Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Rural Nepal: What is my obligation here?

I feel at such a lost here. Every school I visit, every English speaking person I pass, every expectant eye. “after your research you will come back and help at the schools?  Bring us materials? Bring us supplies? Bring us help?” I can see how desperately they need it. And I know that I am knowledgeable about education, about improvement, motivation, and more. But I don’t know what to do. This whole thing is so much bigger than me. It’s so much bigger than just what I could do but I feel so compelled to be able to do something. And there again I am, at a complete loss. They think because I am American, well educated, and interested in schooling I will be able to make a big change.
            I don’t have money. Actually, that’s not true. I currently have $3,421 in my savings account. Which is more money than any of them will most likely see in their entire lifetime. But throwing that money at them isn’t going to make something happen. Neither is donating $500 of my Christmas money. And yet I’m still compelled to do it.
            Seeing what they live with versus what we live with almost makes me sick. I know I need to do something, to come and give something to these hardworking children and families. However, I am at a loss of what to bring, of what to give. They all seem to think I could donate large amounts of money, but I don’t want to just dump money into this place. I want to do something more impactful, more in depth, and yet what that could be eludes me. However, I still sit in the classrooms of the dirt floored schools, dreaming of proper desks, of non-ripped notebooks, of posters on the walls, of teachers who interact with the students, of music and art classes, of a playground instead of a dusty courtyard, of doors to the buildings, students bright faces light with understanding and joy in learning, and water for the students to drink. I dream of the things they don’t have, and yet it pains me inside to think about the reality that I can never bring all of that to them.

            Today there was a wedding ceremony in the street. They were picking up the groom to be taken to his wife. There were drums, dancing, tikka, and excitement for hours. I watched from the perch of our second story porch. As the ceremony was ending a man came over to talk to me. He is a student in Kathmandu and a great English speaker. He had heard about me so we began talking.  He asked me what I thought about this place, this ceremony I was seeing, these people. I expressed to him again my continually unraveling love of Nepal, of the people, of everything. He told me how lucky I was to see this ceremony, to experience this true show of culture, and I smiled largely feeling like quiet possibly the luckiest person in the world.
            But that turned around quickly. We came to talking about my research and what I was doing here. And then he began to tell me how grateful he was, how happy he was that someone was here caring about their education. And that someone from America where the schools are amazing, and the teaching is great, is taking the time to help the people out here. Most of the people are on the border of poverty, he said, and they need education now more than anything. But there are just no materials, no training, and no money to fix it. He kept happily saying that he was excited for me to come back and implement some programs here in Nepal, to work with the children, and help with the schools. 

            Suddenly I felt like my whole trip here has been laid on some false pretenses. The guilt was unbearable. To them, it’s like I came here to research for future programs I am going to bring to fix their education. It’s like the woman in the street who heard I was doing educational research and all she could say was thank you, thank you for helping. Or the principle at the last school who shook my hand firmly and said he was excited to see me return with help. Or the science teacher at the primary school down the hill who looked me in the eye and asked so genuinely it cut to my core, if I could please ask American schools to spare some materials so that he could teach beyond the chalkboard. Looking into the eyes of these people I have to make the promise, to make the promise to help in every way I can. But the burden of that, the harsh crushing realization that I have no way of doing all that, pulls at my heart inside, and rips me to pieces.  

After speaking to the young man I just went to my room and cried. Feeling the pull to help, the need to help, the accountability to help, and none of the mobility. And that is how I am conflicted now, caught in this beautiful country, making promises I want to follow through on more than anything. And staring myself in the face hoping with all my strength that I can.

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