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Nov. 28, 2017

   
 

Pooja Bhetwal with Devi (middle) and her classmates.

 

A thin girl is sitting off to one side of the classroom, hiding behind her unkempt hair. The young girl’s name is Devi (name changed). She is reserved and does not participate in class discussions. This is her second time in seventh grade because she failed all of her classes last year.

It takes a few weeks for Pooja Bhetwal - one of Teach For Nepal Fellows at Shree Kundala Devi Secondary School, Thulosiruwara, Sindhupalchok - to notice that she struggled with conversations and speaking up in class. It turned out that Devi has a physical impairment that makes it difficult for her to speak or to pronounce words correctly.

Other students in the class are picking on Devi constantly, because of her speech impairment and her poor personal hygiene. Moved by Devi’s struggle, Pooja decides to help her and to show her that by succeeding in school she will have the opportunity to seek justice for other disabled students like herself.

First of all, Pooja focuses on helping Devi to improve her personal hygiene. She noticed that the other students avoid sitting next to Devi because of her lack of cleanliness and because of that she has a hard time making friends. The change doesn’t happen overnight, but after talking to Devi, Pooja notices her little by little coming in with clean and brushed hair and starting to wear a proper uniform.

Another problem is that Devi’s illegible handwriting makes it impossible for teachers to read her work. Because Devi also struggles to communicate verbally, she has little chance to express herself. Pooja invests time into helping Devi with her handwriting and over the following months, there is an amazing improvement. Now, Devi boasts some of the best handwriting in her grade.

In order to build Devi’s confidence when speaking, Pooja has her read aloud to the class. At first, Devi’s disability makes this very difficult for her. The other children laugh at her and she feels shy and uncomfortable. But every time Devi reads in front of the class, Pooja reminds the other children that everyone has difficulties with something and that they should be kind to those who need help rather than mock them. In this way, Pooja not only increases Devi’s confidence but also helps the other students to develop empathy. The change in Devi is remarkable, she is able to develop her leadership skills and now, whenever the class does group activities, she never hesitates to participate.

“I’ve never been trained as a special education teacher, but there’s one thing I’ve learned from my Fellowship: children learn from adults,” says Pooja. “And by creating an environment where they can interact with peers, the students elevate their skills and develop essential social and emotional competencies.”

Devi’s family is very poor and everyone works long hours. Often Devi doesn’t have time to do her homework because she also has to help at home. Unfortunately, her parents are somewhat ashamed of Devi and don’t believe that she will ever improve in class. They never come to teacher-parent meetings either. In fact, if she had not received a scholarship based on her disability, it is unlikely that Devi would be in school at all.

In order to change her parents’ perception of Devi’s disability, Dawit Gurung - another Fellow at the same school - goes to spend an evening at her family home. Dawit spends all evening talking to Devi’s father and explains to him what great progress she is making in school and how eager she is to learn. Her parents are thrilled to have a teacher visit their home and, for the first time, feel a connection to the school. After Dawit’s visit, they start coming to the teacher-parent meetings and become much more involved in their daughter’s learning. They even lessen Devi’s workload at home so that she can focus on her studies and have continued to communicate with Fellows about her progress to this day.

Dawit’s visit also helps Devi to feel more connected with her teachers and build her trust in them. She sees how invested the Fellows are in her academic success and how much they want to see her succeed in life. This trust energizes her and makes her more eager to learn, she starts to raise her hand in class and ask questions, rather than avoiding attention.

It is amazing what a few dedicated teachers can do for the life of an individual student. Devi has transformed from introverted, unenthusiastic, and failing her classes, into an eager and energetic student with a passion for school. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of these two Fellows, Devi was able to graduate seventh grade on her second attempt and is now enrolled in eighth grade.

Giving children access to quality education is arming them with the courage, capacity, and self-confidence to better themselves and their families, their communities, and ultimately the next generation.

This #GivingTuesday, you can support quality education for more than 6000 children in Nepal by donating to Teach For Nepal so that the children receive what they need the most to pull families and communities out of the cycle of poverty.


 

  Pooja Bhetwal is one of the 85 Fellows who is currently teaching in Shree Kundala Devi Secondary School, Sindhupalchowk. Prior to joining Teach For Nepal Fellowship, she completed her Bachelor's in Business Administration from Little Angels' College of Management, Kathmandu University, Nepal.

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