Welcoming the day with perhaps the coldest shower of my life was an unusual start, however, I would soon get used to no showers for several days. Plenty of us have been camping with family or friends or have had a petty plumbing problem or have been in some sort of rare situation where we have had no access to a shower, but at the end of it all we take it for granted and know that we have good and reliable access to hygiene, it is not the same for everyone. After an absolutely unmissable breakfast of omelettes and potatoes, the group was prepared for the 45-minute walk to the first school, the Shree Singha Devi Basic School. Leaving fairly early in the morning, we ascended a wide accessible path of the most brilliant orange and yellow sand, it was cloudy and the mountains were not visible so we were surrounded only by the banks of the path and the tall trees.
We reached the school and were greeted by a woman wearing the most stunning outfit of bursting red, she taught English and spoke it well, enabling her to become one of the bossiest people I have ever met, being kind at heart too made her quite the character. We had not yet spied the children and discovered why as we entered the gates. They were all lined up neatly in an orderly queue appearing understandably timid and shy, however, this was immediately broken after we ushered our only known word of the native language ‘Namaste’ as we bowed our heads and pressed together our palms, it was after this initiation of comfort that the hidden smiles were revealed and their own confidence grew as well as ours. A few of the older children came forward and eagerly spouted their knowledge of English, “Hello my name is… and I am in class… I live with my family…” to which we told them our own names, however, these clearly absurd English names were not understood and were met only with blank silence and a shy smile. These gestures were repeated until the line of children ran out and lastly, we were ‘initiated’ into the school with the gift of bright flowers which I wished could have been preserved forever and soft, lush red power was pressed firmly to our foreheads.
The children enthusiastically sang to us their beautiful national anthem, I think the majority of them were purely excited to have the morning free of lessons! After this performance, the atmosphere quickly relaxed and chatter broke out in the schoolyard. An idea that seemed superb at the time but quickly descended into chaos was introduced. Beanbags and parachutes. The variety of games ended up establishing itself as a riot. It became our designated job to launch the beanbags as high as possible into the air and the children, ranging from the ages of 5-13 would race and compete to catch them, you can imagine the carnage… This lasted an hour or so before the girls and boys divided themselves and we were taken aside to let the girls place delicate flowers in our hair, a classic image of worldwide girlhood. Universally, children really are all the same.
Myself and Gala, a friend from home who travelled with her own mother and us, were hauled back to maturity when asked if we wanted to stand in on the Women’s Health Workshop. I had been so absorbed in flowers that I had not noticed the steady arrival of about 130 women, roughly every woman from the local area, all dressed in a splendid array of hot colours creating a divine image which of course is their normal every day. News of the impending Coronavirus was only starting to become serious on our way back to England, it is only looking back now that I realise that here at home, the main message is to wash our hands, but in countries similar to Nepal, much of hygiene is an entirely bizarre concept. The room was packed with stunning women ranging from newborns to hilariously funny grandmothers and each and every one of them was greatly intrigued by hand washing. As well as teaching the importance of hygiene, key areas of sexual education were taught, the elder ladies could not contain their laughter over certain diagrams, and also basic areas of self-defence. The main aim of the workshop, perfectly delivered by an educator associated with the charity, ‘Days For Girls’ was to educate and inform about hygiene but particularly topics surrounding menstruation. ‘In Your Hands’ uses some of the money donated to provide as many women as possible with reusable sanitary products, these bags were handed out after the workshop to many grateful women.
Later we said our goodbyes and wandered back to the Sukute Resort, the sun had appeared and the clouds had dispersed allowing the heat to radiate through. The cold showers were now acceptable and soon everyone was quickly changed and ready for snacks - today’s consisted of deep-fried cauliflower and popcorn… delicious. The Shree Singha Devi Basic School is the most recent to join the ‘In Your Hands’ roster and the least isolated, the school was adopted by the charity after a former organisation pulled out. We went to bed happy and content with the first day of charitable work and prepared ourselves for the next day where the harder work truly began.