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  • alexellenward

new marigold school, nepal

Updated: Jun 25, 2023

Fresh licks of paint in rubiks cube colours gleam off the benches on the grass. Mark is in the freshly seeded garden, watering or wielding a hoe. Hayley is eating apples while an English guy called Ollie reads out a podcast suggestion called 'The Perfect Storm'. The Spanish/Portugese girls put their earrings on at a mirror above the paint stained cement sink. Shamser walks around in his tracksuit, chatting in Nepali to someone on the phone. Without the children here, the place has a commune feel. Everyone ebbs and flows to their own inner routine of journalling, gardening, reading, conversing and planning future travels. But with the kids here, our reason for visiting becomes clear. The school comes alive in a special way. In a way that only children can achieve.

A School Day

Cups of coffee from metal mugs and packet biscuits with names like 'choco' are shared between morning chatter. It’s usually quiet until the first heads of plaited dark hair begin to filter into the grounds, striped blouses and navy tracksuits to follow. Backpacks greater than half the size of the little humans hang off their backs, bobbing with each step.

The bom-badda-bom of the Macarena (a volunteer’s suggestion) beckons everyone to congregate via a full pelt run. They dance in lines according to their school houses signified by coloured ribbons in their hair or handkerchiefs pinned to their shirts. Heads-shoulders-knees-&-toes, two Nepali songs (one about a cat complete with dance moves) and the national anthem follow, with a few girls up the front setting an example with the choreography. The sometimes resident dogs - one with red tikka powder on its nose from the Diwali festival last week - wander in and out as they please. Morning prayer is enthusiastically recited to the heavens in English and militant-like calisthenics follows while one kid bangs on a big drum to keep time. The kids march off in lines to their classes and we walk upstairs for our 9:30am ‘dal bhat’ which is usually a watery bulk potato and choko curry and rice that we serve for each other into little silver bowls.

The morning session is for most of us spent with the nursery kids doing themed activities like under-the-sea colouring and rainbow collage using leaves for the green coloured rung and marigolds for the orange. I enjoy noticing the subtle differences in how place, resources, language, people and culture influence our activities and classes here and thus the kids' developed perspective on the world. One thing that almost all the volunteers found amusing was the letters to and from a kid in grade 3 to his German pen pal of which a letter was left on the communal table. “I have a mother and a father and a dog,” wrote the German boy. “I have a mother and a father and a sister and a dog, hen, goat and buffalo," the Nepali replied. They both liked to play football though.

The children have a ten-minute play break around 11:30 and then hunker down for 3 more periods of lessons. We bring out homemade musical shakers, constructed from plastic bottles, rice and cello tape for the nursery kids to shake to music. We sit them down on mats laid out on the grass in the sun, with a backdrop of the majestic white peaks in the distance popping out from behind the school roof. We are mainly there to break up fights and console tears; wipe noses and encourage sharing in the wrong language. It usually ends with bubbles which they chase as if they were magic from the look in their bulging dark eyes.

Volunteering at a school taught in a foreign language at a far-flung location in the mountains involves a bit of everything. There's a resourcefulness that comes about from not having much to work with. On one day an Italian man called Gianni makes hula hoops out of an old pipe and on another a German girl called Selina makes a dice from cardboard with animal drawings on each face that we roll and turn into a game called 'animal yoga'.

There’s a pureness that radiates from the kids that jolts you into the present here. A call to action that makes even the sea creature dot-to-dot feel meaningful. A simple quest to have fun and be happy is at the core of everything they do. “As long as they are happy, it’s a good day,” the principal, Shamser, says to me after my first day.

We eat the same simple meals as the kindy kids for lunch - masala spiced chickpeas and a boiled egg or marginally sweet bowls of plain halwa. For brekkie and dinner it’s curry and rice. It breeds connection eating the same thing at the same time. Doing the same thing. Living the same lives as others and holding space for them for a short while.

The evenings sound like Nepali music stuck in my head from the kids dancing to it all afternoon. Talk of the best places to eat in Pokhara and giggles over pictures of past travels. The sweat leftover from a game of soccer with flip flops as goal posts. A 3/4 moon sits high above the roof of the school.

Find out more about the New Marigold School story here:


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