Nepal has been in lockdown for over two months, joining the universal experience of uncertainty and confusion created by the COVID-19 pandemic. At first only lightly affected it seemed, the country is seeing a growing number of infections located around the border with India; and there is increasing alarm at the rising daily death-toll. Accurate figures for infections are still hard to come by given the limited capacity for testing. Very little movement is permitted; only essential journeys are exempt. The government has allowed banks, small businesses and shops to open with very few staff and for a short duration of time during the working day. From an education perspective, schools remain closed and no one knows when the nationwide SEE exams (equivalent to GCSEs) will not take place this year, affecting close on half a million students in Grade 10. The IGCSE exams in Sanskrit have been cancelled, affecting schools in both Pokhara and Kathmandu, including those students in HVP Central and Thali who were due to take them this year. The schools, however, are most grateful to Helen Harper for her ongoing guidance and encouragement for the promotion of Sanskrit education in Nepal, and to St James School for its generous financial support.
The three HVP schools are closed and anxious about the impact of COVID-19 on student numbers returning to school. Vishnu Sir and the remaining staff at Central School have been attempting to contact and reassure parents, amid the confusion of school closure, that the schools will reopen once they are permitted to do so. They are particularly concerned over the return to school of those students who live outside the valley and whom they have not been able to contact. 11 teachers still live at the hostel at HVP Central, entertaining themselves as best they can, but also, given the uncertainty of how soon schools will reopen, facing the quandary of whether or not they should leave Kathmandu and return to their villages. Central School has begun looking at online teaching, and while this has been well-received by the few students able to access the work set remotely, the majority of students do not have computers or internet capability. The abrupt and prolonged halt in the educational development of so many students is a cause of great concern.
Building work has continued at both HVP Central and Thali schools, the latter now complete partly thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the staff at Thali who loaned the school a full month’s salary to get the building of the two-storied classroom block finished. Work has paused on the construction of the new wing at HVP Central, although the external concrete structure is now finished. Work on the building of the classrooms was about to begin before everything went into lockdown and will hopefully resume as soon as it is possible to do so. This has been the major fundraising priority for HVPN-UK, supported by significant donations from individual trusts and various fundraising projects - all motivated by people with a very personal connection to the school. The completion of this long-term plan will equip the school with the much-needed capacity for proper kindergarten lessons to take place, and for the teaching of Plus 2 classes (A Level equivalent) to begin. We were humbled by the response to this appeal and astonished by how quickly we met our fundraising target. Thank you to all of you who gave so generously.
Images of HVP Central School construction of new wing (current progress and model)
Images of HVP Thali construction of two-storied block of classrooms (now complete)
Lockdown in Dang has meant that some children are unable to go home and 11 students are staying at the Children’s Peace Home for the duration, even though the school itself is closed. Principal Bhola Sir is concerned about the impact of lockdown on school intake next year and, in particular, the intake of children from the poorest families.
Another significant consequence of the pandemic is the impact on UK volunteers going out to the three schools this summer. Given the worldwide uncertainty and the country-entry restrictions imposed by the Nepalese government, undergraduates at Durham, Cambridge and Oxford universities have cancelled their plans to volunteer at the three HVP schools. For the first time since the first GAP volunteer, Paul Soffe, came to HVP Central School, the same year that Vishnu Sir as a young man of 20 joined HVP, the schools are facing what Vishnu describes as the unimaginable prospect of a year without any UK volunteers. The hope is that this year’s group will postpone their plans to summer 2021; keeping the cycle of one year’s volunteers as the co-ordinators for the next remains a priority for the whole UK volunteer programme.
This summer was also supposed to see 21 students from Merchant Taylors’ School (MTS) in north London coming to volunteer for a week in July at HVP Central School. When Vishnu Sir came to MTS last October as part of his UK visit, he was warmly welcomed by the students and Head Master, Simon Everson, who was supportive of a connection between MTS and the HVP schools. Any future trip will be contingent on the ongoing circumstances surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, but Matthew Hilton-Dennis, teacher at MTS and HVPN-UK trustee, is hopeful of a new trip going out to Nepal either in 2021 or within the next couple of years. He takes the sighting of Mt Everest from Kathmandu – the first in years – to be a good omen.
If you would like to support the schools, please donate to our 20:20 For Nepal campaign: www.justgiving.com/campaign/2020fornepal