The Colors On The Wall Will Always Remind Us.
March 31, 2021
On Sunday, the entire village of Panchgawa was very festive. Holi, the festival of colors that marks the coming of spring is one of the major festivals here. The shops were selling shades of red, yellow, green, and blue powders that, on the full moon day, friends and family put on each other. Shops were getting ready with sweets and cold drinks that are expected to sell out quickly as everyone with their clothes, hairs, and faces dyed in different colors take on the streets greeting neighbors and friends as well as strangers.
However, that day, Deep Narayan Adarsha High Secondary school was festive for a different reason.
Shiv Nath Chaudhary Tharu, Head Teacher of Deep Narayan School, woke up at around 4 am and started calling the preparation team for the day. Paints were being brought from the nearby town, brushes were being prepared and all the supplies for lunch was being delivered along with huge pot and pans to cook for about a hundred people who were going to be in the school that day.
"We might need to hurry as the team that is responsible for preparing breakfast is on their way to the school canteen.” Sipping a cup of tea and grabbing two pieces of biscuit, Shiv Nath sir runs towards his school which is about 10 minutes walk from his home.
“49 years ago this school was built through Shramadana and I am so happy that after all these years we’re coming together again for Sharamadana”, rejoices Mr. Chaudhary.
In the midst of all this hustle and bustle, he shares: “We had primary school in our village but we needed to extend it to secondary school. There wasn’t a single secondary school anywhere in the area. So four elder members of the community reached out to a local businessman - Mr. Deep Narayan, who was convinced about the need for a secondary school. He decided to contribute five hundred thousand rupees and entrusted the community to take full responsibility for constructing and operating the school.”
The members of the community contributed several acres of land to meet the government requirement. People from five different villages came together to help build the school. People got the ground ready for construction, dug the foundation, built the pillars and the walls. Some got wood from the jungle and each household gave their bullock carts to transport the woods from the jungle to the school. Windows and doors were built and beds for the hostel were made out of those wood.
Initially, the school was designed with a tile roof as was common in the houses at that time. However, considering the trouble of maintenance of these kinds of roofs, the community decided to make a concrete roof. So wooden planks were laid on the roof and plastered with cement.
And that is how the school came into being.
Today the school teaches up to higher secondary level and has also started diploma course for Civil Engineering. Boys and girls, some of whom are first in their generation to complete high school, study engineering in this school which is right in their village.
For many, especially girls, leaving their village to pursue higher education would have not been an option.
Every year, during the Learning Institute of the new cohort of Fellows, Shramadana has become an indispensable part of our learning.
So at the dawn of Sunday morning, about a hundred people were gathered around the school. Walls were being cleaned, paints were being prepared, brushes were being arranged. The new 9th cohort of TFN Fellows and staff along with students, teachers, and members of the community were scrubbing the walls, washing them, and then painting them in bright yellow.
"It is as if everything magically changed in a blink of an eye," said the principal with a huge smile looking at how quickly the entire front face of the schools had been painted.
In the Kitchen, a group of local community members and teachers started preparing lunch for all those who had come to volunteer.
Some were cleaning the ground. Some were passing out water to the workers. People moved around from one task to another doing what needed to be done.
This is how village communities in Nepal had thrived for centuries. Whenever water fountains had to be built, roads had to be paved, public sheds for travelers had to be constructed, or irrigation canals had to be dug, people came together and contributed their labor for the collective good.
This Shramadana – the gift of labor, was a way of community living. Those who could give land gave land, others gave money. But if there was one thing that everyone could give, it was time and labor.
These practices have slowly died away. But nevertheless, there is a growing realization towards the importance of reviving this sense of agency within the community for our own development.
At the end of the day, everyone came together to dance and celebrate what we had been able to accomplish together. Delicious rice pudding and chickpeas prepared by teachers and villagers were served. Everyone danced. Everyone went around putting colorful powders on each others’ faces. There was laughter. There was a joy.
We knew that the colors on our faces and our clothes will wash away. But as we all looked around the new colors in the school, we knew this was going to stay. This school carries a legacy. And every day, as we would look at the walls, we would be reminded of that legacy and all the wondrous that is possible if all of us just came together.