Moving forward in sync
In north-east Nepal, twins Ram and Laxman Khatri not only share a physical resemblance but also a love of learning, sparked by the comfortable surroundings of their newly-built classroom
Ramechhap, Nepal: Most people would struggle to tell Ram and Laxman apart. The twins are frequently told that they look like exact copies of one another, a resemblance amplified by the matching outfits they often wear.
Besides their physical likeness, Ram and Laxman also share an enthusiasm for going to school. They are among the most regular students in the second grade in Nawadurga Basic School in Ramechhap District in north-eastern Nepal. Head teacher Yasodha Dhungel says they’ve made tremendous progress since they first started coming to school with some regularity, about three years ago. They could barely recognize letters even when they were six years old, she says. Now, the brothers are able to read and write, besides enjoying art and sports, especially football.
This would’ve seemed downright unimaginable on Yasodha’s first encounter with the twins.
“It was a school day, and I found them playing by the side of the road,” she says. “When I asked around, I found out that though they had been enrolled at Nawadurga Basic School, they were just not going to classes.” Yasodha had been working at a different school at the time, but nevertheless decided to go talk to the boys’ parents. “They promised to make sure their children went to school, but I didn’t get a chance to follow up, because of what happened after that,” she says.
She is referring, of course, to the 2015 earthquakes. Ramechhap was among the worst-affected districts, and Yasodha, who had just been transferred to Nawadurga, had a lot to deal with. The school building had been badly hit, and classes were being run under the open sky for a while.
It was here that she came across the boys again.
Yasodha had discovered that Ram and Laxman, both six when she was transferred, had never properly attended school, even though they had been admitted. She put them in the Early Childhood Development classes, along with several other older students like them who had missed out on pre-primary education and whom she had managed to bring back to school.
Despite Yasodha and her team’s best efforts, however, the dismal state of the classrooms meant that it was difficult to persuade children to be regular. “The teachers resorted to using any means at their disposal to encourage students to come to school, including offering them lunch and school supplies,” she says. “They often told jokes and stories to keep them interested.” But it was all in vain: the quake-hit classrooms were heavily exposed to the elements, vulnerable to both rainfall and summer heat, forcing the school to shut down frequently.
To help establish a more conducive learning environment at the school so that students like Ram and Laxman could be persuaded to continue their education, two Transitional Learning Centres (TLCs) were built on the premises. These TLCs are among 250 such structures that have been constructed in nine districts in Nepal as part of a joint USAID-UNICEF effort to revive education in earthquake-affected schools.
Yasodha says the TLCs have really turned things around. Comprising four new well-lit classrooms, the centres have had a visible impact on student attendance at Nawadurga. “The children love it in here,” she says. “And the project has also given us a number of educational and recreational kits that have helped to engage the students in creative learning activities.”
Seated on the bright green carpet of their classroom next to each other, Ram and Laxman are scribbling away. “I need to work hard to keep up with him,” Laxman says of his brother. “If I don’t, I’ll be left behind. I want us to be in the same class always.”