Sally Benton Post, November 7, 2010

We’ve had a busy two weeks, and they’ve been very rewarding.

Arriving in Khandbari, in eastern Nepal, we received a warm welcome from Sunita Gurung, our student hostel manager at the Himalaya Education Center. She is an exceptional young woman. She speaks not only her own language, but also Nepali, Bhotia and English. While working on her master’s degree, she mentors 13 young women who are also on their path towards a master’s degree in education. Some of them are as young as 12 years old.

The girls are chosen by Sunita and local school representatives (being top students and desiring to be teachers). It is quite a sacrifice for the children and their families, as the girls live far away from home, sometimes for years, while they attend school in Khandbari. Students walk 2-4 days (and these are very long days) to come to the hostel. They go home for some breaks during the year including a long holiday in the summer, but living away from home is quite challenging. Their families depend on their children for the many chores farming demands, and therefore for them to allow their daughters to live away from home demonstrates the strong belief they have in the worth of an education.

Our work in the mountains mainly was to open two new school libraries. The hostel students had been home for a major holiday, and so while we were walking up to the villages, they were returning down the path to school. What a treat to pass a young girl, who stopped, looked back, and then shyly asked if we were with Ten Friends.

Mary, her sister Thea and I walked from Khandbari 5 days up the Arun River valley, retreating farther and farther from the modern world. We had absolutely stunning scenery and occasionally very intense hiking up and down the trails.

On the fifth day, we reached Gola, where there is an upper secondary school (6th through 8th grade).Arrangements were made to have the official presentation of the books and library opening the next day at Gola and Sibrung, the next village up the hill.

The books we’d bought with Ten Friends donations had quite a journey getting to the villages as well. 800 books were to be delivered. Sunita had hired 4 porters to carry them up, but one got ill, and somehow the books all were left an hour outside of Khandbari at her brother’s store. When we walked through town, we discovered this, and Sunita figured out an alternative. The most efficient way was for her father to arrange for them to be carried by mule train. We were hoping they would arrive the same day we would, and they did!

Early the next morning we hiked up the hill, with our own porter carrying a load of about 200 books, and a porter from Sibrung carrying the rest. Upon our arrival we were given a traditional meal of dal bhat (rice and lentils) at a local home, and then went down to the school for the celebration. We were not prepared for the grandness of the event. The children of the school were all lined up, singing the national anthem. We were given seats of honor, and opening speeches were given. This was followed by elder women of the community doing an energetic dance for us. The children came up and placed garland after garland of marigolds, poinsettias and other local flowers over our heads. Next they placed cream colored scarves called katas around our necks. Tikas followed – red marks of powder placed on our foreheads as a sign of respect. We were asked to speak about Ten Friends, and then we all went to the library, where we cut the ribbons placed across the shelves of the brand new wall to wall bookcase. Symbolically placing books on the shelves completed the formalities, and then the children and their parents crowded in and had a chance to hold and read some of the books. Such smiling, laughing and joy.

The event was much the same in Gola, and the community members at each village expressed to us their great happiness at finally having books and a library at their schools. There is something about the gift of books and what they represent to the teachers and the community that fills your heart. Each person who spoke to the children about the library emphasized how precious books were, and how they allow everyone to understand their own and the larger world. These books will be read with great enthusiasm, and truly represent education and knowledge as a path to their future goals.

How grateful I feel to have witnessed this gift from all those donors in the US to the children of these villages in Nepal. The communities thanked all of you for your generosity, and we were very proud to represent you.

All good things,

Sally

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