By Lily Jacoby

After two days of flights and sleeping upright, I arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal, on 21 May – a bit rumpled, but excited to spend my summer at the Asha Vidhyashram School as a volunteer teacher.

If you’ve never visited Nepal, let me describe it to you. The streets are bustling with motorcycles and buses of all shapes and sizes, surrounded by brightly coloured buildings. You will see fruit vendors hard at work selling colourful produce, cows and dogs roaming freely, and hear the happy laughter of children as they play in the streets. Prepare to smell incense as it wafts in on the breeze. Want sweet milk tea? You’re just a few paces away.  All of this is set against a backdrop of lush green trees and hills.

I first visited the school back in December 2022 as part of the HOPE worldwide Volunteer Corps, and loved making connections with the students and staff. As an early childhood educator, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to volunteer at the school for an extended period of time. I was as eager to collaborate with the teachers as the students are to learn.

Fast forward to the present: I am teaching Social Emotional Development, Literacy Comprehension and Art, hosting an English Language class for some of the teens and young adults in the community, assisting with the Nursery class, and embracing every minute of it. Teaching can be a tiring job, but the joy of the students and families is what keeps me going. When I arrive every morning, I am greeted with a chorus of ‘Namaste, Lily Miss,’ waves, fist bumps, and of course, the occasional complaint. Every afternoon, the children play in the schoolyard or outside their homes.

Since many of the students live close to the school, I am getting to know the families and learn about the challenges they experience. Many students do not receive enough daily food because the families are struggling financially, and other needs are prioritized. A highlight of the school day is the midday meal, a nutritious lunch of rice and lentils (dhalbat), which is the most consistent meal of the week for many of our students. I love watching the older students at the school serve one another at the midday meal, and chatting with the students over lunch.

It is no surprise that the language barrier contributes to many communication mix-ups, but it has been fun to blend English with my limited Nepali vocabulary. The students love to teach me new words and I think they enjoy my pronunciation even when I can tell it was completely wrong.

However, the most powerful communication is the one that occurs through playing, dancing, giving a hug, and spending time with students. The Nursery class is filled with big huggers like Jason and Manisha, who are quick to hold my hand as we dance around the school yard. It’s in these moments I am reminded that I am not here for my ability to speak English or even to teach Art but to build relationships and serve these amazing kids.

My dream? For many in the Balaju community, a strong educational foundation is a path out of poverty, and I hope to be a part – however small – of that foundation.  I look forward to empowering my students to think creatively and think critically, to learn what they are passionate about and have the confidence to dream big. This summer, I share in their hopes, I listen to their dreams, and I believe in their strength to overcome any challenge set before them. 

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