Twelve year old Phurba Gylztan Sherpa, who is from Phaplu in Solukhumbu, dreams of becoming a scientist when he gets older.
Having been born in one of the rural areas of the country where the dwellers have little access to even basic amenities, this might have sounded like a far-flung dream for him.
Phurba is just one among many such students in Phaplu who make a rigorous forty-minute walk through the rugged road just to reach school everyday. Life isn’t easy for them, but their determination and their yearning to learn is indomitable.
Established ten years ago by Himalayan Health and Environmental Services Solukhumbu (HHESS), the school provides complete free education.
First known as Phaplu Community School, it is now running in the name of Jeke O’Connor School.
The Plus Two faculty of the same school was officially inaugurated on May 21 with the presence of former President of Sir Edmund Hillary Foundation, Canada Jeke O’Connor, the current President Karen O’Connor, and the board members, among others.
The school which started off as a pre-school from a rented one room premise with one teacher for training small children has come a long way.
“The school wasn’t registered at the initial stage of our inception. Since we lacked funds, the children studied for a year and were obliged to attend the government school in Phaplu,” says Dr Mingmar Gyelzen Sherpa, founder of HHESS, and also the focal person of Telemedicine at the Ministry of Health in Kathmandu.
It was through a friend that Sherpa found www.overstock.com as the donors who proposed to make the building for the school. “The building was made on a private land but that didn’t solve our problem. We needed more funds to teach the students,” he said.
Then he came across another donor, Cunina Foundation of Belgium, with Cunina Nepal as its branch in Nepal. The organization had a program of providing 20-Euro scholarships per child. So, with the same money, Sherpa decided on starting the school, paying the teachers and running it in a full fledged way. The school is currently running till grade eight.
“The main intention of starting a private school in a remote area like Solukhumbu was to provide quality education. But we wouldn’t progress if we just limited the school till grade eight. So with the intent to provide quality education to the students of Phaplu, we wanted to upgrade the school to the 12th standard,” Sherpa points out.
This is how he approached Sir Edmund Hillary Foundation, Canada with his idea.
According to the education system implemented by Nepal Government, a plus two school cannot be opened directly and independently.
For a school to start plus two program, it has to be running from grade one. Sherpa, therefore, said that this is a three-year plan, and the school will be upgraded every year.
Though the school is secluded in a remote area, it does not compromise in facilitating and focusing on the overall development of its students.
Other than the usual classes, it has incorporated extracurricular activities and co-curricular activities which are conducted in four classes a week.
Stationery, books, uniforms and all learning equipments are provided to the students free of cost. “Firstly, we used the books that the District Education Office had designed but through those books and curriculum alone we couldn’t fulfill the theme of perfection through education,” says Bheem Rai, Principal of the Jeke O’Connor School.
So, in the process of changing the system, the name of the school was changed as well. The curriculum which now runs is not designed by the school but through selection from different publications.
Rai also explains how, with the inauguration of the pure science school, the students who had to leave Solukhumbu just to study science are free from that compulsion. Parents, who have their own work here, were also forced to go to other cities for the better education of their children. “So those issues will be addressed now,” he adds.
Karen O’Connor shared how she and the board members at the Foundation were intrigued by the idea of Dr Gyelzen Sherpa to upgrade the school to plus two. “Gyalzen Sherpa is a visionary, and together we all worked on how to make this project a sustainable and successful venture,” she expressed.
“As Sir Edmund Hillary so often said, and my father took on the mantra, we’re helping the people help themselves, and in this case, we not only extend it to the Sherpa people but to all the children of Solukhumbu,” she adds.
Dr Gyelzen Sherpa points out the grim reality of how proficient students who want to study science to become doctors, engineers and excel in other fields are obliged to either go out of the region or just forget their dream of studying further and stay idle. “Those who afford can go out, but what about the rest?” he questions.
Moreover, he says that education is a difficult thing and is not easily achievable, especially in a remote part of the country like Solukhumbu. He adds that we need efforts from the Ministry of Education and from the local people as well, among others, to make it work.
Sherpa, who is originally from Solukhumbu, recalls the time many years back when there was no facilities of quality education in the region.
Though he feels that the education system has improved all over the country, places like Solukhumbu are still backward in terms of providing facilities and extensive subjects.
“Our students are striving hard, and they need quality education so that they can build their future. With the inception of a pure science school like this, we can now finally achieve that,” he says, with a glint of hope.
(Source: The Republica Nepal)