We arrived in Manbu, Gorkha district on the evening of the 12th December. Sitting in my tiny room with walls and a roof made of corrugated tin that didn’t meet at their edges, exposing the room to the bitter cold outside, I reflected on what it had taken to get to this point. The journey from Kathmandu to Manbu had consisted of a crowded, uncomfortable 8 hour bus journey up into Dhading District. After spending the night in a market town, we had gotten up early the next day to catch another bus for 5 hours along a perilous “road” before walking the rest of the way, uphill for another 4 hours. All the while I was complaining quietly to myself about fatigue, leg ache, being too cold, being too hot, and constant thirst. In contrast, Sumi, Bikash and Sanjeep –my companions and teacher trainers from PHASE’s Nepal Teacher Training Innovations (NTTI) project – didn’t complain one bit, but instead they relished the adventure. This has what struck me most since I began working with PHASE: the ability of the PHASE Nepal staff to persevere, stay positive and enjoy themselves whilst travelling to some extremely remote areas in order to help improve the lives of their fellow Nepalis.
Sumi and some of the children in the village
I have been working with PHASE Nepal since November and have been lucky enough to see and be involved in many different aspects of the organisation’s work. In the Kathmandu office I have been analysing baseline data to contribute towards the opening of a new health post in Ryale VDC; written reports on the educational situation in North Gorkha to help develop PHASE’s education programmes in the area; and helped come up with new ideas to contribute to the future development of the programmes. I have also been lucky enough to visit PHASE health posts and schools in Sindupalchowk district.
My most recent (and challenging!) trip was to Manbu in Gorkha district to observe the mentor teacher training programme delivered by the PHASE NTTI project.PHASE provides teacher training based on critical thinking and creative learning techniques. The NTTI project first came to Manbu in June and provided an awareness level training programme which focused on how to create child-friendly learning environments and how to use creative and innovative teaching practices in the classroom. The purpose of this second visit was to follow up the training with classroom observations to monitor the progression of the teachers, and also to deliver a ‘Teaching of Trainers’ (ToT) programme. The ToT training consisted of one day’s refresher training on best teaching practices, followed by Mentor Teacher Training for selected teachers who would consequently carry out classroom observations in their own schools and act as a mentor for other teachers. This brilliant model ensures the sustainability of the programme and empowers teachers to make changes in their schools.
Seventeen teachers attended the training, including four female teachers. The participants were given a stipend for each day that they attended the training, as well as a free lunch. This led me to expect a low level of engagement and interest from the participants, but I was pleasantly surprised to see so much enthusiasm amongst the teachers. This was mostly due to the incredible talent of master trainers – Sumi and Bikash. Their ability to confidently present new and challenging ideas through engaging group activities and inspire the group to transform their teaching styles, ensured that the training would have a lasting impact on the quality of education in Manbu area.
After the training I had an opportunity to speak to some of the teachers and get their thoughts on the programme. What struck me most was the variety of positive changes that the teachers reported had been brought about since NTTI first came to the area. For some teachers, the presence of PHASE’s NTTI project in Manbu meant that they felt they were finally getting recognition for their teaching. This inspired them to work even harder and show NTTI how effectively they could use critical thinking techniques in their classroom. Others reported that the training gave them more confidence and provided them with public speaking skills, vital for bringing about positive changes in their community. Many also reported a renewed enthusiasm for learning amongst their students and one teacher even noticed an increased attendance rate in his class since he had begun using the new techniques.
Five days later I began the long, arduous journey back to Kathmandu. On the road back I reflected on how fantastic it was to hear first-hand the impact of PHASE’s NTTI project work in the local area. Furthermore, the warmth shown towards us from the villagers in Manbu really demonstrated how valued these programmes are in the local community. Knowing that I had witnessed something great gave me comfort whilst I experienced knee pains and dehydration on the journey back. It gave me strength to take in the amazing scenery, taste the sweet satsumas, drink the juice of the sugar canes growing along the path and enjoy the adventure, without complaint!
There are still many challenges facing teachers and schools in Manbu, including the poor infrastructure of some of the school buildings, poor lighting in the classrooms and the low attendance rate of girls past the age of 12 due to the custom of early marriage. PHASE’s continued work in areas such as Manbu, means that such issues can be addressed and the local community can be empowered to improve education in their own villages.