Table of Contents
CIT - Manang #
The children of Manang learn to scribble shapes in the snow before they learn their first alphabet. Their tin-roofed school lies at the bottom of a mountain behemoth, with only the mid-day sun offering enough warmth for them to play outside. The rest of the day they remain sheltered inside the classrooms insulated with wood, but even that isn’t enough during harsh winters when the snow is sometimes knee-deep and the schools remain closed for months. We were mere visitors but to these children born and raised in snow, this was their home, their heaven, and the source of their originality and pride.
Cliched as it may sound, it’s the journey that matters and not the destination. This rings even truer when you are a group of 12 cramped in a 7-seater Bolero, with one of the guys practically in the driver’s seat and barely wiggling about to allow the driver to handle the gear. Add to the fact that the road from Besisahar (Lamjung) towards Manang is probably the bumpiest you’ve seen all your life and the winds are already freezing cold at 4 PM, and you have one unique ride to savor for your aching back.
“You went through pitch-black tunnels (which were actually pretty good compared to the other parts), under waterfalls, through rivulets, and at some places, it was akin to a vehicle getting up the stairs.”
- An ‘oversimplified’ description of the Manang road
We had just arrived at Timang at 8 PM only to be welcomed by the ‘trust the internet before you trust your phone reception’ experience - moving 10 steps in any arbitrary direction meant signal loss but the Wi-Fi signal was a clear, full bar. Puzzling. We squiggled inside our blankets and huddled together in a futile attempt to stay warm.
In the morning, the class rep stood before the paintings of the national animal, national flower, and national color on the walls as she gathered everyone and provided instructions on cleaning duties. Some ran to the football ground to collect litter while some visited classrooms, wiping every speck of dust. Since government schools cannot afford a lot of staff, the cleanliness duty falls upon the students - a great way to incorporate discipline and a sense of responsibility from a young age.
Children from classes 6 to 10 could barely fill half the music room, yet we could feel that this was the most gracious crowd we had since the start of the campaign. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that the children in Manang had good internet access and they were even able to answer most of our internet quiz questions. Their understanding of internet safety including topics like online sexual abuse, grooming, phishing, hacking, and other issues was a bit lacking, but that’s what we were there for, and we explained them in the most Layman terms we could.
“Once the winter arrives, we can’t open the schools for teaching so the students must descend to the hills to get their winter studies in or resort to staying indoors. We are thinking of sending two of our students to the Budhanilkantha School in Kathmandu, although we have heard the entrance exams are quite tough…”,
- Principal of Shree Gaurishankar Aadharbhut Bidhyalaya, Timang
The English teacher instructed the 5 students gathered around him on the football ground to recite the story in turns. This mini-class could only go for about a month before the school shut its doors to the falling of snow. We glanced longingly and reminisced about our childhood until the afternoon sun signaled the motion toward our next destination.
It was at Chame that we finally met our lord and savior Mr. Santosh Dai. A phone call from him could have saved the Titanic - from contacting the local schools to arranging rides and hotel inns, Santosh Dai was the reason why we could endeavor CIT in Manang all in one fell swoop. Dear Santosh Dai, if you ever find a copy of The Zerone lying around as you sip your favorite tea, know that you have our sincere gratitude.
The Lokpriya School in Chame seemed precariously close to the flowing river. There were stone cut marks of the flood that had almost drowned (and certainly closed) the school the previous year. The riverside breeze couldn’t get any colder as we firmly gritted our teeth and made our way to the classrooms.
Teaching is a perplexing skill. Here we were, teaching how to code a GCD calculator to children who probably hadn’t written a ‘Hello, World’ program in their life, and the very next thing we were teaching about safe internet usage. Sometimes, it required establishing relativity by mentioning PUBG and Free Fire as marvels of game development. Other times we had to spend 5 minutes explaining why ‘Alan Turing is called the father of AI’, only to end up right where we started with the children scratching their heads in one synchronous motion. One of us had to run to the market to fetch the pens for the internet quiz - when asked for the bill, he was simply handed a white, torn piece of paper with ‘पेन - 100’ written in the most illegible handwriting on it. Our finance coordinator was not going to have an easy time explaining this.
With the taste of warm jerry puri still lingering on our lips, we boarded the jeep to Tanki Manang. Half of our crew got to ride outside in the back of the vehicle as the ever-changing landscapes ran past us. Barren hills crowned by snow-covered peaks, apple orchards growing around ponds and puddles, dry autumn leaves swirling around, and waves of emotions crashing in our hearts. One can only hold their breath for so long.
Tanki Manang #
Annapurna School was a field day for our hardware instructor. The batteries gave out due to the cold and the induction coil stopped working for some unknown reason, but the children were having the time of their lives spinning the makeshift dynamo as fast as they could. We could imagine the questions inside their head as they moved their hands closer and farther toward the ultrasonic sensor to make the LED blink.
Oh, what joy can simple things bring in life!
“Who wants to see us flying a drone?” “What? Drone? We have seen that hundreds of times…”
Guess drones aren’t ‘simple’ enough.
“Since you are the only student in your class, we don’t even need to do a lucky draw for your LOCUS t-shirt. Come claim it!”
The privilege of being the only student in an entire class. The girl gave an amused laugh as she collected her prize and went back to her corner. Class 9 had one student, class 8 had around 7, and class 10 had 5. A handful bunch, nonetheless.
The afternoon sun was merciful but when the cold wind struck us after midday we had to push down hard on our jacket pockets. That didn’t matter to the kids though as they ran out to the basketball court whenever we paused for a 10 minutes break. A boy with only one hand was chucking in free throws with ease. A girl proclaimed herself as the best photographer in school and scolded us to get our poses right.
The sky was a clear blue, the gurgling, premature Marsyangdi added ambiance to the air, and the Gangapurna mountain dawned upon us within touching distance. Despite the harsh weather and rural living standards, the simplicity of life gleams through the smiles of the happy children in the playgrounds of Manang.
The stuff that happens behind the curtain never does make it onto the stage, but one can always take a sneak peek. You will not get to read the story of the quiet prayers and the bargains we made with God as the altitude got higher and the snow got colder. You’ll definitely not hear about us losing our minds over the projector we ‘misplaced’ during our stay at Tanki Manang. The look of horror on our faces as the tap water froze during early morning toilet ‘rituals’. Chowing down on yak cheese pizza at over 4000m as if it was the last meal of our lives.
Dragging our feet along the mountain trail at 3 AM on an empty stomach. Hauling the massive beast of a laptop all the way through the Thorang La pass.
Getting battered and bamboozled by snowstorms. Remembering your loved ones and wishing they could have been here to witness mother nature in all her glory.
Asphyxiation. Vindication. Exclamation.
Diaries of other provinces #
The LOCUS 2023 Children in Technology (CIT) program was conducted alongside the Internet Education Program (IEP) supported by ChildSafeNet and WorldLink Communications. As a part of CIT, we introduced children to technologies such as electromagnetics, transformers, programming, motors, house wiring, and more, while through the IEP, in parallel, we taught the children secure use of the internet and tackled challenging topics of online addiction, abuse, bullying, scams and more. The program was conducted in 6 provinces and over 50 schools. Here are some excerpts from some other teams from LOCUS.
“Maybe because the students were in early teens, we observed open responsiveness when discussing on topics such as sexual abuse and exploitation…During a quiz, one student immediately provided the correct answer for the helpline number 1098. To our surprise, she informed us that she had actively volunteered at the district’s helpline station.”
- Shree Himalaya Madhyamik Vidyalaya, Province 1, Team Khadbari
“The program went smoothly, despite the presence of uninterested and noisy students…One incident that stood out to us was when as a reward for winning a quiz, a girl chose to take a pen instead of the other attractive prize available. We gave it to her, and that was all she wanted.”
- Nepal Rastriya Madhyamik Bidhayala, Province 2, Team Madhesh Pradesh
“There were no conventional means of transportation so we had to walk for nearly 4 hours, asking for directions to the school…Just so it happened, there was a blackout due to a nearby faulty transformer. We could not use a projector, so instead relied on our laptops and verbal prowess for presentations.”
- Kalika Secondary School, Team Gandaki, Bandipur and Ghandruk
“Students there had good exposure to social media but not enough knowledge of its safe use…One of the students shared his experience of losing his FreeFire account when he clicked a link that he believed would give him in-game currency for free while some shared their experiences of receiving scam messages on WhatsApp.”
- Bhimnagar Secondary School, Team Bagmati Province
“The school was entirely free and well-equipped with sophisticated technology, making it easy for us to conduct the campaign. They had their own projectors, speakers, cameras, and internet facilities which greatly aided us in delivering our content. The students were also very disciplined and eager to learn.”
- Kopila Valley Academy, Team Surkhet, Province 6
“One of the students shared the addictive experience of gaming and his horror when he faced the consequences of bare minimum marks in exams. The event became suddenly interesting when one of the students sang in front of all the students…The earthquake of 6.1 mags with epicenter ar Doti occurred that night. We spent 2 hours outside that cold night with the company of firewood and locals.”
- Ghatal Ma. Bi, Team Dadeldhura, Far-West Province