Roosters crowing children growing, got big plans but dirty pants, with kids to teach life is sweet!

Tag Archives: Education

What Am I Doing?

The length of the week here varies dramatically.

Things slow down considerably when you first arrive. Most likely because you aren’t checking your email every 15 minutes and there is no RSS news feed to bait you at the dinner table. You walk everywhere rather than drive, and even though your meeting is at 2:00 p.m., at 2:15 you know you’ve still got a few minutes to spare.

After a few days of sleeping at odd hours and unpacking into your home away, the moments speed up. There’s so much to be done – and much of what needs to be done will only keep you moving forward into more tasks and projects…. For instance admissions – while arguably essential – they only put us farther behind from an educational standpoint.

And then, without preamble, you’re sitting in the school office explaining that you’ll be gone in three weeks, meaning you’ll only be there for the first five days of real school. And you want to cry. Because, like with anyone you truly love, it could never be enough time.

After much Nepali/English calendar confusion, Libby, Tope, and I have come to this conclusion. The fact is my time is almost up, and there is so much I want to do.

It’s not that I’ve been lazing around. I and the other volunteers have been concerned with the small details that will help Kopila continue to develop as a school.

Jake figured out a great system for hanging charts and student work in the classrooms that is both cost effective and weather resistant. I’ve been cataloging the school library using software that will allow me to remotely view the library’s holdings so that I can recommend new acquisitions and, most importantly, help our teachers learn how to use literature in the classroom.

Caitlin is continuing our efforts to recycle and provide the school with much needed organizational supplies like pencil holders and book ends.

We’re continuing our computer training for the teachers. Migrating lesson plans to a digital format and teaching them how to use internet resources will hopefully save them precious time in the long run, and make teaching more interesting.

Tope and I chose canvas for the dust covers we’re putting in the library and the office. Dirt is a constant issue here, especially for electronics like copiers and computers. We’re also hoping they’ll make things easier for our house and school staff which work 16 hrs + everyday to keep the school in running order.

Libby and I are giving administrative and facilities management responsibilities to our oldest students. But that is a system in itself which requires oversight and planning. Wen haven’t quite figured out that piece yet.

All these things seem simple, quick, not a problem – but they take time here. And while small, we hope that they’ll foster the attitude of care and innovation which is so essential to the success of a project like this. We know we can’t stay forever, so we’re doing our best to create an environment which supports our teachers so they can continue to grow as educators. They’ll have to do the majority of the hardest work – the day to day – on their own. We’re here to help them discover the tools that will help them create their best work yet.

We’re trying to transform workers on assembly lines into artisans in studios. With string and job charts.

Photos from our teacher resource fair, 2 weeks ago:


Little (BIG) Surprise

BIG thanks to Michael, Kelly, and Erik from California for their AWESOME donation! They’ve answered our call for used laptops for teachers in Nepal by donating three wonderful machines – one of which is a OLPC machine!!!

OLPC stands for One Laptop Per Child. This organization has created a rugged laptop with *satellite* internet access and features designed for rural and remote areas. Their mission is to connect children no matter where they are to the rest of the world and educational opportunities. It is SUCH an amazing gift to be able to see just how the laptop works and what the future implications at Kopila might be.

At the risk of being dramatic – I want to again extend gratitude to everyone who has donated – THANK YOU! It is hard to explain how difficult it is to get technology into remote areas like Surkhet, and at the same time how essential it is to providing QUALITY education to the community.

For instance – buying, hand carrying, and paying the baggage fees for books is so expensive, almost prohibitively so. Having laptops makes it easy for us to project a book on the screen and teach a meaningful lesson using free Kindle for PC software. We can essentially create a “class set” of books where previously there wasn’t a single one. These go WAY beyond checking email or reading the news. They will save Kopila thousands of dollars and they will fundamentally change us for the better.

So, to all of you, from Kopila, Maggie, me, and the universe – we thank you for your greatness of heart. It does not go unnoticed.

It’s So Fluffy! (In a square, metal clad kind of way…)

Say what? If you haven’t seen Despicable Me, let me bring you up to speed…

That’s how I felt when this arrived:

Not fluffy - just AWESOME!

YES!!! It’s one of the first donated laptops to arrive. Katherine Walther Hodges, a friend from high school, sent us this perfect Acer. Of course my photog skills leave a lot to be desired, but you get the idea.

Response to the laptop drive has been great. We’re collecting comps from law offices, home offices, friends, neighbors, schools, and – last but not least – Maggie’s tweeps.

All told I think right now we’ve blown my original goal out of the water with …. wait for it…. drum roll….

10 Laptops!


We’re well on our way to having a laptop for each teacher.  Once we’ve got that we’ll be working toward a computer lab for the kids.


I bet we could fill that lab by the end of February .

What do you think?  Can you help us?  T-13 days and counting!

contact me – lisareneemarshall <at> gmail – to donate 🙂

Laptop Drive Update

Our little impromptu laptop drive is gaining momentum. I want to share a little something I just read that sums up how important this technology is to us:


“You see what a difference it makes when kids get the tools that enable them to learn, and you never forget it.”

– Mark Foster

former VP of engineering @ One Laptop Per Child


The same goes for our teachers. They need the tools that enable them to teach – plain and simple.

– Lisa

Goodbye Volunteers

Frank left today. Kelly and Cristina are leaving tomorrow. And I will be gone on Friday. One minute I am so ready to come home and see everyone I love, and the next I want to change my ticket and stay another 2 weeks.

In any case, I wanted to share some thoughts and stories about our “Dr.” (med student extraordinaire) Frank.

He has been such a rockstar here at Kopila. EVERYONE loves Frank. He had a gaggle of little girls from here at the hostel that would follow him around, from clinic to house to the top floor and back down to the school, giggling and jumping. They just adored him.

All the grown up Nepalis loved Frank too. He was the first to buy a topi, and he wore it all the time! Everyone in the market got such a kick out of it. And at dinner time he could eat almost as much dhaal bhat as a Nepali – which is a lot. Once or twice even Baju (typically a poker face) expressed her approval at his ability to pack it away.

When Maggie introduced all the volunteers at the show last month, we all got polite applause. But Frank was hiding on the sidelines (the topi makes him invisible) and Maggie forgot about him for a sec. When she realized and introduced him – people stood up. They cheered. They roared. Hannah, me, Cristina, and Kelly just looked at each other. Where did that come from?

But more than his charm, humor, and digestive prowess, Frank was a lifesaver here at the house and school. Literally. He solved mystery illnesses (no wonder one of his fav shows is House!), he woke up in the middle of the night for vomiting children, he rode on the back of a scooter he barely fit on by himself in the rain at midnight to take sick kids to the hospital.

He was never afraid to say he didn’t know an answer, or that he wasn’t sure what to do next. So many times he and Kelly would say, “I know how to treat hypertension and diabetes – not tropical boils!” But they researched online, consulted colleagues, read Karen’s travel medicine book (PS Karen – we found it!), and trudged on. Sometimes I could tell it wasn’t easy. Getting an accurate history through a 12 year old translator isn’t the best scenario for diagnosing severe headaches coupled with leg pain and loss of consciousness. Or try suturing a 4 year olds’ head wound with a needle gauged for what looks like exotic veterinary medicine. Quick, what’s the toxicity of an entire tube of adult flouride toothpaste, because baby Madan – 2 years old and 17 lbs soaking wet – just ate one. The list goes on. Every day was something wild and woolly.

On top of what must have seemed like a 6 week long emergency room on call shift, Frank taught health classes at the school. Once hand washing and drinking water standards had been covered, he dove right into the good stuff – anatomy, pathology, and organic chemistry. One evening as Kelly and I ate our dinner roti, Shova told us she was studying for a health quiz. When we asked what it was about, she told us the types of foods. We understood from the blank look on her face after asking what kind of food roti was, that Frank had been up to his usual ways. Why teach the food pyramid when you can jump straight into carbon chains and peptide rings!

He even managed to teach the kids a smattering of Japanese, and showed the boys how to shave during he and Kelly’s special puberty talk.

Frank was a great volunteer teammate as well. He was always quick to pick up a treat from the market for Friday nights on the roof, or to listen to you vent about a project that just wasn’t going the way you wanted it to. His crazy ultra-capitalist schemes (what Surkhet really needs is a teaching hospital – and a CASINO!) became a running joke, as did his craving for cow meat. While waiting for a line of tractors to pass us on the main road earlier this week, I caught Frank staring off in the direction of a herd of cattle and heard him murmur, “Just look at all that meat! How can they not eat it!”

I just don’t know what we are going to do without him. I only have to give medicine to two children in his absence and I am already worried I’ll forget. He’s helped this community and this family so much. I walked by his room after he left and one of our Aunties was sitting on his bed sobbing. It reminded me how many great hearts there are here – people who open the door to their home and their family with the utmost trust and goodwill. Their kind and gracious manner masks the plain hard work that they do from sunrise to past sunset. Her sad crumpled face showed me that language barriers and different backgrounds are no match for the closeness that comes from living, working, and caring together.

To Frank, dozing at 35K feet in a cramped middle seat over the Atlantic right now (hopefully after having some meat based dinner), and to all the Kopila volunteers past and present – the best in us thanks the best in you.

Frank, Nisha, Cristina, and Kelly. Photo Courtesy of Frank Cioppettini

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Friday Fun-day!

Fridays always end up being filled with excitement and good news.

First and most importantly, Saurab had his operation last Sunday and he is doing splendidly! He came to the house with his grandmother today after lunch and had a nice new full cast on his arm. I took him on a quick tour of the school so he could see the progress that has been made in his absence, and then he came back to the house and we played with a balloon while his grandmother chatted with the grown-ups.

He will be back at school on Monday. I am so happy to see that he is doing well and on his way to a full recovery. I swear he’s actually grown a centimeter or two since I last saw him.

And then….

We had an art-fest at the school today – and it was insane. As much as I like to plan and organize things, today I pretty much failed. We were doing papier mache in 2 – 6th class, making paper turtles in KG and 1st, and doing thumbprint art in nursery. We ran out of newspaper, containers for glue and water, bowls, scissors, and, since this was the first time the teachers have really ever done anything like this, it was chaos. I was so busy running from room to room trying to resupply things that I didn’t take a single picture. Kelly said she got some though so I will post some of hers soon hopefully. Between the two of us we usually cover the “events” here pretty thoroughly.

5 and 6 class made pencil troughs for the desks, so that their pencils and pens don’t keep falling which causes distraction and disruption in class. 2, 3, and 4 class made bowls/containers for us to use in the classrooms (a great way to save money on supplies, recycle, and be creative right?). KG and 1st made turtles out of these cool bowls that are made out of leaves (street vendors use them to serve a hot corn mash called chaat – delicious!), and Nursery had fun dipping their fingers in paint.

Once the dust had settled, the finished products looked good, and the kids had fun, which is what counts. Hopefully the teachers learned a little about what does and does not work when you are doing art projects. And we actually ended up with extra newspaper after sending the Amazing Tope to get more in the middle of the morning.

While we tried to get the art projects started in half the classes, Christina worked with the other half on some Hindi mantras and chants she learned while she was in Pokhara last week. The kids all sounded so awesome. They also worked a little on meditation and yoga, and really took to it. She actually left the room they were in to help Kelly and I, and when she came back, everyone was still quietly meditating. The kids are so excited to learn new things and do these “out of the box” activities that we really don’t have to fight for their cooperation or good behavior. They just want to be good and have fun!

Tomorrow we will make a trip to Bul Bule to play, bath, and wash laundry. We are also doing some deep cleaning at the house. Tonight, Frank is hosting movie night for the kids. He says we’re watching Ratatouille. Sweet!

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The Play’s the Thing!

After being open for just over one month, Kopila Valley Primary School had its first fine arts performance yesterday! It was a huge success. 3rd grade sang “In the Jungle”, 4th grade narrated the event through a puppet show, 5th and 6th danced, and we even had some poetry readings from individual students. Parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, neighbors, and friends came to support our students as they shared their knowledge and talent with the community.

Here are some pictorial highlights…

In other news, my ninja like ability to sneak up on children committing naughty offenses such as spitting over third story balconies and dredgingnalis (open air sewage drainage ditches) for non-existant fish (as if existent fish would be a good reason to jump in a sewer) has been compromised by what I maintain is some Nepali-lite version of pertussis. It’s harder to catch kids red handed when your approach is preceded by a rhythmic whooping which has to sound something like a bobcat hacking up a habanero tainted hair ball from the deepest recesses of its lower intestine.

In other words, I have a bad cough.

I also have a big success story to share regarding my after school reading class. Watch out, because my vestigial “Teacher Lisa” half is about to emerge…. Today my students, who 3 weeks ago knew no more about reading than the name of the letters of the alphabet, today sounded a word for me that contained not one, not two, but three sounds! If you’re a reading teacher you know this is a big deal. Blending phonemes is tough, and in a second language full of sounds that don’t exist in your native language it’s even more difficult. As they pronounced each sound I wrote it on the board, and had to take a second before turning around to congratulate them, because I just couldn’t believe that I was witnessing this lightbulb moment. My emotions were getting the better of me. These students are learning to read and they will take this skill with them forever. It’s profound and humbling to be a part of such an arrival of self sufficiency and import. These amazing kids also answered comprehension questions which I translated into Nepali!

I can say things like, “Is /c/ a sound or a letter name?” And, “Which sound is this vowel saying?” Everyday I can pick out more words as Maggie speaks with the kids, although all my native Nepali aunties and uncles speak too quickly and with too much of an accent for me to catch much. Whenever I try to string together a Nepali sentence or two they laugh, but I am not sure if it is out of delight at my effort, or derision at my butchery.

That’s it from this side of the world today. Make the best of your time because you can’t take it with you!

Photo by Karen Watson

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Kelly, Christina, and Hannah have been working for the past two weeks on a school wide fine arts performance that will happen this Friday on our new school stage!!!

Fourth grade’s contribution is a puppet show interpretation of The Little Red Hen. The class has been working for about 5 class periods on their puppets and today we voted on which ones will be in the show. Here are the contestants. Aren’t they awesome? I love how colorful they all are.

Best –


Geography as fate

The Kopila gang of volunteers decided to have banana pancakes in honor of 4th of July yesterday. What do pancakes have to do with America’s release from British colonial rule? Not a lot, but pancakes taste good and they’re better with bananas, which happen to be particularly delicious here.

So we were in the market with Shova, our trusty 6th grade guide, looking for a dairy store. While walking past the cafe that we frequent for cold water and half melted ice cream bars, we ran into Saurab, a boy from our kindergarten class. He was on his way home from school, but I didn’t see his grandmother anywhere. She brings him to school each morning because he has a broken arm. He broke it about 6 weeks ago and it was set as best his family could with a “village” cast – a mixture of mud and sticks. Unfortunately as it healed he lost mobility in his arm and feeling in three fingers. By the time school started his fingertips had turned black. Three weeks later we are still waiting for the “non-urgent” surgery to repair his arm and fingers to be scheduled.

Saurab comes in everyday as much as two hours early and sits in the office readying Tell Me About books and pointing at the pictures saying “look, shark!” and “look, plane!” He doesn’t cry when kids bump his arm, or Dr. Frank rotates his shoulder to check for damage. He is so happy to be in school that his inability to write with a broken arm doesn’t matter.

So there we are in the market, and I here this tiny voice behind me say “Lisa Madam!” And there he is, negotiating cows, motor bikes, and open sewage with an overstuffed backpack pulling on his broken arm. Shova asked in Nepali if the arm was hurting him and without his smile skipping a beat he answered “yes.” In my head all I heard was – ‘alright that’s it! Enough already. Not this kid. He deserves better.’ So I marched into the cafe, rooted around in the fridge for the coldest water they had, threw Saurab’s backpack over my own bag, and told Christina, Kelly, and Shova that I would see them back at the house. I was going for a walk. Today, at least, would be different.

We walked for about 3 miles before reaching Saurab’s house. As we walked hand in hand toward the hills where thousands more people live without electric lines or running water, Saurab would look up at me as if to make sure I wasn’t getting tired or bored, as if to make sure I wasn’t about to say, “Sorry, this is too far – I’ll see you tomorrow though”. As I would smile down at him a huge grin would flash across his face and his hand would squeeze mine, and with a quickened pace we would continue up into the hills. We took breaks to drink cold water, and he rattled on in broken English about trucks carrying lumber and goats grazing in fields around us.

His house is a mud hut, with 5 foot ceilings. He lives with his mother, grandmother, and two siblings. He’s lucky. His family cares about him and he has two guardians. He’s fed at home and his older brother helps him with his homework. The last time he went to the hospital for his operation his grandmother waited with him for 4 days before they were told that the surgeon had gone to Kathmandu. They want to help him get better, and they have the foresight to see that school is his only chance at a safer, healthier, more comfortable life.

I wanted to tell this story because it’s a happy one. His arm will, hopefully, heal correctly after surgery. He has a school to go to where he’s guaranteed a big healthy lunch and he won’t be slapped for not knowing an answer. His family sees him as a person, not just another obligation. But it was still frustrating. Frustrating to see him hurting.

I wanted to tell this story because every success here sheds light on more things we have to improve.

Like Hannah and I admiring the mural she’s painted outside the house gate, as a 9 year old boy dug through our trash pit, throwing bits of plastic and cardboard into an empty rice sack on his back. But that’s another story.

Green Beans

It’s been one fantastic week! I feel very at home and at ease here. I’ve been working on organizing all the children’s books here at the house, so that the kids are reading things appropriate for their skill level. I’m also compiling/helping to write entrance exams for the 40 seats we are filling on merit. Am I in over my head? A little, but we live and learn right?

The next big hurdle will be developing the year’s curriculum standards with Maggie. She’s bought textbooks but there’s no such thing as a “Teacher’s Edition” here, so we have our work cut out for us. Once we have the yearly plans/goals made, we’ll start drilling down to weekly plans with the teachers. Weekly and monthly lesson plans are a new concept for them but I’m confident in their enthusiasm and talent.

I’m having a hard time finding words to explain how excited and grateful I am to be part of something that – forgive my audacity – will be life changing for the kids here at Kopila and in the Surkhet region. Limitless possibilities are something we take for granted in developed countries. We can tell these kids that they can be anything they want to because of Maggie and the Kopila Valley staff. Because of Do Something! and all the donors and volunteers that make this project happen, we can give the greatest gift we have to give – education.

It’s in everyone’s power to teach and to share. What kind of world would we have if we took a moment each day to share something with someone – a story we heard on NPR, an interesting article from the Dallas Morning News, or a factoid from your desk calendar. Today, share a recipe, share a joke, share some lunch and talk about what interests you. You can’t imagine how bright a light a tiny spark can become. : )

Angali, Rupa, Goma (birthday girl!), and Nisha - dreaming and wishing big!

PS – Green beans – I got off track. I’ve had a little head cold and have been sneezing up a storm. Yesterday at lunch Kassoum gave us the most delicious green beans, fresh, crunchy, and buttery to boot. I think they did just the trick. I feel ten times better already.

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