Maya Soup

“Soup” is a playful interaction that sets the tone for the day privileging the child’s perspective. It is a complicated version of dodge ball in which there are three balls in play, and students playing against teachers. Because there are so many more students, the game begins with a group of students serving as allies to teachers. Once the game has thinned out to a more even number of teachers and students, the game becomes a contest between students and teachers. The rules are simple once you learn them: 1) You must pass the ball rather than run with it, although taking a few steps is permissible; 2) If the person you are targeting catches the ball, you are out; 3) If the person you target does not catch the ball and it touches her/him, s/he is out; 4) If you hit someone so hard that they cry, then you are out. (The two times I observed this happen, the offender put an arm around the victim and consoled him, even while the victim may at first have been pushing the offender away.) The school’s founders describe this game as an important leveling of the playing field—literally and metaphorically. As an observer, it was clear how the game performed this function. Teachers would run from students with delighted screams. Younger children were often the faster and nimbler players, both difficult to target and fast with the ball. Girls and boys cooperated, passing to each other as well as working equally hard to win against the teachers. Women and men also cooperated, with some of the women teachers using very successful strategies of playing wily defense early in the game only to change tactics when the competition thinned. Observing (and occasionally playing) this game every day for two weeks, I came to see this game as a wonderful metaphor for the school itself. As a form of organized chaos, there are many things occurring simultaneously, impossible to attend to everything at once. There is both playful competition and cultivated cooperation. Natural consequences follow any form of antisocial or unkind behavior. Careful observation and attention are valuable skills, as are assertiveness, cooperation, and risk-taking—when the opportunity presents itself. Anyone can participate, contribute, have fun, learn, improve, and win. However, winning is not the best part or the ultimate goal. It’s the playing that matters.

Virgin Unite Enterpreneurship | Student entrepreneurs run Nepal’s first free private schools

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With huge school drop-out rates and half a million young workers leaving for low-skilled labour abroad, Nepal’s education system is in dire straits. Five youngsters who studied abroad came back to turn the tide.

You can be pretty sure you’re talking to a social entrepreneur when they start their story by saying:

“I used to be one of the kids that I was going to serve.” – Surya Karki

In Surya Karki’s case, that meant poor and without enough resources for a quality education.

Nepali and Manjil

He was lucky enough to secure a scholarship at United World Colleges (UWC), and decided to return to his homeland of Nepal “to give back to the society that I took from.” Fellow Nepali and UWC graduate Manjil Rana meanwhile had a similar desire to change things for the better in his country. The two met through relatives and before long identified what they believed was the most pressing problem facing their nation: a lack of quality schools. Without long careers in education or big pots of funding, but with a determination to create real opportunities for the kids they once were themselves, they started teaching from within a tent. It was 2011, and Maya Universe Academy was born.


Two years on, Karki, Rana and three friends have opened three private schools in rural Nepal, where 142 children aged 4 to 14 receive quality education. For free. Parents are required to contribute – not by paying fees but by giving knowledge and time instead, explains Karki. “Parents give us two days per month of voluntary work. As we operate in rural areas largely relying on agriculture, we run a school farm alongside each of our schools. “Most of our parents are farmers who have a wealth of knowledge about agriculture and nature. They work on the school farm and we sell the produce to generate an income.”

In addition, the farm offers both students and parents and opportunity to learn. “We use the farm as a classroom”, says Karki. The children learn valuable agricultural skills and when the farm work is done, parents are invited to sit at the back of the classroom to listen in. There are sessions on diversifying crops, microfinance and sustainability.

 We don’t believe money is power, but we are convinced that knowledge is power. This way, we empower the whole community.


Karki is just 22 but speaks with the confidence of a seasoned social entrepreneur. He says the statistics were simply too important to ignore. A recent UNESCO report showed that only seven out of ten children enrolled in grade 1 in Nepal’s schools reach grade 5, and more than half of them quit school before reaching the lower secondary level. The issue is largely one of quality, says Karki. “There are government schools in rural areas, but teachers are often not qualified and only come in to get paid. They have no interest in really educating children and helping them develop. All we ever did when I was in primary school was fight and play around. There was very little teaching going on.” As the first completely free private education institution in Nepal, Maya Universe Academy is “challenging the government by showing that the quality of education provided to rural children is abysmal and that we can do better with little or no resources.” The school’s educational philosophy is based around ‘holistic learning’ and places an emphasis on increasing students’ imagination, social responsibility and creative passion. A youth-led movement for change, the ‘Mayans’ (as they call themselves) resort to using their own local and global networks for support. They invite volunteers from around the world to come and give guest lectures and run social enterprises which make bracelets and sell them overseas via the internet to generate additional income.
Karki is currently in the US to complete his college degree and drum up support for Maya. He is determined to return as soon as possible, to complete his vision to have one school and one Maya farm in each of the 75 districts in Nepal by 2020. Oh, and he would like to one day become Nepal’s Prime Minister, too. Surya Karki is one of seven finalists in the Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Awards, who will be featured on in the coming weeks. Learn about the other finalists at, where you can also share your own project.   Danielle Batist
working with the kids

FORBES | Citizen Action For Improving Government Accountability

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tacticsJoy Saunders notes that officials in Afghanistan cannot account for one third of official development aid money between 2002 and 2009. And as Saunders has witnessed through her work with Integrity Action, this corruption can deprive citizens from basic needs like health care, clean water, and education.

Take, for example, the story of the Noqra Road in the Injil District of Herat Province. Development money was allocated to the construction of the road, which was intended to serve 35,000 people. The contractor began construction on the road, but five months afterward, community monitors with Integrity Action’s partner organization, Integrity Watch Afghanistan, discovered serious discrepancies between what had been promised and what the contractor was providing; the road was only five meters wide, rather than the eight that were stipulated in the contract, and the quality of the road was poor.

Integrity Action is a network of over 468 partner institutions that enable citizen participation in measuring transparency, accountability, and outcome for development project governance in 26 different countries. They use technology to improve online data collection and reporting by citizens, such as with their latest tool,, which collects findings and then disseminates the messages via community forums, social media, and radio. The organization is one of two Early Entry Prize winners of the Ashoka Changemaker’s “Closing the Loop” competition, which seeks to identify innovative solutions that are helping feedback loops to empower people, drive better decisions, and put resources where they’ll make a difference. The competition’s goal is to help citizens achieve better results in social services, philanthropy, and governance.

“We work with local communities and NGOs like Integrity Watch Afghanistan on the issues that matter the most to them—lack of access to health care, poor quality water pipes, insufficient waste removal, dangerous school buildings,” Saunders said. “We make sure that people are given a voice and that they are listened to. We train local people to monitor and gather evidence of service and infrastructure failings so they can talk with credibility as they present facts and figures to government staff and contractors. They then provide feedback on the availability of information, citizen engagement, and whether the service is being delivered effectively.”

In the case of the Noqra Road, the monitors compiled evidence and mobilized community protests and direct campaigning with the contractor, provincial council, and the governor’s office. In the end, the contractor rebuilt the road according to the terms of the contract.

Similarly, Surya Karki—the other Early Entry winner for the “Close the Loop” competition—is working directly with communities to pioneer a whole new system for community development in Nepal. With his Maya Universe Academy project, community members themselves design the three-pronged development approach, which includes an educational curriculum, community farming programs and agricultural microfinance, and investment in clean energy technologies. The most innovative part of the model? The communities themselves are co-owners of the business, with a 50/50 share model split between Maya Universe Academy and the community. So the community is as invested in the program’s success as the business is.

“We are a social business, reinventing the wheel for how businesses are run and how charity should be implemented,” Karki says. “In everything we have done and we will be doing, feedback loops are the most important aspect of our model. We started by providing free education to kids in poor villages, but our model—which includes the community and the parents in the education system—has an inbuilt feedback loop.”

Maya Universe Academy is called an “academy” because there’s also a skill share component built right in. Farmers trade volunteer hours at the school for agricultural, environmental, and marketing classes that enrich their professional knowledge.

The Maya Universe Academy has discovered that it is crucial for small rural communities to be co-creators and co-owners of development solutions, rather than allowing externally created solutions to be imposed on them. The communities experience economic and societal improvement that is much more profound when the communities themselves decide which crops to grow, what to teach the children, and which energy source the village should run on.

This is the fourth in a series of essays on the power and potential of feedback loops to dramatically increase the social benefits of development assistance (read the first one here, the second here, and the third here). It accompanies a call for projects related to feedback loops in an Ashoka Changemakers competition. This work is being catalyzed by Feedback Labs with support from the Rita Allen Foundation.

Come join us here.

AshokaU | Changemaker of the Week: Surya Karki

Co-founder Surya Karki featured on AshokaU.

Changemaker of the Week: Surya Karki“I work to provide free education to children in rural Nepal; to be a hope to the hopeless and an inspiration to the hopeful; to listen, act, and lead.” – Surya Karki Surya Karki, student at College of the Atlantic, describes his work founding Maya Universe Academy, the first completely free private education institution in…

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CSmonitor | College student Surya Karki builds schools back home in Nepal

US college student Surya Karki builds schools back home in NepalMaya Universe Academy was born in 2011 out of the creative altruism of Karki and six other young people from all over the world. Some parents walked for six hours to find out about a radically new kind of school forming in rural Nepal, where children would receive education free of charge – in exchange for parents volunteering two days a month to help operate the school and the farm that sustains it.

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Nisha and Sabin playing chess and Asha, well, she is just  being Asha
Have you ever been so completely out of touch with the modern world that you have no internet, no phone, not even a lamp to read a book by? Just the light of the skinny winny candles that you can buy in the local shop to make your evening last a little longer than 7 ‘o clock. I’m sure you have. But for me, it was the first time that I was staying in a place so remote from everything.I spent the last month in Udayapur, another Maya school in yet another district (they are spreading quite quickly-3 schools now), in a little village which -coincidentally- is also called Chisapani. The nearest town, Gaighat, is 4 hours down the hill by bus but in monsoon season you never know whether the bus will be running at all.

Remember the Udayapur kids I wrote about a few blogpost ago, who left to go back to their home after staying two months in the Tanahu school? Well, I went after them.

It was a wonderful welcome. After riding the bus up for some 5 hours (the last bus which went up all the way, lucky me-especially since I brought loads of school books) I got out at a Chisapani, and I discovered that nobody was there. It was almost nightfall. So I put down my bags and was just thinking where the school would be, when I heard my name being called ‘Weike miss!’. From afar I see Buddhap and Ramesh running my way.

‘Weike miss you are going to my house, ok?’ Buddhap says, ‘we have a party tonight!’. They showed me the house were I should put my stuff and off I went, into the darkening night with Buddhap and Ramesh on both my hands. After a few minutes we passed another village, and Roshani, Kamala and Regina (who turned out to be neighbors) come running out of their houses to give me a lot of big overwhelming and very happy hugs. As I’m trying to struggle myself loose from all the loving children, I see Rikke, Becky and Ashis Dai, the two volunteers and current ‘boss’ of this school, standing a bit further away.

Parties are there to be had, so a few minutes later all of us- the volunteers being led by the two children- set out for Buddhap’s house. Which turned out to be two hours away, halfway down the mountain.

What I walked into there was quite a feast. Music, local roxy (which was surprisingly sweet because it’s made of a local fruit instead of millet) and pig meat. But pig meat doesn’t just show up like you could buy it at the supermarket. Pig meat means there is a pig, and it must be cut. I was eager to see so I ended up standing in the room where they were preparing the pig, a little way against the wall so that the blood wouldn’t be splashing my clothes. They tied him up to a pole with a rope, and shoved a piece of wood between its legs. One lady was playing an instument whose sounds were mixing with the screaming of the pig. Pling plink, oiiiiiiiink. Then, after sprinkling lots of water in it’s ears (to see whether the holy spirit is inside—if he shakes, it is, if not, you should kill it some other day), one guy got a big khukuri (a local knife), lifted it high above his head, and after one big haw , the head rolled away. The pig was dead. Khattam. Awee, quite a sight it was. And tasty meat, I’ll have to say.

Me, Becky and Ashis Dai eating some sunghur ko masu (pig meat)

But enough about parties and meat, how was the school, you ask? Well, the problem I have right now, after one month of no internet and no electricity, how do I start? One month is a lot of time to tell in one blog post, and to be fair, a lot always happens in a month’s time.

The school is wonderful. I was so happy to see these kids again, who I’ve lived with for two months in Tanahu, and they were (I hope, at least) also very happy to see me. But there is more. New admission ‘happened’ two months ago, so in addition to the 15 students that I already knew, there were some 30 more to get to know. And what students they are.

If I thought that Tanahu children were ‘rough’, Udayapur children are even more used to hard work, and they are probably ten times crazier too.

These kids really know how to make me smile. Imagine, I’m giving class, serious english class, and there’s a slug sliming its way up the clay wall of the classroom. ‘Look miss,’ Nishan says,’I eat slug, ok?’ and with one big gulp he swallows the slimy creature, after which he smiles at me broadly. ‘Tasty?’ I ask, and he nodds happily. ‘Another one!’ someone says, and as Nishan reaches for it to eat it I just manage to take it from his hand. ‘No eating during class’, I say.

Another class. French class to the A-class. I’m teaching them sentences that might be useful for them. ‘Je peux boire quelque chose?’ (can I drink something?), Je peux aller a la toilette (can I go to the toilet?) when Komala asks: ‘ Miss, how do you say ‘can I spit’ in French?’. I look it up in the dictionary. ‘Je peux cracher’, I say. ‘Madame, je peux cracher?’ she asks me. Smilingly I answer ‘bien sur’ and she goes outside to spit a nice flume on the pebble street. Then, excited by this new word, all the kids ask me the same question, and after class the street is covered with all different shades of spit. Lovely.

The B-class kids planting flowers next to their classroom

I love these kids, I love teaching, but I’m sure that if I only write about how wonderful teaching is you will not be reading this blog very much (neither would I) so I will see what else happened.

Thing is: There is no children boarding at this school, so after 4 o clock you’re pretty much free to do anything you want. Anything. You can play chess. You can read a book. You can gather firewood.  You can cut firewood. You can build something out of bamboo. You can write in your journal. You can drink roxy. You can cook dinner, or go to one of the canteens and have someone cook dinner for you. And, most of all, you can listen to the radio.

Ashis dai and his radio are inseparable. After being in this village for the past three months or so he developed a routine of waking up with the radio, and going to sleep with it (many a night I heard him say ‘hajur, hajur’, to whatever the newsreporter had to say). By now, I know all the songs and advertisements of Kantipur FM. ‘Turn on your radio, turn on your radio, the sweet sounds you hear everywhere that you go, on your radioooo’.

Sometimes only books and radio wasn’t enough and I would get a kick out of just leaving with some of the children after school and sleep at their houses. By now, I’ve slept at Buddhaps, Parbatis, Kamalas and Roshanis house, which is always absolutely wonderful and interesting, too. Parbati, for example, didn’t even turn out to have a house at all when she invited me. Just a bamboo hut. I can sleep anywhere happily, bamboo hut or fancy hotel alike, but it just surprised me because Parbati is soo rich of mind, I expected her to be rich in means too. Me and my assumptions.

Parbati’s half-sister at the bamboo hut. 
Ramesh’s mother
Roshani and our new kitten, Marie Tiksa. Marie because Rikke’s sister who just graduated is called Marie, en Tiksa because I don’t want to call the cat Marie and I like walking around the village with the cat on my shoulder saying ‘sabbhei tiksa, tiksa’ (Everything ok, Tiksa) while she meows violently in my ear. 

Tug of war during sports day

Anyway, time to go, I will write more about Udayapur when  I go there again in a week, with my mom who arrived in Kathmandu two days ago. Hello mom:)

All pictures courtesy of

Indiegogo | Advocacy Training Program in Nepal

Recently Surya Karki held a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. He managed to raise the funds and will be teaching effective advocacy techniques to the educators and administrators of Maya Universe Academy in Nepal. Keep posted to this blog for updates on this project.

BEdition Magazine | Bearing Witness to Global Citizenship Education in Nepal

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From 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.

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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

The Kathmandu Post | Portrait

Chairman Rana featured in The Kathmandu Post.
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Chairman Rana was featured in Teenz “A League of Incredibles”

There is a certain amount of moral fiber one requires to dream, but even more so to make someone else’s dreams come true. Heaven definitely has a place reserved in the name of Manjil Rana. This young man has abandoned his studies in the U.S., stripped himself off of all of societal wishes, and stepped into the world of providing education to the poor and underprivileged. His first project, Maya Universe Academy, Tanahu, where they follow the Maya Model- free education in return for 2 days of volunteering from the parents has become a tremendous success. People from nearby villages have begun sending their kids off to school and there is a positive change in the air around the villages. We asked him where the inspiration for his work came from, to which he replied” I believe in moving with the flow of the universe with a good heart and a smart head.”
Most people, no matter how smart and loyal to their country, sit around complaining about how the country is being run, none of us stand up and willingly become part of it, Rana believes that the revolution will finally begin the day the children in his school graduate. He has full faith in the children and the bright future ahead of them. When asked to describe himself, he says ‘I’m a dreamer’, and one that turns them into an enchanted reality.
Apart from being the 24 year old man who brought about a revolutionary change in the pre existing idea that we are ‘too young’ for greatness, he is also just a regular boy who enjoys an occasional drink with friends, travelling and meeting new people. There is not a moment of silence with Rana, no matter how long you’ve been around him for. He could discuss anything from social work, economics, philosophy and when it comes to politics, he is a man of a hundred opinions.He claims he would have loved to be a politician if not a youth movement leader. His future ambitions include sustaining his project in a number of ways, such as launching products in the city to help out the parents of the children studying in his school and gathering likeminded youth from Kathmandu to come and volunteer in the villages. He further adds, “I think I can definitely become a change maker in my field, life is like a long poem with never ending words, and I think I already added a few verses.”