distributed them to all children. Some parents are up for the challenge…but, realistically, it is down to each child’s own motivation as few parents are literate. It has been made doubly difficult with Hangdewa being without any electricity for the past three weeks. The teachers are meeting to discuss what more they can do, but it is hard to see what.
Amongst all of this, there has been the best of times!
During lockdown in the UK, we have had time to get ourselves organised. And what a productive time it has been:
- We are setting up an Alumni. We are delighted that we have an ever-increasing number of young people who are continuing their studies in professional subjects: medicine, nursing, radiography, law, the army, teaching, Civil engineering and computers…. We have started tracking them down with a view to both supporting them and also asking them to emotionally and practically support those about to move away from home for the first time – almost all of them are first-generation college students and most are cripplingly lonely for the first year. Longer-term, we hope they will want to be involved in the development of the village. We will have a Facebook page for all of us to share information and ideas.
- We are formally setting up a charity in the UK. Until now, the Q. Learning Nepal Trust has been a charity only in Nepal. The process for registering as a charity in the UK is now well on its way with the help of Bates Wells, a London firm of solicitors doing pro-bono work for us.
- We have appointed a (shadow) Board of Trustees who have shown themselves to be an energetic bunch with loads of creativity and expertise, see ‘Who are we?’.
- One of the Trustees, Jo Thurston, has set us up on with Facebook and Instagram pages and we have followers from all over the world – please see Q Learning Nepal for lots of photos that she has now posted – and ‘like’ the page. This publicity is a pre-runner to a couple of future campaigns to seek volunteers for the school and also to market our new ‘Kanchegjunga View’ rental villa.
- When I was in Hangdewa at the end of February, I was able to prepare the Villa for visitors. It is a stunning property with huge windows, and 360’ views of the Himalayan foothills and on up to the highest mountains. Sleeping 4, it has a modern bathroom with hot water for showers, a modern kitchen and comfortable seating in the living room…but it is the outside balconies with tables for eating at and rocking chairs to lounge in that will be most used. It is beautifully finished with local pictures, crafts and thick rugs.
We very much hope that Nepal manages to escape the worse effects of Coronavirus and the schools are able to reopen soon. In the meantime, we hope you will ‘like’ our Facebook and Instagram pages Q Learning Nepal …..and plan your Himalayan stay in ‘Kanchejunga View’ in 2021!