Shelri Drugdra Lower Secondary School, Saldang
The village of Saldang is home to ~700 people and typically has 80 students from kindergarten to Class 6. The annual operating cost of the school is $35,000.
Saldang School was initiated in 1996 by a trekker, Aledheid Donges (the founder of Freunde Nepal in Germany), and Karma Dhondrup, a village elder. The school opened in 1999 with only 3 classes. It now teaches children from kindergarten through grade 6. To continue their education beyond elementary school they must move to Kathmandu and live at the hostel Shelter108.
Saldang School has continued operation without interruption since 1999. There have been years when funding was precarious, and, in fact, that is how Altitude Project came to be! During our trek to the Upper Dolpo in 2015, we had a rest day in the village of Saldang. I needed to charge a camera battery and the only electricity in the village was at the school. Over tea, while the battery was charging, they told me that Freunde Nepal had recently advised them of a serious funding shortfall for 2016, their next school year.
They asked if I could help…. We exchanged email addresses and I carried on with the trek and didn’t give it much thought. When I was back in Canada, I received an email message from them at New Year’s wishing me good health and happiness and asking if I could help… That was the moment that I decided to step off the sidelines and see if, in fact, I could help. And to my great surprise and delight, so many friends, and friends of friends, responded with kindness and generosity that we raised $13,500 that first year. We contribute ~ $8,000 annually to this school now. We work in conjunction with Freunde Nepal, they consider us their second pillar of support.
As in all the schools we support, the children are taught not only the national curriculum of Nepal, but also their Tibetan language, history and culture and basic Buddhist philosophy. Children receive a modern education, and local culture and ancient traditions are preserved.
2020 was a challenging year. Project teachers were not cleared to return to the region to open the schools until mid-June, 2 1/2 months later than usual. Each person was first tested for the virus. Sadly they had difficulty securing food during their long walk from Juphal to the Upper Dolpo. People were very worried about any outsiders traveling through their villages. Once they reached Saldang, they quarantined in the school for 14 days. Only project teachers returned to the school, no government teachers were present.
The school supplies did not reach Saldang until August. Extremely heavy monsoons created flooding and landslides, which delayed the shipments.
Basic literacy skills are taught to villagers after school. They are most delighted, when outside the village, to be able to sign their name instead of using a thumbprint. Literacy skills open doors of opportunity and independence.
There are fewer students in the winter session as some families leave the Upper Dolpo in winter to avoid the extreme weather and the food shortages.
In winter, on sunny days, classes are often held in the greenhouse. On extremely cold and snowy days classes are held in the dining hall, with the stove in the middle. The parents of each student contribute 50 kg of yak dung for cooking/heating.
The winter school is funded by the HUMAN Foundation. Their vision is to “Give Children a Future”.
Pema Wangyal, the school coordinator, has become an invaluable friend. He helps us coordinate the purchase of materials for greenhouses and distributes them to people in villages of the region. He also helps deliver the LuminAID portable solar lights to the villagers, and the Days for Girls reusable menstrual hygiene kits to the nurses for distribution and education. We are very grateful for his help!
A 25′ x 24′ Greenhouse
Seedlings in the spring, vegetables in the summer and fall, a bright and warm classroom in the winter, our first greenhouse project was a great success!
A shortage of arable land and a harsh and changing climate makes it impossible to produce a sufficient quantity and diversity of food throughout the year. The greenhouse improves food security by extending the growing season and providing fresh vegetables for the student lunches and staff meals.
Two New Classrooms
The construction of two new classrooms is being funded by the Shey Phoksundo Rural Municipality (RM). The central government has mandated that all primary schools should become “Basic” schools and teach up to class 8.
Unfortunately, building classrooms is the easy part; funding more classes is the challenge. And, there simply are not enough grade 7 and 8 students at any of the schools to make it practical. For now, one of the rooms will serve as a library. The Rato Bangala Foundation, a teacher training institute near Kathmandu, donated 404 childrens books. The other room will be used for storage, and a small meeting room.
A Safe Source of Water
This year the Nepali government installed a 3000L water reservoir along with a series of smaller tanks that act as a filter system. It supplies clean water to the village and the school. Projects such as this are a rare occurrence here. This region has long been ignored, politically, economically and socially, by the central government.
Clean water will be life changing for the village. Nurses from the Upper Dolpo maintain that at least 50% of the health problems here are related to contaminated drinking water. Many get sick with typhoid fever and diarrhea, especially during the rainy season when water from the hillsides, littered with dung, collects in the water courses. Everyone here is looking forward to a healthier future!
The water tap at the school was funded by Freunde Nepal.