Dara Punjal Lama is 14, and lives in the remote northern end of Tsum Valley behind Ganesh Himal close to the Chinese border. Since there are no schools in this spectacularly scenic and sacred valley, he has to attend school two days walk away in Philim.
The trek used to be treacherous even at the best of times, but after the April 2015 earthquake Dara and two other boys risks their lives several times a year walking along steep paths etched out of mountains mauled by landslides and rockfalls by the earthquake.
Now in Grade 6, Dara’s family cannot afford private school fees in the city so he goes to the Buddha Middle School in Philim. Luckily, unlike other government schools in the region, the school has good infrastructure and teachers.
The unique design with its circular stone dining-hall and the classrooms survived the 2015 earthquake and were back in use soon after. But three of the five dormitories were damaged, and the students had to sleep in large UNICEF tents in the school yard for the past two years.
A fortuitous meeting between Marian Hodgkin of UNICEF and Lava Deo Awasti then at the Ministry of Education in 2015 led to support from Rotary International to upgrade the school. Peter Reid, a VSO volunteer, who happened to be in the meeting returned to the UK persuaded his Rotary Club to raise funds to help the school.
Once a month a local Nepali restaurant in Plymouth puts on a fund-raising meal for friends of Nepal and gives half of the money it raises to help the Philim school and some of the students like Dara. Rotary International has a scheme to donate matching funds, and Philim could benefit from a $64,000 grant.
At that time the trails to northern Gorkha were still blocked by landslides and the school was being supplied by UN helicopters. The money donated so far has been used for furniture, equipment, fixtures and plumbing, and Japan’s AAF have stepped in again to rebuild the damaged structure. Philim’s townspeople are playing a major part in the reconstruction. The school has 15 teachers and 400 students, 140 of them staying in five dorms since they live too far.
The money donated has been used for computers and training for all teachers through Open Learning Exchange, Nepal. A British primary school teacher trainer will visit for three months a year to work alongside teachers in seven feeder primary schools.
Medical doctor Iman Singh Gurung, who grew up in Philim and completed his PhD as a Gates Scholar at Cambridge University, has been advising rehabilitation of the school. “The AAF is already involved in hardware, we should use the Rotary money for software,” he said.
Since the school is adjacent to the main Manaslu Trek trail, and tourist traffic is picking up after the landslide damage was repaired, the school is encouraging trekkers who stop in Philim for the night to visit the classes, interact with students and fund future expansion.
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