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An interview with principal Bishnu Prasad Gauuttamand

The EF Nepal team recently took up residence in a dormitory just a few minutes’ walk from the Shree Jalapadevi campus in order to cultivate a closer connection to the school community. In the first of a series of “getting to know you” interviews with school staff, students, parents and community leaders, EF team member Jonah Muh sat down to talk with Shree Jalapadevi’s principal:

What is your full name?
My name is Bishnu Prasad Gauuttamand and I am 45 years old.

Are you originally from Sindhupalchok district?
No, I grew up in the Gulmi district of western Nepal.

How long have you worked at Shree Jalapadevi?
I have worked at this school for over 23 years!

Tell us a little bit about the school and the students.
Shree Jalapadevi has been around for 50 years, maybe even longer. It is the main school for the five nearby villages and also a key school for Melamchi Municipality. The students are from Badegaun VDC, and Melamchi Municipality, especially from wards 8 to 12.

How many teachers and students attend here?
We have 23 teachers and 665 enrolled students this year. I guess there will be around 800 students once we have a new campus; they all want a new classroom!

What do you remember about the day of the earthquake [Saturday, April 25, 2015]?
School was in session at that time. I was in the school and became an eyewitness to the destruction of our school building and the houses near the school. It was terrible: the school buildings were shaking and one building collapsed. Students and teachers were running everywhere; some students and teachers were injured. Thank God no one died. It was nightmare for me for a long time and we all avoid thinking about it.

What were your primary concerns for the school and the students immediately after the earthquake, and what concerns you most now?
We were concerned about the reconstruction of the school buildings and about the psychological condition of our students. We are a public school and we have no money to rebuild our classrooms; we can do nothing but wait for help from government. And as you may know, our government is quite poor and there were so many buildings collapsed, I didn’t think our school was on their list. I nearly lost all hope at that moment. Now, we don’t have enough classrooms, we don’t have a library, science lab or computer lab, and we are lacking sport materials and proper playground. We need earthquake resistant school buildings that will help us run our daily classes in a peaceful environment. Students and teachers suffer greatly while having classes in a temporary steel classroom: it is very hot in summer and super cold in winter. Sometimes we even have to stop class because of bad weather.

What was your initial reaction when EF first approached the school administration about this rebuild project?
Many thanks to EF, this is really what we need: safe school buildings for the students and teachers. I cannot imagine what school would be like if no one helped us. We are a village school far from Kathmandu and even further from downtown. No one cares about us; there are no travelers or visitors. I am actually quite surprised you found our school!

We [the EF Nepal team] are incredibly grateful – and excited! – to be part of this project. Any feedback for us so far?
I am very happy that you have already moved to our village and live with us. Now we have more time with each other and I am sure we can become good friends too.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Any final words for the EFers around the world who are reading this?
I have a lot of words to say but the most important thing I want to say is thank you. Welcome to our school and welcome to Nepal!

A quote by Nelson Mandela painted on the wall of a school in Nepal

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