Three years ago, Dorset Rotarian Chris Potter was trekking in Nepal.
A chance encounter with a group of local Rotarians in the Himalayan kingdom kick-started a project which is continuing today.
Chris, who is a member of Bournemouth East Cliff Rotary Club, was drawn to the plight of remote regional schools which had been destroyed in the 2015 earthquake.
When he returned to the south coast, the Bournemouth club began fund-raising to support the rebuilding of the Shree Narayandevi Higher Secondary School in the village of Barrafeldi. The school is situated in the Nuwakot Valley, more than 70 kilometres from the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu.
“This school, like many regional schools, was badly damaged in the earthquake, making the main school building largely unusable,” explained Chris.
“The school has a wide catchment area with no reliable public transport. So the 630 pupils from kindergarten to grade 12 walk to school.”
School starts at 10am each morning from Sunday to Friday, and finishes at 4pm.
With the support of the Nepalese Arpan Foundation, Bournemouth East Cliff Rotary was able to raise 33 million Nepalese rupees (£218,000), which was sufficient to build a new seven classroom building.
The new, low-rise, single story concrete tin-roofed building was completed in 2018 to replace the unusable classrooms.
It has been constructed to Nepali earthquake standards and has been painted by the local community, including the pupils.
“It is difficult to see how the school could have been rebuilt without the support of organisations such as Rotary,” said Chris.
“Despite the best intentions of the authorities, the country suffers from a lack of infrastructure and resources.
“The school similarly suffers, and obviously it is trying to provide the best quality education it can with very limited resources and facilities.”
The school is set down an unmade track and occupies a rough fenced compound complete with chickens.
It is difficult to see how the school could have been rebuilt without the support of organisations such as Rotary,”
Despite being a Government school, the funds available for both maintenance and resources are very limited.
Chris explained how the classrooms are equipped only with bench desks and a white board, with very few teaching materials. This leads to a teaching style which is very much by rote.
The only computer in the school is in the administration office. There are no audio/video or projection facilities.
“While some of the Grade 12 pupils have smartphones, they have to be connected to the phone network as the school has no direct internet connection or wifi,” added Chris.
Bournemouth Rotarians Peter and Susan Jones attended the opening of the new buildings and were able to assess the work which still needs to be done.
It was clear that the buildings were not finished, despite having been in use for some ten months.
The new building has a tin roof, with no internal installation or sound deadening materials. This leads to a number of problems, the major one being heat, followed by the cold and rain in winter.
Normal summer daytime temperatures approach 40°C making the classrooms unusable. Winter temperatures can plummet to below freezing and there is no heating system, while the monsoon rains make teaching impossible owing to deafening rain on the tin roof.
The previous school building was a concrete construction which did not give these problems.
Chris said that the physical environment is extremely important to the learning experience. The need to make the classrooms pleasant places for pupils to learn was a priority.
On returning to the UK, Peter and Susan presented a report of their visit to the club and with the club’s funding, as well as donations, they were able to send the school in excess of £4,000 to be able to start the ceiling work.
Chris added: “That is not the end of the story as much still needs to be done if the children are to receive an education which, as Rotarians, we believe every child deserves.
“The classrooms need the correct furniture and teaching resources if the children are to have the opportunity to reach their potential. So for the Bournemouth East Cliff Club the story goes on.
“What started as a chance encounter still has some way to run.”