In Nepal, education is a fickle thing. There are two types of schools, Government and Private, and while each have their own advantages they are also both flawed. Government schools are free but the quality of education they provide is extremely poor. Private schools offer superior education, but they are expensive and most parents can’t afford to send their children there. This dilemma is something that has plagued the Nepalese people for decades; however, back in 1985 two Japanese nuns were tasked with finding a solution. After 30 years of hard work, they have succeeded in doing that and much, much more.
Sister Evangela and Sister Miriam were only in their mid-twenties when their convent asked for two sisters who were interested in starting a mission in Nepal. Villagers in the tiny settlement of Bandipur had reached out asking for a school to be built so their children would have a chance to be educated. Bandipur had once been a prosperous town where many Nepalis from the surrounding areas would travel to sell their crops and other goods, but over the years due to no school being present, and the lack of well-paying jobs, families began to move to the bigger cities such as Pokhara and Kathmandu in order to find work. By 1985 Bandipur had become a ghost town. Deciding it would be both an adventure and a good challenge, Miriam and Evangela accepted the job.
Upon arriving in Kathmandu, the Sisters began a six month Nepali language and customs corse. Nowadays, most Nepalis, especially if educated speak at least a little bit of English but, back then it was rare to find anyone who spoke anything but Nepalese. Once they arrived in Bandipur they would rely on the language training in order to communicate with both the locals and the students.
Over the next decade, Evangela and Miriam worked tirelessly to establish a quality school for the children of Bandipur. Children registered for school in The Old Inn, the only hotel in town with a room big enough to accommodate all of the new students. In the beginning, the Sisters endured many hardships. Food was scarce and almost every meal consisted only of a meager portion of rice and if they were lucky, an egg or some chicken. Sister Evangela remembered one particular night when she went to pick up a pair of scissors and was too weak to lift them off the table due to malnourishment. More often than not there was no water, nor electricity, and any form of communication with the outside world was done through letter until the first phone arrived in 1990.
The first day of class was held in was an abandoned goat shed on the edge of the village, where children sat in the dirt and learned for the first time what a pencil was. In the beginning, when told to line up, children didn’t know what the Sisters meant by “line”. Unlike most teachers who begin by teaching the alphabet, shapes, small words etc, these women had to start from the very beginning. Their perseverance and determination were unparalleled.
After the first decade, the school was thriving. They had purchased land from a farmer that had moved to Kathmandu and had finally built a proper building through donations to the mission. It was during this time my great Aunt, Rita Soete, or as she is known in the convent, Sister Andre arrived in Bandipur. Up until this point she had been living in Japan but upon hearing that the mission in Bandipur needed more teachers she decided to give it a try. Miriam and Evangela were grateful for the help as they had been the only two teachers until then. After meeting the kids and teaching a class, Sister Andre knew she had found her calling. Immediately, she contacted her sister Barbra Soete, who is also a nun and a teacher and asked her to come visit. Like Sister Andre, Barabra fell in love with Bandipur and both have remained there as teachers ever since.
During my visit, I was able to meet with both Sister Evangela and Sister Miriam, as well as my two great Aunts. I also visited the early childhood development center, which we would call pre-school here in the States, as well as sit in on classes at the main school. The school is run solely off of donations, making it affordable for the everyday working Nepali family. As of now grades 1-10 are in session and grades eleven and twelve (which act as what we consider college) will be added this coming year. There are over 700 students enrolled, and the school was ranked sixth in the nation for academics this past year. It was truly a privilege and an honor to meet with these extraordinary women, and hear their story. What they have accomplished is inspirational, astounding, and will have a lasting impact on students and families for generations to come.
Children from the Early Childhood Development center.