How locals can complement donor-driven development: The case of a remote Nepal school

Mingma Dondu Sherpa left Ghunsa, a small village at an altitude of 3,400 metres in Taplejung district of fareastern Nepal in 1989 because his parents wanted him to go to a proper school. Now 30 years down the line, the place not only has a school, it also has become a home to the region’s only school with a hostel facility.

Interestingly, the school also has been an example of how a development initiative first launched by foreigners can inspire locals to replicate the model and make significant changes in day-to-day life of people at the grassroots.

When a tragedy inspires development

Life wasn’t easy for the locals of Ghunsa, but it all changed when an American national Charie Bremer decided to help the village. She wanted to do so after she was rescued by the locals during her unsuccessful attempt to climb Mount Kanchenjunga in 1985. When asked what she could do for the village, the inhabitants requested her to build a school so that their children could get basic education.

“She’s treated like a mother in the village. Everyone calls her Charie Aama (mother) for what she did there. My father used to tell me that during his time the teachers used to write on mud because the school didn’t have a blackboard. But Charie Aama changed all that. She gave the village a new life,” shares Mingma.

By 1990, Bremer with the help of her friends and various organisations built two buildings, which had nine rooms. Even though Bremer built the school, the place didn’t get many students, nor did the government provide teachers at a regular basis. Even though the villagers had a school and wanted their children to study, the place didn’t have a learning atmosphere required. Those who wanted to study left the village like Mingma.

But, that didn’t stop Bremer from helping the village and she kept on providing support for the school until 2010. She stopped after she got ill and the villagers started to look for other alternatives. The villagers suffered another setback when the 2011 earthquake completely damaged the school building.

The change in the reins

When Mingma and other locals, who had settled down in Kathmandu, heard about the damage the school had suffered, they decided to help the locals through their organisation Kanchenjunga Buddhist Social Service.

Mingma, during his time as General Secretary of the organisation, got in contact with Himalayan Development Foundation Australia which was looking to continue the project initiated by Bremer. “HDFA had talked to Charie Aama about taking care of the school and wanted our support to help them take the project further,” Mingma adds.

By 2014, HDFA along with KBSS had a proper plan of building a proper school in Ghunsa and also provided hostel facility for students who came from neighbouring villages. But Mingma knew that a building alone wouldn’t be enough. He was told about the problems of the past, which is why he also wanted the school to be managed properly which would sustain it in the long run.

The locals were quickly on board. They knew that they had missed the chance when Bremer built a school and they didn’t want to repeat the same mistake. HDFA also understood the need to do more than just construct a building and agreed to help make the place better.

Ghunsa’s school now has seven teachers provided by the government. HDFA and Butterfly Project has also added two more teachers – one teaches the children English, the other teaches them local language and culture.

“We realised that as it is a tourist area, the need for English language is quite important. But that said we also wanted the children to know their language and culture, which is equally important,” adds Mingma.

Chummi Sherpa, a teacher who has been with the school for over two decades, says that the main reason the school got better was good management practices initiated by the locals. He adds that the locals are now motivated to make the school better further.

“No one wants to send their child miles away to study. They have understood that if we want to make it work it will work. They have also understood the importance of education which is why everyone helps us to operate the school properly,” adds Chummi.

Chummi shares that ever since HDFA and KBSS took over the responsibility of the school, a lot has changed. “We’ve been visiting other schools to see how they operate and we have also received training which we couldn’t even think of before.”

Expanding impact

He further shares that the school has also made a name for its quality around the neighbouring villages as well. The school has around 40 students from neighbouring villages Phale, Gyabla and Amjilesa and to make sure their study doesn’t hamper, the school also has a hostel facility. That idea was initiated by former principal Leela Charka Gurung, who four years ago asked a few students from neighbouring villages to stay at Ghunsa.

“It’s easy for the children of Ghunsa to attend the school, but those who come from neighbouring villages, it’s quite difficult for them,” adds School Management Committee President Himali Chumda Sherpa. “When HDFA started to help us, we knew that we could do much more if we could operate the hostel in a good manner,” he continues.

The hostel is being managed by a women’s group, whose members look after the children on a rotation basis. “They do everything, from feeding them to cleaning the younger kids. They have been of a lot of help,” adds Mingma, who shares that HDFA gives the women’s group Rs 15,000 a month for their services.

However, the locals are concerned about the future. Most of them have the same question – what will happen if the donations stop coming? But Mingma feels that the school’s future is in safe hands. In the past decade, the area has seen a significant rise in tourism, which is why the locals who were previously farmers or goat herders now run hotels and lodges around the place. Ghunsa and its neighbouring villages are financially in a better state now.

The management committee president is hopeful that the government will also provide needful support.

Published on February 12th, Tuesday, 2019 10:31 AM

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1 Comment
  • josje says: | February 12 2019 8:44pm

    What great news is this. I was in ghunsa in 2005/06 and 07. At that time the school was not so good. We helped Lhakpa Sherpa to get his son Kasang to Taplejung and later to Kathmandu where he lives in Elverias Children Home. His aunt Yangzom Sherpa was able to built the medical helppost in Ghunsa. What a lot of good changes.
    Keep up the good things.


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