Fionnuala Shenpen, Principal of Tsoknyi Gechak School, explains what the funds are needed for.
I truly rejoice in all your good fortune to be once again at Bruton with Rinpoche! It’s hard to believe another year has flown by already! And what a busy year it has been I am typing this from the office in our school building. Outside the senior school nuns are sitting on their cushions in the yard memorising. Today was the second day of the new school year. We are welcoming 36 new nuns 3 new lay teachers and hopefully 1 if not 2 new Tibetan Gen-la’s (see the photos below). Now we have 7 classes Lower Kindergarten, Upper Kindergarten and classes one to 5. When I pause to think it’s really quite amazing how much we have accomplished in just over a year. So firstly I want to thank you for all your support, encouragement, prayers and donations without which all this would not be possible.
From the beginning Rinpoche asked me to make a high standard modern school; to really give these girls the very best education we possibly could. A rather daunting task when your sitting in a prefab building with a group of girls ranging in ages from 5 to 18 many of whom have never attended full time school, with 3 young women who have never had any teacher training employed on a part-time basis. Every school has to start somewhere and to be truthful in Nepal just to have a classroom and a teacher is already incredible good fortune. A newspaper article I saw today stated there was still 70% illiteracy in Nepal. In one year we have moved from a prefab building to a beautiful new school building, from a few hours schooling a day to a full school day, a staff of 3 part-time lay teachers to now 8 full time lay-teachers and one part time. A lot has been accomplished but still so much remains to be done.
As all of you know the quality of any school really depends on the quality of its teachers. Until very recently there was no standard teaching qualification in Nepal. The idea of teacher training, or of lesson planning, or developing a child centred curriculum were all foreign concepts. Raising educational standards by training teachers has now been identified as a national need and there are many organisations; NGO’s and INGO’s, private schools and charities working in this area but to the forefront is Rato Bangala Foundation (RBF). Linked to the very high standard rather exclusive Rato Bangala School, RBF is dedicated to raising teaching standards all over Nepal. Working with Government schools in remote districts, developing child- friendly teaching materials, pioneering age appropriate reading programs RBF’s team of trainers have truly distinguished themselves. From the beginning Rinpoche has been particularly interested in the Rato Bangala School and wanted to model our school on theirs. Although it seemed a rather pretentious aspiration for a little Gompa school I went along to meet their outreach officer. It turns out the outreach officer though not Buddhist had visited our Gompa, had even been to Rinpoche’s teachings and once she figured out where I was from the door just opened. RBF, who so far only work with Government schools, were willing, were in fact delighted to send trainers to our school! However, there is one small snag, such help comes with a price tag. I am inundated with emails and messages asking what do the nuns need what can we send? Well here’s what the nuns need, what every school needs: well trained teachers. What we need above all else is money to pay teachers salaries and to pay for this wonderful teacher training opportunity.
Rinpoche has an amazing vision from each and every of his Nuns. It really blows my mind. For myself I just pray that every girl who comes through our gate can be benefited, benefited by meeting Rinpoche, benefited by meeting the dharma, benefitted by receiving a good education. If we can manage that I think we’re doing pretty good and everything else will follow naturally. And though I am often overwhelmed, I can’t help but think if we just trust, if we pull together, maybe it is possible to have a really high standard modern school in a traditional Gompa, to have a new educated generation of Nuns. I am willing to try my very best to get this happen but to do so I really need your help!
All my love and best wishes,