From http://beditionmagazine.com/bearing-witness-to-global-citizenship-education-in-nepal/. By Shelane Jorgenson, PhD candidate, ’09 MEd, ’05 BA
Climbing up the mountain to Maya Universe Academy (MUA) is like entering a different time and space. Not in the past, as you might imagine a small rural school in the Tanahun District of Central Nepal to be, but rather the future. As a Doctoral candidate in Educational Policy Studies at the University of Alberta, Canada, I have studied and observed education systems around the world, but no form of education has captured my heart to the extent of MUA in the village of Udhin Dhunga, Nepal has. Though I spent only a few days at the school, I was greeted with open arms of the staff, volunteers, students and broader community like I was a family member returning home. It was not by any plan or aspiration to go to the school that I ended up there, but by some divine karmic path to show me the potential of education.
After spending a month at Oneness University in India, I came to Nepal at the beginning of May to visit a friend in Kathmandu whom I had met on a flight 13 years ago. In accordance with extraordinary Nepali hospitality, I was welcomed into the family and a seemingly endless network of family and friends that have guided and accompanied my journey. Knowing that I am interested in education, my friend set up an opportunity for me to visit MUA, which was started by his nephew, Manjil Rana in 2010. The Academy, which I learned is the first and only free non-government school in Nepal, is a non-profit, community and volunteer-run organization with about 60 students and growing daily. In response to the growing number of enrollments and seeing the need for free non-government education in other regions of the country, two more schools have since opened. One in the rural village of Chisapani, and another in the Syangja district of Nepal.
Maya, which means love or friendship, is a perfect depiction of the energy and spirit of MUA. After the long journey to the school (about a 5 hour bus ride, one hour jeep ride and one hour hike up a mountain) from Kathmandu, I was instantly welcomed with smiles and conversation with the children, foreign volunteers and devout staff that work tirelessly to maintain and sustain the operation and vision of MUA. The mission of the Academy is to “embrace social responsibility and creative-mindfulness to educate and inspire our students and their families to build community, gain greater independence, and transform their lives.” A tall order for a rural school operating on revolving door of volunteers, few staff and little funding. If you were to tell me a month ago that a school in a rural village in Nepal is providing free education, and in some cases boarding, to underprivileged kids without any government or NGO funding base, I would not have believed you. However, in three days, my world and ideas about education were forever altered.
The most integral insight I gleaned in three days was about passion and compassion. MUA was developed through the compassionate heart of its founders. Recognizing the deficiencies of government schools that were not meeting the needs of students and unaffordability of private schools, which are unattainable to the majority of Nepalese people, the founders saw a need for quality education that was also free of cost. Their compassion for underprivileged children and providing them with equal opportunities for quality primary education, called upon a network of local and international volunteers to make their vision a reality. It is with great passion that I see volunteers and staff working to sustain this vision. In order to make this a reality, families of MUA students are asked to volunteer two days a month undertaking tasks such as building classrooms, cooking, gardening and daycare in exchange for their children’s education. Everywhere I looked, there were educational spaces being opened through informal learning. Foreign volunteers were learning how to speak Nepali, how to build classrooms and toilets using local knowledge and materials, local gardening, farming, cooking techniques and more. Reciprocally, the local Maya community was learning from the experience and knowledge of its foreign volunteers. While I was at MAU, French and Theatre classes were developed and delivered by two young French volunteers based on their knowledge and experience being theatre majors in their home university. Mutual and reciprocal learning from the local to the global fuels growth for all Mayan community members in multiple ways- personal, intellectual, community and spiritual. I have never in my life seen such a committed and passionate group of volunteers, whose hearts and spirit are intrinsically tied to the Maya community.
The local and global connections of inter-cultural education are the subject of my doctoral research. As people from different parts of the world come together, there are tremendous possibilities for global citizenship- some encouraging for the potential of interactions to foster relationships and care for others beyond borders, but there are also risks in the ways that knowledge transmission is undertaken. I have come across too many educational programs that foster a one-way traffic of privileged North American or European students traveling to the global south to embark on a short international visit and returning home without learning the language or ways of their hosts. Global citizenship emerging from such one-way practices perpetuates many of the colonial trends that maintain inequitable power relations. The global citizenship education that I bore witness to at MUA was possibly the most genuine and encouraging that I have had the privilege to encounter. Maya students, most who have never been beyond the hills of their village, are receiving a global education that the volunteers from countries such as Holland, Malta, Malaysia and Korea, are bringing to their lives inside and outside of the classroom. Reciprocally, the foreign volunteers are learning and living the reality of a remote mountain village, where water is fetched daily from a nearby spring, eating food that one grows and is cooked on an open fire, and as one volunteer stated, “having little access to the outside world,” without internet or other media readily available. Yet, in the world of MUA, the conditions of rural living are embraced with great cooperation and humility. Everyone, learning, growing, becoming global citizens.
The community of Dhunga recognizes the power of education and the wonderful opportunities that are afforded to their children at no monetary cost. This is reflected in continual requests for enrollment and parents showing up more than their required 2 days to volunteer. As the Mayan community grows to meet this demand through increased registration, expanding schools, hiring staff and hosting volunteers, donations to sustain their vision and dream are paramount. If you want to be involved and support the Mayan community to educate and inspire students, their families and volunteers for social development and fostering global citizenship, please visit http://mischwald.ch/mayauniverseacademy/get-involved.