21-27 April 2017 #855

Philim 2 years later

Two years after the earthquake, a government school reopens in Philim with help from local community and donors
Peter Reid

Pics: Peter Reid
CLASS STRUGGLE: Dara Punjal Lama (second from right) with his family in Tsum Valley. Several times a year he has to walk two days to Buddha Middle School in Philim across dangerous trails damaged by landslides. The school won an international award for architecture in 2009, and was partially damaged in the earthquake.

Dara Punjal Lama is 14, and lives in the remote northern end of Tsum Valley behind Ganesh Himal. Since there are no schools in this spectacularly scenic and sacred valley, he has to walk to Philim two days away.

The trek used to be treacherous even at the best of times, but after the April 2015 earthquake Dara risks his life several times a year walking along steep paths etched out of mountains mauled by landslides.

Landslide along the route from Tsum Valley to Philim

Now in Grade 6, Dara’s family cannot afford a private school so he goes to the Buddha Middle School in Philim. Luckily, unlike other government schools in the region, the school has good infrastructure and teachers.

It was designed by the Japanese group Asian Architecture Friendship (AAF) and won first prize in 2009 in the Marmomacc International Stone Architecture Award.

The most dangerous part of the Manaslu trail which was swept away in landslides after the earthquake two years ago

The uniquely designed school, with its circular stone dining-hall and classrooms, survived the 2015 earthquake and was back in use soon after. But three of the five dorms were damaged, forcing students to live in tents for the past two years.

A fortuitous meeting in 2015 between Marian Hodgkin of UNICEF, Lava Deo Awasti, then at the Ministry of Education, and VSO volunteer Peter Reid led to support from Rotary to upgrade the school.

The Buddha Middle School in Philim built in 2006 by a Japanese group which won an international award for architecture design for stone buildings

Every month a Nepali restaurant in Plymouth, England, puts on a fund-raising meal for friends of Nepal and donates half the money raised to help the Philim school. Rotary International chips in with matching funds.

Children at morning assembly at the Buddha School, of the 400 students 140 are boarders, whose hostels were damaged in the earthquake. For the past two years they have slept in the white tents in the background

Back in 2015, the trails to northern Gorkha were still blocked by landslides and the school was being supplied by UN helicopters. The money donated so far has been used for furniture, equipment, fixtures and plumbing, and Japan’s AAF will rebuild the damaged hostel.

The unique circular design of the school dining hall

Philim’s townspeople are helping in reconstruction of the school, which has 15 teachers and 400 students, 140 of them staying in five dorms since they live too far to come and go daily. A British primary school teacher trainer will visit for three months a year to work alongside teachers in seven feeder primary schools.

Two decks of beds in the girls’ dormitory

Medical doctor Iman Singh Gurung, who grew up in Philim and completed his PhD as a Gates Scholar at Cambridge University, has been advising on rehabilitation of the school.

“The AAF is already involved in hardware, we should use the Rotary money for software,” he said.

Since the school is adjacent to the main Manaslu Trek trail, and tourist traffic is picking up after the landslide damage was repaired, the school is encouraging trekkers who stop in Philim for the night to visit the classes, interact with students and fund future expansion.

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