PICS: GOPAL GADTAULA
Bimala Kattel teaches her students at Janata Primary School in Keraun here in the eastern plains of Nepal to use the latrine and wash their hands with soap or ash during health science classes. But when nature calls, both students and teachers rush to the nearby forest because the school has no toilet.
Enclosed by the Chisang River on one side and a dense sal forest on the other, Janata Primary had no classrooms either for the first two years of its existence. Students would bring straw mattresses from home and gather under a bridge over the East-West Highway for class. Today, the school has a two-room building which houses the office and a combined classroom for Grades 4-5. But since there is not enough space, students from nursery till Grade 3 still attend classes under the bridge.
The school was started 15 years ago by squatters on the eastern banks of the Chisang who make a living sifting sand and breaking stones. The nearest school was five km away, so none of the children went to school, helping their parents crush stones instead.
"We didn't want our children to become like us, crushing stones all our lives," recalls Lok Bahadur Adhikari, "we started the school hoping that if our children learn to read and write they will be able to find better jobs."
They hired Yamnath Kattel (pic, below), a SLC graduate farmer from a neighbouring village to teach the children. None of the families had space to accommodate 30 children, so the classes were held under the bridge.
The trouble didn't end there. School administrators had to endure six years of bureaucratic red tape before the District Education Committee finally approved the licence for Grade 1 in 2005.
Soon after the school was registered, a group of Korean workers who were visiting Nepal donated Rs 150,000 for the construction of classrooms. Households got together to contribute two truckloads of stones. A management committee headed by Chabilal oversaw the construction. By the time the two-room building was completed, there was no money left to build a toilet or classrooms for nursery till Grade 3.
The squatter residents are happy to see their children reciting ABC even if it is under the bridge. The school struggles to support its 165 students and five teachers, but is trying to find new ways to pay for its upkeep.
Ambika Nepali, Parent
Dhan Laxmi Rai, Teacher