We undertook our fourth trip to Dothar last week. Mostafa and I along with Bhola sir and Priyankar were joined by our friend Craig and his friend Bijay. We left Kathmandu early, around 7:30 am, thinking we’d be back by 3 pm since it was a special day called Sangri Sankraati, the first day of the month and a new moon. We thought the village might start celebrating by afternoon, so it would be good for us to leave by noon.
[We had met with Tara a week earlier. She had come in to Kathmandu to meet and discuss the project, and also to show her what a preschool looks like. We met at a large school where Bhola Sir has been training the preschool teachers in Montessori techniques. Tara was quite amazed at the preschool: she had never seen one before. It was really good for her to spend time talking to those teachers and see what the classroom looks like.]
The plan for the day was to meet with Tara and the newly formed Committee. She had been tasked with inviting 3-5 people in the community to join and make a small committee that could take the preschool project forward, including organizing the construction of the building, and coordinating the hiring of staff, primarily assistants.
Once again, around 10:30 we arrived at the village, another very hot and sunny day. Once again we gathered in the shade of the mango tree, the ad hoc, open-air ‘community hall’. Gradually people began drifting over and Bhola Sir began his excellent communicating, gathering people and beginning to ask about and establish the committee. (Tara was on her way.) Some personalities began to emerge in the conversations: Resham was a solid character, with good focus and insights. He was already a community leader, and a natural for the committee. Others also then were joined: Surya Bahadur, Gaure, Purna Bahadur. Tara, of course.
The group was very conscious of making sure that people representing the mini-neighborhoods in the village were all represented, not just this central place where we were meeting. Craig made the excellent recommendation of also nominating a woman for the committee, besides just Tara. We settled on Sushila, a mother of 3 children who had a quiet yet confident presence, and in other visits we had noticed that she wasn’t afraid to speak up. But now she was self-conscious about being illiterate. We assured her it was her heart and mind that mattered. And Patali, the local healthworker and also a woman, was also nominated.
The committee discussion then focused on first affirming the community’s interest in the project, then discussions ensued about where to make the school – near the existing primary school, or on a larger open land about 1 km away.
And the final point was to ask those in the group who knew about construction to make a rough estimate for the building. This was after we had discussed the building design. The plan was for a 5m x 10 m building, with adjoining kitchen (the children would receive a full lunch daily) and toilet. It would be built of brick, with a tin roof and wood ceiling, metal framing, and 4 windows. With these details, we hoped the committee would be able to make a quick estimate.
It was time for a break. We again made our way to the little shop for lunch, where it was incredibly hot and stifling but we enjoyed our delicious meal of rice and vegetables. We returned to the mango tree to continue talking with the committee about details. Bhola continued to lead the discussion skillfully towards some plans and concrete details.
But as we sat there surrounded by more small dusty children and old women, I became aware of the intense intimacy of this village. Not so much, I’m afraid, in the sense of closeness, although they seemed to get along ok. But more in the sense that everyone can see inside of everyone’s homes/temporary shelters. Even though some have erected doors on the ends, it’s too hot to keep them closed and so life occurs out on the street, in the paths, in the doorways. There is very little privacy, if any, and it has the feel of a ghetto or slum but placed in a rural setting. Bijay, our Nepali friend coming for the first time, noted the sense of depression and disconnectedness he sensed among the people.
He told us this a couple days later. My response was, who wouldn’t be depressed in that situation? Twenty-one people died less than 3 months earlier, no one had a normal home anymore. No wonder they were drinking, no wonder they were playing cards in their impromptu casino, or watching TV. The level of motivation and energy is very low. But we really hope that a new undertaking like this that would energize the children and give the mothers a few hours free every day will help them begin to find their energy again.
Before we left, Mostafa saw a number of patients who had complaints of headache, stomach, etc. Tara gave us a big bag of freshly picked mangos, a treat like gold! And on the way back we stopped at a wonderful rest area with an incredible view where we enjoyed cold banana spice lassis, very refreshing after the hot road.
So after this trip, we are still waiting to see if the community really can find the focus and energy to make this preschool happen. It may be that the work of building a building may be too much, and we may suggest that they start with using a very nice large tent that we would provide for them. We’ll see. We’ll be meeting with them later this week here in Kathmandu.