By Sanjay and Krishna Aryal, January 2016
On behalf of Health team for Nepal, Hamid, Krishna Aryal and Sanjay Aryal visited the Martyrs’ Memorial Residential Secondary School in Jiri on 31st December 2015 and 1st January, 2016. The school is one of the five schools that the Martyr Foundation Nepal is managing in order to provide education to martyr children, i.e. children of the soldiers in the People’s Army who died, disappeared by the State or were injured during People’s War which lasted for ten years (1996-2006). The school has been educating children up to grade ten, but there is a plan to upgrade to grade eleven and twelve in the next few years.
The school is located about four kilometres from the main city of Jiri, on top of a hill, about 200 kilometres east of Kathmandu in the district of Dolakha. The school premises are spread in an area of twelve ropani (equivalent to 6000 m2). Due to the school’s location on a hill top, there is not enough land to grow vegetables. However, they do have pig farming and a small area for growing vegetables. There has been a lack of customers to buy pork meat in the recent months. The school has therefore been compelled to slaughter the pigs and consume the meat themselves, which does not generate revenue for other purposes.
Upon our arrival around three pm on the 31st of December, we were warmly greeted by the teaching staff. We then held a meeting with them where we discussed administration, the children, the impact of the earthquake and other problems that the school has been facing. In the evening, we were shown the children’s dormitories. On the next day, the school principal, Prakash Dahal, and some other staff members gave us a tour around the school compound, including the new kitchen that they were building.
The boys, ninety nine in number, mostly live inside the main school building on the second and the third floors at the right side from the main entrance. They live in four dormitories that are pretty large, accommodating six to eight beds in one room, five in another, nine in another, and ten in last. Due to the cold weather, the boys cover themselves with many blankets and quilts, and use their beds for study in the evening. There is a big risk of transmission of communicable diseases such as scabies. There is only one towel available to use for all the boys! They shower only on Saturdays because of the cold climate and most children have no clothes except their school uniform provided by the Martyr Foundation Nepal.
The girls’ dormitory is a separate two-storey building, standing just next to the kitchen house. Before the earthquake, there was a plan to increase the size of this building with one more storey. For this purpose, a structure was attempted, but was not completed. However, this storey will be not used for residential purposes. They are planning to use it as a drying place with a light roof made out of corrugated galvanised iron (CGI) sheets.
There were sixty two girls in total, divided into four rooms. In each room, there are several bunk beds, with four students sleeping (two below, two above) per bunk bed. Now and again, some fall out of bed during night as there is not enough space to accommodate two persons in each bed. There are not sufficient quilts for the winter, despite the school getting seventy quilts from the Martyr Foundation Nepal this year after the earthquake.
Students and school performance
From grade one to ten, there are one hundred ninety-five students, with an age variation from ten to twenty-two. Among them one hundred and eighteen are boys and seventy-seven are girls. There are thirty-two local pupils who come from poor families that are not able to pay for their children’s education.
They are provided with a snack in the afternoon. However, they have to pay for their own books. For residential pupils, everything is covered by the Martyr Foundation Nepal.
There are a minimum of nine pupils in grade one and a maximum of thirty-two in grade five and six. We feel that this number is too low. The local source of pupils is very limited because of few households in the area. Pupils have to come from other places/districts in order for the school to have enough pupils in each grade. We suggest MFN to look at possibilities for children of earthquake-hit victims and poor families who cannot send their children to normal (private) schools. Street children, who are homeless, could also be considered.
In the last SLC exam, twenty-one students stood for the test, and all passed: thirteen students with first division grade (60-80%), and eight students with second division grade (45-59%). Out of the graduated students, nine students went to Pokhara for further education in science and humanities. Martyr Foundation Nepal is planning to upgrade this school to grade eleven and twelve, like in Pokhara, Dang and Sunsari.
The children were friendly and welcoming. And they often participated in extra-curricular activities and competed in volleyball, football, arts, singing, etc. with other schools around the district of Dolakha.
The kitchen lies in a small one-storey house, with a roof of CGI sheets near the residential building. There is also a small dining room with about fifty seats for the children. Nonetheless, they prefer to eat outside in the winter as they can bask in the sunshine at the same time.
We observed three cooking ovens under construction just next to the present kitchen. In this new kitchen, an arrangement has been made to heat the water. Over the burning woods, there are five pipes running parallel to each other. Above the pipes, cooking pots will be placed. The warmed water will be circulated in the pipes and will be collected to a drum and used for washing, cooking, etc.
There are in total eighteen computers (including 1 laptop) in this school for IT education. Most of these computers are working, and thanks to the twenty four-hour electricity supply to all households in this district, the classes are fortunately not interrupted by “load shedding” that troubles people in rest of the nation. However, they do not have any access to internet (no ADSL in this region). The April earthquake damaged the projector that they had available, and it is not in use. Out of the eighteen computers, twelve are in working condition and others need repair and maintenance.
Like in other schools, the computer-classes are given from grade one to grade ten. For the effective use of the resources, we have suggested to the MFN leadership to start only from grade five and above. The last two years support provided by “Health team for Nepal” has been used to buy computers to all the five Martyr schools on request of the Martyr Foundation.
There are fifteen teachers at the school and 7 non-teaching members of the staff (cleaner, cook, gardener, etc.). All of them live in the school except one local staff member. The salary for the staff is identical to the one in other martyr schools: Rs. 17 700 (grade 1-5), Rs. 18 800 (grade 6-8), and Rs. 24 400 (grade 9-10). Most of the teachers were employed in 2015, as Martyr Foundation Nepal has a policy of keeping the teaching staff on a contract basis for 1-2 years. The teachers would like to have permanent positions.
Martyr Foundation Nepal has recruited all the staff in April 2015 just before the earthquake through free competition. Three of them had worked previously at the school. The rest were new appointees. The reason for the reshuffle was said to be some administrative problems in the school. There was also a case which ended with a boy being expelled from the school.
The impact of the earthquake that shook Nepal in April/May 2015 was significant for this school. Some of the classrooms in the ground floor in the main school building feature horizontal and sidewise cracks in the walls. WC areas in the southern corner of the building show major damage. These damaged rooms have been locked off by the staff, and are not in use any longer.
Because of the earthquake, temporary classrooms have recently been built. These are rudimentary, covered by corrugated sheets of steel. This construction was carried out by NGOs such as UNICEF and USAID in the late spring of 2015.
Problems in the school
- There are not enough warm clothes for winter. The school has sent requests to the MFN leaders in Kathmandu. There are no first aid medicines available, no wheel chairs, no stretchers for transporting sick pupils to the nearest hospital in Jiri and no sanitary pads for girls. The school gets 10 000 NRs for medical purposes from the Foundation every month, but this is not sufficient to cover the expenses. Moreover, there have been no regular check-ups of the children by any health professional.
- There is no access for vehicles as the road is not good enough. The nearest hospital is about two hours walk; so the school is unable to transport students quickly in an emergency. It also needs stretchers and wheel chairs.
- There is no facility for regular health check-ups of the children, although there are plans to establish monthly check-ups in future after coordinating with the MFN leadership. Two to three girls tend to get sick each week. Most cases are related to the abdomen. They are taken to the main city of Jiri for further investigation and treatment. The expenses are covered by the MFN.
- The children do not have access to a library, and hence, no way of gaining knowledge through reading essays, stories, history books, etc. which are outside the curriculum. They have a large room available that can be used as a library, however, there are no books.
- A compound with fencing is required for safety of the children. There have been cases of residential students leaving the school area during night time and going back home.
- During the winter, water freezes in the morning. There is often no water to even wash one’s face or brush one’s teeth because of frozen water in the pipes. Jiri is at a high altitude and is mostly cold. Solar panels could be installed to heat water. There have been reported cases of communicable diseases like scabies due to lack of personal hygiene.
- Although many of the children are good at sport, they have lacked sport’s items for quite a while. Therefore, on behalf of Health team for Nepal, we donated one football, two volleyballs, a set of rackets and balls for table tennis, four chessboards, two charts for small children, four sets of badminton with shuttles and also sanitary pads to the girls.
Interview with students
On the second day of our visit, nine pupils were interviewed in the staff office. The purpose of interviewing was to know about their family background, performance and school environment. A brief description of each is presented below.
Shova Dhakal (grade 10):
This sixteen year old girl comes from the district of Dolakha and has been at this school for seven years. Her father was made a martyr. She has a mother, two elder brothers and five sisters. Her brothers and sisters come to visit her. She visits home two times a year, after the final exam and during the main festivals like Dashain and Tihar.
She is talented in study, obtained 79 % in grade nine and wants to study science in Pokhara and aims to become an engineer.
Ujjwal Majhi (grade 10):
This seventeen year old boy comes from the district of Sindhuli and has been at this school for six years. His father was made a martyr and his mother has remarried. His father’s sister and her family live in his home. He visits home once a year during the Dashain/Tihar vacation.
He obtained 63 % in grade nine and wants to study science in Pokhara. He is very good in arts. He enjoys the school environment.
Saitim Tamang (grade 10):
This sixteen year old boy comes from the district of Kavre and has been at this school for six years. His father was made a martyr. He has a mother and a fourteen year old brother who also goes to this school. His mother lives at home alone and he visits his home once a year.
He is a talented student, and obtained 81 % in grade nine and eight. He wants to study science in Pokhara and aims to be a software engineer in the future. He likes the environment in the school except having to study in the bedroom.
Chhatra Bahadur Magar (grade 9):
This seventeen year old boy comes from the district of Ramechhap and has been at this school for five years. His father was made a martyr. He has a mother, an elder brother, four elder and two younger sisters. His brother comes to visit him. One younger sister is in fifth grade in this school.
He is talented, obtained 80 % in grade eight and wants to study science in Pokhara.
Sushila Shrestha (grade 9):
This seventeen year old girl comes from the district of Dhading and has been at this school for six years. Her father was made a martyr. She has a mother and a younger brother. She visits home every year.
She feels cold and finds it difficult to live with nineteen others in a single room. Life has become more difficult after the earthquake, she says. She is talented and obtained 78 % in grade eight. She likes to study science and play badminton. She misses having a library in the school.
Yub Raj BK (grade 9):
This eighteen year old boy comes from the district of Sindhuli and has been at this school for seven years. His father was made a martyr. He has a mother and five sisters. Two sisters are at this school, while three live with the mother.
He is one of the hard working and talented pupils and obtained 74% in grade eight. His interested in social studies and happy with the school environment.
Sunita Simkhada (garde 8):
This fourteen year old girl also comes from the district of Dhading and has been at this school for five years. Her grandfather was made a martyr. She has parents, an elder sister and a younger brother. She visits home every year. She feels cold and says that many children get sick in winter. Otherwise she enjoys the school environment.
She is talented and obtained 80 % in grade seven and wants to study science in Pokhara. She aims to study pharmaceutical medicine in the future.
Pasang Sherpa (grade 8):
This sixteen year old boy comes from the local area. He moved to this school from Jiri private school this year. He commented on the lack of books in the library and shortage of sports items.
He is one of the talented students. He obtained 72 % in grade seven and 81 % I grade six. He likes science and aims to study biology in the future.
Sudeep Tamang (grade 8):
This fifteen year old boy comes from the district of Dolakha and has been at this school for three years. His father was made a martyr. He has a mother and a younger brother who also goes to this school. He visits home twice a year, after the final exam and during the festivals. His mother calls every week and comes to visit them once a year.
He likes the school environment, both studying and living in the dormitory. However, he misses being informed about what is happening in the country due to the lack of information sources; internet, newspaper, radio etc. He is extra talented, and has obtained 86 % in grade seven and wants to study science and medicine or engineering in the future.