By Bill Robins SJ
There are two schools in Jhapa District: St Xavier’s School, Deonia, an English medium school, for the children of local farmers and government employees; and Moran Memorial School, Maheshpur, a Nepali medium school with a strong stress on English. The latter is located next to a tea estate, serving the children of the estate and of the Rajbanshi tribe in the surrounding villages.
Most of our people are on the fringe of society. It is a challenge to get them to see that they can make more of their lives, especially through education. Since the parents are uneducated, they cannot help their children with studies. Children are learning in Nepali and English, neither their mother tongue. They can learn but are not always motivated to do so. We hear, “If I fail I can always get a job in the tea estate, or can farm with my family, or can go to India in search of work.” This is true, but these youngsters deserve more.
Although it is a challenge to teach the children, they can and do work and study hard, as long as we motivate them. Their enthusiasm makes up for lack of help they get from home. We look for practical ways to teach. How does one get them thinking? Jesuit Scholastic Tek Raj Paudel introduced chess and eventually conducted a tournament for all the students. All learned the basics of the game, and above all, learned how to think and plan a little more.
Frs Mathew Das and Roy Sebastian are excellent musicians and organizers. They run the Leadership Training Service in the schools. This program is an adaptation of the Christian Life Community, designed for students of all faiths. The students learn the values of daily prayer, self and group evaluation, organization and service.
Funding is another challenge. It costs about $150 to educate a student at Moran Memorial School for one year. Most tea estate workers cannot afford to pay full school fees, but contribute a day’s wages per month, about $1.60. We have to make up the difference.
Three classes have graduated from Moran Memorial School. Some are working on their farms, in the tea estate, or abroad. The students from the first class have completed their higher secondary studies and some have joined colleges while working to pay their way. Some are now teaching in local primary schools. Such generous young adults are our assurance that the educational service we have begun will continue far into the future.
This article by Fr Bill Robins SJ originally appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of CJI’s Mission News under the title “Nepal: Changing lives through education.” In the 1990s, the Nepal Jesuits purchased land in Jhapa District where they run a parish and two schools. Fr Bill Robins SJ serves as Socius to the Regional Superior of Nepal.