Sometimes you raise them, sometimes they raise you.
Sept. 4, 2021
What Sita faced might have been the worst of what a Fellow has to face on the first week of their Fellowship.
It was the first year that Teach For Nepal had partnered with Tulsipur Municipality. Most schools in the municipality welcomed Fellows with open arms. But in one school, few students were very skeptical of the administration’s decision and called a strike. This was the school where Sita and her co-Fellow had hoped to start their Fellowship journey with a lot of excitement and strong commitment.
Amidst all the conversation and attempts of the administration to counseling the students, Sita walked into the grade seven classroom prepared to take her lesson, but instead ran into a sign posted at the door – “Class on Strike”. She froze with the bitter feeling of rejection. She had been asked by the administration to give them some time but after what had just happened, Sita decided that no amount of convincing would be able to keep her there.
Sita walked into the classroom and told the students, “If I am not needed here, I will leave.”
Right then, a girl standing behind everyone else spoke up, “So you’re just going to leave after our dreams and hopes have been raised?”
Sita stayed back, taught for two years.
Dila, the eldest daughter of the house had multiple responsibilities at home. Her two brothers had severe health problems and needed full support. Her mother relied on her to help with the household work. She couldn’t afford to allow Dila to join the different extra-curricular activities that Sita had been running in the school.
But Dila’s curiosity, readiness, and enthusiasm for learning and exploring new things kept her going despite the severe scolding she got from her mother.
She participated in the Health and Fitness club. She was the first one to arrive and the last one to leave the club meetings.
“The more I saw Dila’s insatiable hunger for learning, the more I wanted to push myself to start different programs in school”, says Sita.
Sita began to create opportunities for students to be part of – self-defense classes, oratory skills club, sports, and STEM challenges.
Soon enough Dila started growing wings. She began to lead the health and fitness club. She won an award in an inter-school STEM challenge. She was selected to be the master of ceremony in Teach For Nepal’s annual day. During the first wave of Covid, she led her club to spread awareness in her community.
After 2 years, Sita completed her Fellowship but continued to mentor Dila. Dila continued in her leadership trajectory, excelling in her studies and sharpening her leadership skills.
Just a week ago, Dila won the Samanta Foundation Scholarship.
Samanta Foundation scholarship is awarded to students who have outstanding scholastic and leadership skills. The scholarship is granted to students towards their 11th and 12th year of studies. The scholarship also provides mentoring and coaching to further build student’s skills.
When Sita shared this news in a meeting at Teach For Nepal, it was hard to tell if it was her or her student who had won this award.
About a year ago, Padam stood in front of his dry piece of land and took a long nervous breath. Nothing seems to be growing in the soil. The saplings were drying out.
Padam Raj Awasthi joined Fellowship after completing his Bachelor's Degree in Development Studies from Pokhara University. He was a gold medalist and any development organization would’ve gladly hired him. Yet he felt the need to deepen his learning and experience. And so he left for the hills of Sindhupalchowk where in winter the cold penetrates right into the chest, every step leaves you gasping for breath, where rocks are taller than homes, and the river is where you wash and bathe.
In less than one year into the Fellowship, it was clear to Padam that an education degree is not going to be enough for his students.
“They will complete their school. But for higher education, they won’t be able to afford college. If my students are going to make it that far, they are going to have to learn entrepreneurial skills and work their way to college.”
And thus began the exceptional journey of Padam and his co-Fellows Ashish as they started mushroom farming in their community. The farm engaged students and eventually parents and other community members. This part of their story was featured in the news and was much talked about.
But there was a part of the story that hasn’t been told before - the story of Dipendra.
In the eyes of Padam, Dipendra was always responsible and demonstrated some excellent leadership abilities. He wasn’t the greatest in science or mathematics. This was the reason he wasn’t always the star in other teacher’s eyes. His other skills were left unvalued.
As mushroom farming was picking up pace, his students were invited to present their success in Teach For Nepal’s annual day. All the students were excited.
But not all students could attend the annual day so a nomination team was set up to decide who all gets to go.
Dipendra didn’t make the cut.
While other students were left disheartened and grumpy, Dipendra assured Padam and Ashish that he would gladly stay back and take full responsibility of the farm while the rest of the team was gone.
Padam looked at Dipendra - a young student who was demonstrating such a strong sense of responsibility, maturity, and a resolve to hold the fort while everyone was gone. No doubt, it was a great relief to know that the farm would be taken care of. At the same time, the strength of character this young man demonstrated left Padam inspired.
“While we were in Kathmandu, I didn’t have a hint of doubt that Dipendra could be completely trusted with the responsibility,” Padam recalls.
He was right. Dipendra fully took care of the farm at that time.
The mushroom farm is still being locally run now that Padam and Ashish have completed their Fellowship.
Moved by his experience in the village, Padam decided to start farming. They took some land on lease and started their vegetable farm – “Taza Farm”.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Padam stood in front of his farmland. Unlike the year before, this time the farm was filled with tomato, broccoli, cabbage, capsicum, and corn.
“There was a time no one believed that anything was going to come out of this soil. The trick was to cut through that phase of initial failures and doubt, and continue to persist,” says Padam.
Padam has about nine interns currently working with him at this farm.
One of them is Dipendra.
After school, Dipendra received two scholarships (CTEVT scholarship and HELP scholarship) to pursue - a Diploma in Agriculture (Plant Science) under CTEVT.
“Whenever my inner resolve shakes, when I have doubt and fear, I think of Dipendra who once stood like a pillar in the storm. That memory strengthens my own sense of responsibility to see through things I have started,” says Padam
The point of education is not to drive students to look for jobs in the cities. They should be able to stay in their village and generate wealth and find their happiness.
Three other students taught by Teach For Nepal Fellows intern at Padam’s farm.
“One day, my students will become CEOs of these farms,” Padam dreams.