In a mountain village three days drive from Kathmandu, Nepal, hundreds of boys and girls and a dozen teachers pile into three school buildings every morning.
Less than three years ago, prospects of a quality education for these Nepalese kids were as remote as the village. But dogged, determined fundraising by a Belmont secondary teacher has left a legacy at the roof of the world.
After a Himalayan trek in 2005, Troy Harris, a physical education and leadership teacher at Belmont, spearheaded the effort to build a school – any school – in the village of Sanitar, population 1,000.
Harris founded the Canadian World Education Society (CanWES), and four years later the Everest English School has 17 classrooms in a three-building campus, employing a staff of 14. The third building was opened just a few months ago, giving the village education from nursery to Grade 12.
“No one has to leave the village for a quality education, or leave to get trained teachers,” Harris said. “If the kids have to walk an hour each way to school, they can’t do their chores, so parents will say its not an option to go to school. Now it’s a 10 minute walk.”
Harris, fellow teacher Kevin Harrington, and 10 Belmont students plan to travel to Sanitar in December for three weeks. Harris will get to check up on the results of CanWES fundraising. The students will help teach conversational English to their Nepalese counterparts.
“It will be an experience of a lifetime for these kids, as it was for me when I went years ago,” Harris said. “I want them to see how lucky they are to live in the world we live in, and that they can make a difference in the world. It’s a tough concept to grasp at their age.”
The Belmont students will also get a first hand look at a traditional society that was extremely reluctant to allow girls to receive an education. When Harris opened his first school building, it was a fight to get girls in the classroom. Now he wants to start getting special needs kids into school.
“Giving opportunities to women allows society to improve. It wasn’t easy, but that became a focus for me,” Harris said. “I wanted to educate girls and encourage education for girls.”
Grayson Kerr and Marie Schamhart learned about the Everest school two years ago in Harris’s Grade 10 social studies class.
“Just seeing the videos of the kids, it seemed like a really good thing,” said Schamhart, 17. “I’ve been working all summer to save for this.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing something different,” Kerr said. “We’ll get to see what life is like if we lived there.”
It’s not a Sooke School District sanctioned trip, but Harris said the district supports the goals of the CanWES society, which as a volunteer board of Belmont grads and past and current teachers.
Harris plans to focus funds on improving the school’s infrastructure and to buy a few computers. The village is unlikely to get the Internet, but being familiar with what a computer is will help those students who go on to university in Kathmandu.
Fundraising for the school project is relentless – CanWES must come up with about $9,000 every three months to pay teacher salaries. On top of that, the third and largest building came in at about $25,000, a drop in the bucket for construction in Canada, but plenty for the small volunteer group.
“The school would dissolve if the society was not there. The entire school relies solely on CanWES,” Harris said. “I’m lucky I’ve had the support of family and friends, and great connections.”
For more see www.canwes.org.