Food, Flowers, and Friends
NCEP’s First Annual Picnic
Kathmandu, March 25, 2012
By Lorna Thomas
I’m a member of the NCEP-Edmonton team and I’ve been in Nepal as a tourist for several weeks now. For the past ten days I have been staying at the home of NCEP Co-Founder Raju Tuladhar, doing various volunteer tasks with/for NCEP. One of these tasks has been to videotape some of our students. Another major undertaking has been to help organize our first annual NCEP Picnic for NCEP students, teachers and family members. It is to be held at Raju’s house as well as in the open area of an adjacent lot. We are expecting 35+ people!
In the morning Rupa, an NCEP student, helps me to tidy the living room. We move bags and bags of wool (which Raju uses when doing his photo-realistic tapestries) into an adjacent room. The two of us then walk to a nearby shop with Raju, his girlfriend Gita and his friend Murari, to rent plates, cutlery and glasses for our party.
Our next main task is to ‘round up’ all the students who have confirmed they will attend. Raju and Gita take a taxi to try to pick up Manisha, one of our NCEP students who has been going through a difficult time and could use a day of fun. NCEP Board member Bonnie Sharplin, who has recently arrived from Canada, helps to greet the guests.
The first student to arrive is Sumitra from the Kala Guthi. She is dressed up in a sari, and seems shy and reserved. Soon, though, she relaxes as she and Rupa try out the new badminton set. Three students from Durbar School (Pawan, Lalita, and Raj ) arrive and we take them up to the deck of the newly completed third level of Raju’s house, where they begin a game of chess, using the set that Pawan’s Field Volunteer, Sameer, had gifted him. Sisters Sarita and Aayushma are the next to arrive with their brother Sajan and mother Maya, and these two charming girls settle down with their little brother to draw pictures of Nepali flags, butterflies and trees with the crayons and paper we’ve provided.
I ask the students from Durbar School to come with me to the Banisthali Chowk, a busy thoroughfare that is our ‘meeting point’ for students who are arriving by mini-bus. We have arranged to meet there so we can escort them back to Raju’s house. To identify ourselves we take along a hastily made NCEP sign and hold it up. Scholars Mina and Reshma, and their mother Asha, spot us and the Durbar students take them back to Raju’s while I wait for other guests. Next to arrive at the busy Banisthali thoroughfare, bustling with Bedford trucks, motorcycles, pedestrians, cows, and mini-buses, are students Bipana, Sapana, their two brothers, Aawaz and Krishna, and mother Maya, who have traveled in a crowded mini-bus for an hour or more to reach us.
Next to arrive is our program co-ordinator Roshan Bhatta. He is joined by a new NCEP Team Member, Sijan, and two of our Field Volunteers. Back at Raju’s house, Bonnie is on the deck teaching Sudeep to play Chinese checkers as Sudeep’s mother, Bhagawaati, watches. The kitchen is bustling as Raju’s mother and two helpers, including Sarita’s mother Maya, help to prepare hearty plates of snacks (potato curry, peanut salsa, and cyura (beaten rice). Everyone gathers in the living room for this delicious meal as two more guests arrive: Purmila, a teacher from Durbar School, along with retired teacher Pushpa, who was a favorite of student Rupa.
After lunch we invite everyone to gather outside for co-operative games, beginning with ‘Group According To.” This simple game has people shift into small groups according to the colour of the top they are wearing, their age group, and the school they attend. This is a great way to get the students to relax and begin meeting one another. The next game is “Water Balloon Toss”, a favorite game we play in Edmonton on Canada Day. Children and adults alike gather in small groups of 6 and stand in a tight circle. They are given a water balloon and pass it gently from person to person….passing it once around the circle, they then step back and toss the balloon to each other….until the circle gets wider and wider and they are tossing the balloon to one another…and inevitably someone drops the balloon and are splashed with water. By this time all remaining nervousness or shyness has been replaced with laughter.
We ask everyone to gather together for a group photo. Raju then gives a short talk on NCEP. I thank the people who have helped NCEP over the past year, including NCEP Nepal Board members in attendance: Jeena, Roshan, Pushpa, Gita and Archana, and Raju’s friends Gita, Murari, and Bjen. Raju presents flowers to Bonnie and myself, along with the four mothers of NCEP scholars who are present. This presentation is followed by a short song performed by Raju’s mother, which honors the role of mothers.
Next, Ambika, our first NCEP student to graduate from Grade 10, shares how she has now completed the first of two years of higher secondary education. After Ambika’s motivational talk, each student is introduced by Raju and presented with a pencil case full of school supplies. Many of the supplies have been donated by Staples (and transported by my husband I from Edmonton), but also in the cases are toothbrushes donated by my niece Carrie Thomas, pencil sharpeners donated by Bonnie Sharplin, and NCEP bookmarks created by the NCEP Edmonton team. After these presentations conclude I thank Raju for all he has done for NCEP, and also thank (in their absence) the hard-working Canadian NCEP volunteers, especially Sandeep Kembhavi and Luke Yorkden-Chamberlain.
We move back into the living room for a wonderful hot meal of Nepali Thali (rice, dhal, several kinds of vegetable) and Indian sweets. Joining us for supper and conversation are Om Ratna Bajracharya, a cousin of Edmonton NCEP member Juhee Suwal, and teacher Manaka Shrestha, the Vice Principal at Shanti Nikunja Tika Mavi School.
The students from various schools and age groups chat, the mothers gather together to share common concerns, and the teachers from Durbar school consult with Ambika and her sister. After people have finished their meal, we set up a laptop computer and show everyone the NCEP website.
Bipana and her mother are in awe as they watch themselves in the short video that NCEP Toronto volunteer Shetu Modi and Sandeep have produced about Bipana’s story. The party ends with smiles, handshakes and Nepali words of thanks: “dhanyabaad.”
I believe the picnic has had an important outcome beyond providing a social outing for the students, parents, teachers and NCEP volunteers who were in attendance. I believe it helped us to see clearly that we are part of something…. part of the NCEP family. I hope that this sense of togetherness will be nurtured by similar gatherings in the future. Already Raju, Bonnie and I have begun talking about how our teenage Field Volunteers (who are partnered with our scholars) might organize a gathering at a park, perhaps in the autumn. I wish I could be there to help, but I’m back home now in Edmonton, happily reflecting on the opportunity I had to spend time with our NCEP family in Nepal.