Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Explore Nepal 2013: The Kuleshwar Field Trips

This year the 4th grade went back to Kuleshwar*, the government school on the bank of the disgusting Bagmati River where approximately 80% of the children attending are indentured servants.
One of the reasons the river is disgusting is because that's where individuals dump their trash. Another reason why it's disgusting is because that's where the city of Kathmandu keeps a large waste management operation.

That operation isn't featured in the video above. Those are just individuals. To picture the waste management system  (and I failed to get a photo of it during the three years I lived in Kathmandu) multiply the above video by a thousand. It's a little more organized, and the trash is just kept on the banks of the river- not dumped directly into it. But it's a trash dump nonetheless, and it's a trash dump located just a few meters from the school.
So visiting the area is an attack on the senses. In the spring months it is hot and sticky, and the air can be a cloud of burning garbage (or burning dead bodies, since the Bagmati is also a sacred river and the dead are cremated not just at the temples that run along its banks, but along the open spaces as well). The smell can be waffle between overpowering and hardly noticeable, depending on the direction and force of the wind, and the classrooms are typical for a Nepalese school- barren, cracked gray walls encasing old wooden benches, below a corrugated metal ceiling where the spiders spin their webs.
Needless to say, it's a lot for my little ones to take in. Of course at the same time it's essential for their service learning to not only experience it but to reflect on the fact that:

1) They get to leave after an hour or two and retreat back to their air conditioned classroom. For the students there that is their educational environment.
2) They get to go home after the school day. For many of the students there, their families have sold them, and thus they go to work after and before the school day.

Lincoln School is right on the edge of the Kuleshwar district, and the school is only a dozen blocks away. It's not just a tale of two cities. It's a tale of two worlds in the same neighborhood.

This is the second year I've taken my fourth grade class on a series of community building field trips to Kuleshwar. After the first year, the main feedback I got from the current fifth grade class was that they wish they could have worked there more. So I tried to be a little more ambitious this year. In some ways this was good, in others it was exhausting for the current crop of fourth graders. There were up and down times, but in the end most of them were extremely pleased by their effort and the work they did. As we did last year, we participated in a No Talking Fund Raiser to support our projects at Kuleshwar. We painted one of the classrooms with the current fourth grade class, which was a monumental undertaking for 9 and 10 year olds. We painted a giant map of Nepal on one of the walls, and made several posters / visual aids in English and Nepal based on the Nepalese 4th grade curriculum.
We also worked together to make a giant map of Asia, courtesy of National Geographic Map Maker Kit.

Each of the children colored at least one map "panel". We then laminated the giant map in strips.

We also painted and designed gardening pots, and planted flowers in them in an effort to expand the school garden. The reason we plant flowers and not vegetables is that the principal of the school explained that as soon as we plant vegetables, they will be stolen. Flowers are not nearly as much in demand, so they'll have a stronger chance of survival.
So here is a montage of our activities for this year, bringing together several trips over a two and a half month period. One thing you might notice is that sometimes the school is orange, and sometimes it's blue. Sometime between our trips there, the school's outside was painted. Why they decided to paint the outside instead of the classrooms with their resources would be an interesting discussion. Kuleswar gets assistance from one or two other NGOs, so it's hard to know who does what and how. For my part, the projects that the two fourth grade classes do are from discussions with the principal and fourth grade teacher, as well as conversations with the fourth graders themselves.

This was originally designed as a presentation of the Elementary School. 
The kids would be reading their reflections while the video played in the background.

My goal isn't for a fourth grader's reflection to be, "I feel good about this project because I helped the poor people." Instead the way I try to tailor my instruction is so the kids hopefully reflect on the experience in one of these ways: "I collaborated with friends I normally would never have met,"
"I worked hard and succeeded in making what I wanted to make," and 
"I understand a little bit more the obstacles that others have to endure to get an education." 

* I don't think I ever blogged about these field trips before. I guess I just forgot. Here is last year's presentation to the Elementary School at Lincoln. It was the same format as the one for this year; the video would play in the background as the fourth graders introduced the project and read their reflections.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...