Coming full circle
In central Nepal, a teacher reflects on how the 2015 earthquakes nearly toppled his life’s work
Kavre, Nepal – Badri Parajuli knows this place inside out.
Badri had started teaching at Bachhaladevi Basic School in his home district of Kavrepalachowk in central Nepal 25 years ago. In that time, he’s become the head teacher here and one of the indispensable pillars of this institution. Every item and all facilities within the premises have been carefully selected and sourced by him and his team. They are the hard-won results of lobbying with the community, and with different organizations and associations.
As can be expected of such a long tenure, Badri has fond memories of his time here. “Once, early in the morning, we were carrying some office furniture to the school,” he says. “The path was narrow and we were really struggling.” The team had come across some local women who were taking tins of milk up to the collection centre. “As soon as they saw us, they put their things down and came to help. They said it was their responsibility because this was their school too.”
This is the sort of easy rapport Badri has managed to strike up with community members, no matter where he goes. It had been the same in his very first job, in neighboring Rasuwa District, in 1984, when he had entered into what would later become his life’s calling.
Back then, Badri and some of his friends had gone on a trip to Rasuwa, eager to get closer to the mountains. In their bags, however, they were also carrying their grade 10 certificates. The plan was to make a stop at the District Education Office, and ask if there were any teaching jobs available.
Dal Bahadur Bhandari, then-Chief District Officer, was pleasantly surprised to receive young people so keen on working in his remote district. He reviewed their written tests, interviewed them briefly and seemingly satisfied with their responses, proceeded to offer them all jobs. “One should serve a few years in the cold climate,” Badri remembers him telling them at the end, as if beckoning them on an adventure.
An adventure it certainly has proven, as far as Badri is concerned. After teaching at the Rastriya Primary School in Gatling Village for some years, he moved on to Siruchet. Here, he helped to establish the Ganesh Primary School, mobilizing the community to contribute funds and labor to build the three-room structure.
After a decade-long stint in the mountains of Rasuwa, Badri – now married with children – decided to return home to Kavrepalanchowk. It was then he had landed at Bachhaladevi, where he has been ever since.
Despite having come across many hurdles in his years at the school, none was as enormous as the one posed by the 2015 earthquakes. Kavrepalanchowk was among the worst-hit districts and the school copped considerable damage, with one of the buildings destroyed beyond repair. Badri and his team had to conduct classes out in the open.
“I knew that without proper infrastructure, student numbers would start to dwindle. It was a catastrophe.”
He couldn’t help but be disappointed that at a time when he was looking to retire after a lifetime of service, the school was in an unimaginable crises. His own house was also damaged, forcing him to move his family into a temporary shelter.
But when a Transitional Learning Centre (TLC) was constructed at the school as part of a joint USAID-UNICEF effort to reestablish education in nine earthquake-affected districts, Badri’s relief knew no bounds. The TLC was among 250 such structures built in the earthquake-affected districts as part of the project, aimed at giving children safe spaces to learn and play.
With his students studying in these proper, spacious classrooms, Badri went around fixing other problems in the school, particularly the water supply. He managed to connect with an organization that set up rainwater-harvesting systems and got such a system installed at the school. His team also undertook to build a 70,000-litre underground tank on school grounds to store the collected water.
One of his biggest allies in the effort to pull the school back up on its feet has been Rajesh Prasad Koirala. When Badri had joined the school 25 years ago, Rajesh had been fifth grader. Today, Rajesh is a teacher here. “Rajesh is one of our most active staff members,” Badri says. “I can’t tell you how it feels to see your students come into their own like this.”
It's just one of many signs, according to Badri, that his life may have come full circle. And that it might finally be time for him to step down and retire.
"Of course, I’ll still be involved in the school in different capacities. But I want to focus on my family and my health. I’ve put too much pressure on my knees, walking to and from the school, and all over the district, for so many years. I need rest.” - Badri says, explaining his plans to finally rebuild the house he had lost in the quake.
Badri says he has no doubt he’s leaving the school in safe hands, with people like Rajesh to take on the mantle. He compares a teacher’s life to that of a boatman, vested with the responsibility of ferrying children safely to the other side. “I’ve worked all my life to make sure that boat is as sturdy and safe as possible.”