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Bringing education to rural Nepal

By Amy Lohmann '14
October 10, 2011

Nicholas Kang '12 helped Subhash Ghimire '10 establish a peace school in rural Nepal.

When Nicholas Kang '12 traveled to Nepal at the beginning of this year, he saw how challenging the process of building a school in a remote area of the country can be.

But when classes began this summer for 250 students, he also saw how rewarding it can be.

"It was an incredible experience, and I was able to do some incredible work," says Kang.

Kang's travels were part of his efforts to help Subhash Ghimire '10 start the Sarswati Peace School in the village of Arupokhari, Nepal. Fueled by the success of a summer camp he brought to the village in 2009 with the support of a Davis Projects for Peace grant, Ghimire asked Kang to help him establish a permanent school there.

The two began fundraising, marketing, and planning for the project out of their dorm rooms at St. Olaf College, investing countless hours and nearly two years into making their vision a reality.

The Sarswati Peace School was completed this April. Designed to accommodate children from the ages of 4 to 11, the school has received funding through several sponsors, including Epic Change, the Clinton Foundation, and Ania Lichota.

"The school has been developed to educate students well beyond Nepal's current national academic standards, which we believe are underperforming," says Kang, who served as the school's director of project development. "Our model doesn't only focus on academic excellence, but is designed to teach children the importance of morals, ethics, and tolerance in a post-war society."

Nicholas Kang '12 (left) speaks with a man whose two daughters now attend the Sarswati Peace School, shown under construction in the background.

The two Oles accomplish this goal by providing local children with opportunities to learn these lessons from well-qualified and creative teachers. They incorporate their lessons into art, music, drama, and sports in order to provide innovative and exciting ways for the children to learn.

Students must apply for admission, and special preference is given to families and children who have been directly affected by Nepal's decade-long civil war. Since many families in the area cannot afford the school's tuition, Ghimire and Kang established a local board of trustees that oversees the distribution of scholarships and financial aid packages. "Our model allows for over one-third of our attendees to attend free of charge and another one-third to pay less than 50 percent of the cost, with the final one-third paying full tuition," says Kang.

Although attempting to start a school in an area with limited access to supplies and insufficient technology was difficult at times, the two Oles chose to build it in Ghimire's home country because of the dire need there for innovative and alternative educational institutions.

"Families in the area can finally trust that their children are going to get a proper education in the village itself, rather than spending thousands of rupees a month for their children to attend private schools and live in Kathmandu," Kang says.

Part of Kang's responsibilities included developing handbooks, bylaws, procedures, and an organizational structure for the school to ensure it can continue to serve the community well into the future. For the most part, Kang and Ghimire turned the day-to-day operations of the school over to the staff they hired. "The school is now, more or less, self-sufficient," Kang says. "However, we are still looking at ways to improve it, including purchasing a water pump for running water and building a computer lab with Internet capabilities."

Kang is now focusing his efforts on the nonprofit organization he created in his native Canada — a group called the Smart Step Youth Association that aims to catalyze social change through youth inspiration, motivation, and engagement.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or