Friday, 27th Sept 2013
The next day, we began our programme in earnest. The morning started with the painting of the world map mural. This eventually became our daily morning activity as we were usually up before school started. Gradually the students started trickling in to school. It was time for the morning parade. Every morning, before lessons started, the students would brush their teeth, wash their face and do their morning exercise.
Today would be slightly different as Naia and I would be teaching them how to wash their hands properly. Hand-washing may sound like something very basic but it helps a lot in preventing the spread of germs and to maintain good hygiene.
It was such a joy teaching them how to wash their hands as they were all so earnest in learning it properly. They were adorable to watch with faces scrunched up in concentration trying to remember the steps in order and to follow our instructions. After their wash-up, they assembled in front of their training ground for their morning exercise. Today’s morning exercise was led by one of the older students, Lila.
The volunteers of course had to join in together with them in their exercise. I have no doubt that the children must have found us extremely amusing as we tried our best to follow them in their exercise. But it was great fun and totally invigorating. Their exercises were interesting to say the least since it involved facial exercises as well.
After their morning exercise, while they were all still gathered there, we brought out the green bean soup that Mei lovingly made for them. Our intention was for them to drink the green bean soup and explain to them that they would be growing the very seeds they were drinking.
The children had no spoons to drink the soup with and so most of them were just trying very hard to push the beans into their mouth by knocking on the cups repeatedly. For the older children, that was something easily achieved but for the younger ones, many of them had difficulties. Yet, all of them tried, simply because they wanted to show their appreciation for the soup that was made for them. It humbled me to realise that a simple thing like green bean soup could bring such joy and excitement to the children.
After the morning parade and the green bean soup, it was finally time for lessons to start. We too started our programme of getting to know them better. We split up into pairs and took a small group of children per pair. We started off with the students from class 3. Our task was simple. All we had to do was to interact with our small group and then plant their seeds together with them. The children in class 3 were generally less shy and interactive. They played games with us and could understand simple english. The children in class 1 and 2 were more shy, especially those from class 1. They were also generally younger and sometimes had difficulty understanding us.
Because most of us realised that interacting in small groups with the children from class 1 might be challenging, we decided to play a mass game where everyone could have fun. So we improvised and came up with the all time favourite of musical chairs – without the chairs. While we were busy planting green beans, the other helpers were at the courtyard drawing circles on the ground to act as chairs. There was a palpable air of excitement as the children gathered around. The music started and off we went!
All the volunteers and the children had so much fun dancing to the music and listening to the laughter of the children as they ran around looking for spots. Of course, all the children were winners as the volunteers one by one dropped out of the game. The game certainly achieved its purpose in breaking the ice.
So after all the fun and games, it was time for observation and the rest of the day was spent observing how classes were conducted on a daily basis. After the children were dismissed, the rest of the volunteers helped out with the painting of the world map while Naia and I went through our programme for the next day.
In the evening, we went for house visits! Furba had arranged for us to visit some of the villagers homes for us to get an idea of how their lives are like.
The interior of the house is pretty dark as it was nearing sunset. They also do not have living rooms and bedrooms. It is just one big room with the kitchen implements at the side and the sleeping area at another. The corn that they served us was very dry and tasted quite different from the corn that we are used to eating. It was certainly a novel experience for me.
Next, we visited Mingma’s home.
The last home for us to visit was Dawa’s home. Dawa is the man who donated the land for the school to be built on. He has three daughters in the school as well.
Saturday, 28th sept 2013
The day started off bright and sunny and promised good weather. This was certainly something that I was hoping for as the first aid session was going to be conducted outdoors. The session was supposed to start at 10am but I was warned by Furba that people might not actually start arriving until 10am as some of them would have to walk up to an hour and a half just to get to the school. Nevertheless, we started setting up the place.
At around 10am, the villagers started trickling in together with the students. The students were of course in their home attire. Before long, there was a gathering of villagers outside as they waited for the session to start. While waiting, the volunteers started taking photos.
It was really fun taking photos with the villagers while waiting for others to arrive. At around 11am, a sizable crowd had arrived and we began our first aid session. The plan was to teach the villagers some very basic first aid measures. Living in the mountains, the villagers had little or no access to proper healthcare facilities. As such, we hoped that by teaching them some basic first aid, it would help them in any future emergencies.
With Furba acting as my translator, I taught them about wound care, diarrhoea, sprains, the Hemlich maneuver and the position of safety. The turnout was far better than I expected and all the benches were packed and some of the villagers had to stand at the sides as there were no more seats. Some of the families came in full force from the youngest infant to the oldest grandparent.
The villagers all participated actively in the session amidst much laughter. Most of what I was teaching them was completely foreign to them yet they participated enthusiastically and were vocal in their questions as well as in volunteering to demonstrate.
After the first aid session, it was time for the villagers to see the doctor. I have to clarify that I am technically not a doctor yet although I have completed my studies. However, the plan was to check their blood pressure and a general health screen for the adults. For the children, their height to be taken and to check their spine for those old enough.
While I was inside the room with Naia, listening to the complaints of the patients, the other volunteers were outside helping with various activities. A few of them were helping me to take the height and pulse rate of the villagers. Lester was doing some crowd control. Alynn was helping to take polaroids of the families. It was our plan to take polaroid photos of every family as a gift to them.
For myself, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of villagers who wanted to see me. The moment they entered the room, every health issue that they ever had was told to me and what was supposed to be a quick 5-10 minute consultation turned into a long consultation involving a lot more examination than I anticipated. To say I was exhausted was an understatement. Yet I had to keep going because a lot of them travelled a distance just for today and many of them brought tokens of appreciation with them. What made things worse was that it started to rain and everyone, including the volunteers were caught offguard and had to scramble to find shelter for the villagers.
As inadequate as I felt at that moment, I knew that I just had to do my best. I’m not sure if my best would be enough but I just had to try. Many of them wanted medicines but I refused to give them medicine as I didn’t want them to become dependent on medicines and what we had was limited as well. I spent most of the time reassuring them and giving them some basic health advice. In the end, I simply could not finish seeing all of them and many of them were asked to return the next day.
As the day wound down, I was mentally and physically exhausted. I also felt way out of my depth and a part of me was afraid. I was afraid that what I could do would not be enough. But some of the volunteers told me that I just had to do my best. The sunset that day was beautiful.
As I stood there looking at the sunset, I knew that my work here was only just beginning and I was thankful for this opportunity. It was certainly a hectic day but also an extremely fulfilling one!