Khim Kandel began his schooling in Nepal at the age of four. Like many students in rural areas, Kandel’s educational challenges started with his walk to school.
“The school was quite far away,” he said, “so I had to walk one and a half hours uphill, barefoot. We didn’t have shoes – shoes were a very posh thing in the villages in those days.” The village school had no books or stationary, no benches or desks, no cafeteria or lunches, and no doors or windows. Students had never seen textbooks and had no idea what a library was. Up until the third grade, Kandel sat on a mud floor. During monsoons, when rain would pour for weeks at a time, the school building would flood and students, most of whom could not afford umbrellas, tried to shield themselves with banana leaves. In the winter, they would freeze. And at the end of the day, hungry children would run downhill to find food.
Often, the teachers would not even show up for class. When they did come, they carried large sticks in order to beat the students. “Teachers were expected to beat,” Kandel said. “So I have memories of severe beating by the teacher. Even a simple thing you do, they would beat you.”
Today, as the director of a teacher-training program called Education Quality Improvement Program (EQUIP), Kandel is working to change the conditions in Nepal’s schools. The program offers strategic and subject-based training for teachers, attempts to make education less fearful and more child-focused, and provides general support, such as small sponsored libraries.
EQUIP began its work in the town of Thansen. Their strategy was to sit down with the teachers, ask them their problems, and help them find a solution on their own, rather than tell them what to do. “It’s a mutual respect and learning from each other,” Kandel said.
The first few years were difficult because the teachers were not very open to new ideas, especially when it came to discipline. They could not be convinced to stop beating their students. “The thing we really encouraged from the beginning was love is the key, because that was our vision, to be living witnesses of Christ’s love,” Kandel said. “Trying to teach them love was very difficult. They could not believe that they could teach without fear.”
EQUIP gave the teachers different strategies for disciplining and managing their classes without beating, but it has taken awhile for this idea to set in. Now, after five years of working in Thansen, Kandel believes the teachers finally understand that they should not beat the children. Teachers are engaging and caring for students.
Kandel is pleased with the change in the schools EQUIP has helped, as he remembers his difficult time as a student. When Kandel was in the fifth grade, he was unable to pay five rupees (now about $.05 US) to go on a school field trip to Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. He was so upset, he cried all day.
“Now, when I look back on my life, I was the little village boy who missed out on this trip because we didn’t have five rupees,” he said. “And over the last 10 years, God has given me the opportunity to travel around the world, to share about God’s goodness in my life. Even today, when I am getting into the plane, this story – the village boy without five rupees missing his school trip – just comes so vividly. It comes as if it was yesterday. And so my real passion now is: How can I help? Still, in Nepal, there are thousands of children who don’t have those five rupees.”
EQUIP has started a scholarship to help these children. This year, 40 Nepalese children benefitted from this scholarship. Kandel hopes to raise enough money next year for 80, 100, and maybe even 200 children.
“It just gives me a joy to bring this opportunity to these children,” Kandel said. “God has brought such wonderful people to my life; people have invested in my life so much. God has blessed me. I want to share those blessings to others. EQUIP has been a great platform for me to do so.”
-Written by Megan Darreth
-Photography by Robert Johnson