By Progressive Education
After Watching the Film ‘Lion’ he decided to Build School in Nepal with $4,000.
This is a story of how watching the film ‘Lion’ and one Facebook message changed one man’s life forever and potentially the education system of an entire country.
My name is Gavin McCormack. I’m a Montessori teacher at Inner Sydney Montessori School, an author of several picture books teaching important life lessons for primary aged children and now the man who is attempting to change the education system in the whole of Nepal. Here’s how it all started.
10 weeks ago I went to the movies to watch the film ‘Lion’. I left in tears wanting to make a change in the world but not knowing how. The next morning as I sat in a cafe in Sydney drinking a flat white and reading the newspaper. My usual Saturday morning. “Ping” a message appeared in my inbox from an unknown recipient! Ananda Devkota’, I remember thinking, oh no I hope this isn’t a scammer. My instinct told me to open it, and it was a man from Kathmandu who was running a Montessori training centre asking for some advice.
I replied, and after several days and some conversations we became friends. We discussed Maria Montessori’s vision for self directed education and her dream for world peace. He invited me to visit his training centre to give some training to his staff on classroom management and producing simple teaching materials. I asked my boss Dr William McKeith (am), and once he approved it, it was time to start planning.
So off I went. In my school holidays I decided to book a flight into the unknown and see what happened. And it was at that point that my whole life changed. One simple message was to change my life forever and I would never look back from this moment. Kathmandu is a magical place where the mountains surround this bustling dusty city.
I arrived at his training centre. A small alleyway in the busy polluted streets of Kathmandu. Dogs sleeping in the road, cows blocking the traffic. Through the dust and the smog lay a small room on the top floor of a semi demolished building where miracles were taking place. Literally miracles were happening. And it was this room that was to open my eyes to the difference between the developed and the undeveloped world.
In this room, no bigger than the average living room, 100 women would gather each day to train to be teachers. They would cram inside the 40 degree room each and every day. Making materials, learning teaching techniques and hoping to qualify as a teacher so they could find a job which would enable them to earn a mere 150 dollars per month.
I embarked on a month’s work in the centre, giving lessons on teaching techniques, material making and classroom management but it was soon apparent that these women had very little. This was their lifeline to freedom, but when I was invited to visit a small village on the Indian border, my eyes couldn’t have been any wider.
After being taken around the village by the children who lived there I was invited on a tour of several schools in the Newalperassi district of Nepal. One hot summers day, I wandered into a preschool that looked like a prison cell. The walls were dirty, the carpet old and dusty and it was no place for any kind of education to take place. Inside, two teachers taught 20 children with only 1 book, 1 pen and nothing else. It broke my heart to see this and as I left, I put my hand on the teacher’s shoulder and said, “In seven weeks in my next school holidays, I’ll be back and I’m going to fix this place up for you!”
The state of the room had a profound effect on me and it caused to me consider the education system in the entire country. I decided to take on the challenge but for two reasons. The first was obviously to help the village and the future generations that would be educated there, but the second was to create the first true Montessori classroom that could act as a beacon for other teachers around the country to visit.
They could see how dynamic a true Montessori classroom is capable of being, and how by using the true Montessori method, the future generations of Nepal could be innovators and developers that would help Nepal improve its educational standards.
So, as soon as I got back to Australia, it was time to start fundraising. I only had seven weeks, so it was time to get my granny dress out and run the Sydney marathon, asking my friends for sponsorship. Having only been home from Nepal a few days, I wasn’t expecting much but the money came flooding in from all over the world.
Even my local cafe vowed to give 20c from each coffee sold. Hans the owner at Qube on Bay, in Glebe donated over 1500 dollars alone, and this was simply amazing. I was getting the money to do the job, but in Kathmandu teaching materials are hard to come by and this was going to be a problem.
Working as a Montessori teacher, I reached out to my school community for help. I was astounded by the feedback and support. Children at my school had soup kitchens to raise money, they made teaching materials in class and teachers donated their old equipment to me. I felt so lucky to be working at Inner Sydney Montessori School.
Maria Montessori always spoke of giving back and promoted a global approach to education targeted especially at the poor, and my school community were clearly in line with this.
After 7 weeks of hardcore fundraising and very kind gifts, I had almost 7000 dollars and 100kg of teaching materials. It was time to get back to Kathmandu and fix up that little school.
But with Nepal being Nepal, things were not going to be that easy. After 15 hours flight, I arrived in Kathmandu late on a Sunday night only to find my luggage was lost, the luggage containing the teaching materials. What a nightmare! With my luggage lost I was feeling a little disheartened but that was soon replaced with happiness when I walked out of the airport to find Anand Devkota and two of my trainee teachers waiting to greet me. I felt so privileged to have such a group of friends a world away from my home. They told me that they were coming with me to renovate the school and I couldn’t have been happier. We called ourselves “The Dream Team” Myself, Ananda, Zuno, pteety and Sandhya.
After a good night’s sleep, there was no time to hang around, I had shelves to buy, books and teaching materials to source locally, so it was time to go shopping and hope and pray that my luggage was found. After 48 hours of shopping for various goods, paints, shelves, merry-go-rounds, school bags etc, I received a call from the airport that my bags had been found in China and were on their way! Hoorah!
Just as we were about to set off, a landslide blocked all roads and floods were causing havoc. We decided it was best if we hired a jeep, got a local to go broken arrow and deliver the goods while we flew down. His journey would be around 16 hours whilst ours was literally 16 minutes. That’s just Nepali roads for you.
We finally arrived all goods in hand, and with three days until the grand opening, it was time to get to work. We had some tea, are Dal Baht and got our paintbrushes ready.
Now the school is functioning beautifully. It’s only been a week but the teachers there send me regular updates. Every picture melts my heart. And each and every person who made this happen should be very proud of themselves.
People all over the country are now talking about this teaching environment and are planning to visit it. We have already been inundated with requests for help from other centres around the country and are currently fundraising and looking for our next project. If you know someone please let me know!