- Elsie James
Proving “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way!” - Swabalambi Primary School for Deaf Children
In January 2013, I met the Founders, Teachers and Students of Swabalambi Primary School for Deaf Children, in the small community of Murali Banjyang, Dhading District. It’s about a 4 ½ hr drive west of the capital city Kathmandu, Nepal.
When I visited, the school was in temporary quarters, Just a brick shell of an unfinished farmhouse, loaned to them by a local family.
Opened in 2012, the school had 34 profoundly deaf students, aged 5 to 14 years enrolled in grades 1 to 4. The Founding Principal, Ram Adhikari, is profoundly deaf and his wife is hearing impaired. Three of the original four teachers are also deaf.
Founder, Ram Kumar Adhikari had a dream. Ram, himself is profoundly deaf. Despite his impairment, Ram has a Masters degree in Education. He wanted Deaf Children in Dhading to have the same opportunity he did. But local classrooms could not teach deaf children. They languished at home and worked in the fields with no chance to learn.
In 2013, the situation began to change. A local farmer donated land on which to build a school. By 2014, when I visited, the foundation was in and walls for four rooms were up, thanks to some local Supporters. Their meager financial resources were already exhausted. It was obvious they needed help. Our Donors contributed and the Alberta Incentive program matched our funds to build the new school. Classes moved into the unfinished building in November, 2014.
On April 25, 2015, disaster struck! A 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit north central Nepal followed by a 7.3 quake just two weeks later plus more than 400 aftershocks. Nine thousand people died and more than 23,000 were seriously injured. Three Million people were left homeless. Swabalambi, unlike many schools in this part of Nepal, had only minor damage.
The School continued to operate with only the first floor rooms, showers & toilet building completed. Classrooms on the 2nd floor were bare shells but serving the purpose intended. Enrolment continued to grow. Sixty-four children now had a chance to become educated, productive adults. Walls were bare but the rough benches in the classrooms were full of children. The Dream did not die when the earth shook.
The Dining Hall and Kitchen on the third floor were completed in 2019. Classrooms had clean, candy-cotton pink walls! The outside of the building was Sunshine yellow.
Above: Swabalambi School for Deaf Children before the mudslide
The challenges aren’t over. In March 2020, Nepal locked down, closed their borders and the International Airport in Kathmandu due to the world wide Pandemic. (Nepal is highly dependent on Tourism, the largest source of foreign income. The lockdown has been economically devastating for them.) Then, all schools closed and most children in the Hostel returned home.
In July 2020, disaster struck again. The steep slope below the School building was saturated with heavy monsoon rains. The concrete and brick retaining wall collapsed as a huge mudslide broke free from the hillside within a few feet of the School foundation. Mud and debris demolished everything in its path. Terraced fields, trees, bushes and playground moved relentlessly down the steep hillside to the road and farmhouses below. During the 2015 Earthquake, thankfully, the school building and other structures remain standing. But this break was close to the ground floor rooms of the boy's hostel. Caretaking staff had to leave the building empty.
Above: After July, 2020 mudslide due to heavy monsoon rains that saturated the soil
Plans for Parent workshops to learn Sign Language and enable them to communicate with deaf children are on hold. Vocational Training Classes, to help older students unable to continue Academic studies, are also delayed.
For Swabalambi students there are no alternatives. They cannot attend school in the standard school system. There are no Teaching Assistants in Nepali classrooms.
A whole new world of opportunities opened for Students at Swabalambi School for Deaf Children, because of one man, Ram Adhikari. He has not given up hope. He refuses to believe his Dream died in a mudslide in July.
Consultations with District Engineer regarding repairing the slope below the school and replacing retaining walls is ongoing. The breaking point of the slide is too close to the building for safety. Classes are being held in temporary quarters. Estimated cost $20,000 USD!
Effort is being made to obtain Nepal government help to stabilize the slope. But while that search is underway, Nepal, like their neighbor to the south, India, is fighting a devastating second wave of COVID 19. Schools & airport are closed. Hospitals are refusing patients due to lack of beds, equipment. Oxygen and medical staff.
Swabalambi cannot welcome their Students back, until funds can be raised to stabilize the Slide area and reconstruct retaining walls. Help has been promised by the local government, but so far, has not been forthcoming. Fundraising during the Pandemic, has been close to impossible. If your heart has been touched by Swabalambi’s story, will you help us make this School a safe place, again?
If this story touches your heart, please donate whatever you can (small drops of water make an Ocean).
Please designate your Gift for the Swabalambi School for Deaf Children Project in Dhading, Nepal. If you are using Canada Helps to donate, select the "Medical Mercy Nepal" fund.
Cheques should be made payable to One Child’s Village and can be mailed to Elsie James, 410 Freeman Way NW, High River, AB T1V 1R2, or call me at 403-498-8800. Please ensure you include your current address and contact number.
Thank you for your generosity!