Nov 23, 2020
I attended graduate school at South Dakota State University, which has a large Nepalese student body. They became some of my dearest friends. I have never met a more kind or more compassionate group of people. During my time at South Dakota, I learned a lot about the Nepalese culture, and began to hope that I could someday visit. Also, while I was at South Dakota a massive earthquake occurred in Nepal in 2015, killing thousands of people and injuring or displacing thousands more. Nepal is a very poor country with not much technology, so many of the students at South Dakota were unable to reach their families back home. I remember feeling absolutely horrible that I couldn’t do anything to help. This led my wife and I deciding to visit Nepal sometime after I finished graduate school. In 2017, I took a job at the FDA and settled with my family in Maryland. At this time, I learned that Ernie Schiller, my high school biology teacher, had started the Rebuild Nepal Education Foundation Project, a nonprofit foundation created to financially assist students in Nepal. As I previously mentioned, Nepal is a very poor country, and many of the children, especially females and those who lost fathers in the earthquake, had no means of paying for school. Failing to obtain an education in Nepal almost guarantees a life of extreme poverty. With Ernie, my wife and I planned our trip to Nepal, which took place in June 2018.
We landed first thing in the morning in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. One of the first things I noticed after departing the airport was the monkeys running around the city and the cows roaming the streets. This was quite the sight for someone that grew up in Iowa. We spent the day touring the capital city of Kathmandu, taking in the incredible sights. We visited Buddhist and Hindi temples, outdoor crematories, and did a lot of shopping. We woke up the next morning and took an 8-hour drive to Goganne, the village we would be staying at for most of our trip. Goganne was where our tour guide grew up and his entire family lived there. We had such an amazing time at Goganne, the views of the mountains were breathtaking, and the people were all great. Every morning, we were treated to fresh fruit and warm buffalo milk.
We visited three schools during our trip, Social Heart English School, Aischelu, and Shree Gyan Jyoti. We walked everywhere from Goganne; it was several miles one-way to each school. But, there were plenty of rest stops along the way to have tea. It is not an exaggeration that we were invited into almost every house we passed on the routes to school to have tea with the family. The Nepalese people are so welcoming and kind, and they make the best tea. I will never forget the feeling of walking up to the schools and seeing all the children jumping around with excitement at the sight of us. There was a 7-year old girl at one of the schools that would bring her 2-year old sister to school every day because they were orphans and nobody else could take care of her sister, but she wanted to stay in school. Every school we visited had children with inspirational stories to tell that left us in amazement at their tenacity to overcome tragedy. It was a very humbling experience that I will keep with me for as long as I live.
We handed out supplies, including notebooks, toothpaste, pencils to every student in every school we visited. Then, we would spend time teaching individual classes. English was the primary language taught at all the schools. I was teaching the equivalent of 9th graders. Every class I walked into, the students would stand at attention and say, ‘good morning sir!’ I would say good morning back, and they would take a seat. This was a stark contrast to some of the freshman biology classes I taught at South Dakota State. I would be ecstatic if anyone lifted their eyes up from their phone to even acknowledge I was in the same room as them. I am a scientist and decided I would teach the students the scientific method. I significantly underestimated the level of education they receive. I subconsciously assumed that because they didn’t have the resources we have, that they somehow weren’t learning at the same pace as students in the U.S. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I noticed about 5 minutes into my first lecture that the students knew exactly what I was talking about before I even explained it to them. So, I moved onto some basic chemistry where I wrote out the chemical reaction of photosynthesis. As I was moving onto the second half of the reaction and before I said anything, several students exclaimed ‘photosynthesis’. At this point, I really wish I had access to the internet because I was running out of ideas of things to teach the students they didn’t know yet. Eventually and thankfully, they hadn’t learned about the respiratory and circulatory systems so that is what I taught them. Next time I visit Nepal, I’m definitely developing a lesson plan.
Of all the wonderful memories I have from my trip to Nepal, the ones that I will cherish the most was having the privilege of handing out scholarships to the children. The first child we gave a scholarship to was a young lady, probably 9 or 10 years old, orphaned by the earthquake and with no real chance of remaining in school without financial assistance. A gracious donor from the U.S. had selected her specifically because she was a young lady in dire circumstances. Her teachers brought her into the room where we were preparing our lessons to teach to the classes. She was incredibly shy, and it took a lot of courage for her to come up and accept the envelope from Ernie. Ernie explained that the money would cover her education costs through the equivalent of their high school, and her teacher translated in Nepalese to ensure she understood. You could see the light in her eyes when she realized what she was being given. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room after she left. It was an incredibly emotional and wonderful experience, and one I will treasure forever. The entire trip was packed full of moments like this. I understand why Ernie fell in love with Nepal and now I am actively involved in the Foundation’s mission to further the education of as many Nepalese students as we can.
There are no words that can justly describe what an incredible experience our trip to Nepal was. Our foundation is planning on traveling to Nepal again in 2019. I am planning on returning in 2020. If you enjoy traveling, I highly encourage you to consider visiting this wonderful country. Along with visiting the schools, the country has so much to see. My wife and I spent a few days on a trek in the foothills of the Annapurna Mountain Range and when the sky was clear we could see 2 of the 10 highest mountain peaks in the world. The cost of food, lodging, etc. is unbelievably cheap in Nepal. Most meals at restaurants cost less than 5 dollars and it is very good food. If you are unable to visit, please consider a donation to the Rebuild Nepal Education Foundation Project. The average scholarship we give students is $50, and it covers school fees, backpacks, new shoes, socks, books, snacks, and a new uniform. Many of the students that receive these scholarships would otherwise not be able to remain in school, which as I mentioned earlier, practically guarantees a life of extreme poverty.
Visiting Nepal was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I am undoubtedly a better person because of it and I look forward to visiting again.