Yesterday was my first visit to this primary and middle school for girls to present some material called “The Life Cycle of Plastic.” I had been in communication with the school since last October, planning and creating four different climate-related units.
There are about 120 young girls here, coming from all over Nepal as well as a few from Tibet. The school is entirely sponsored by the Tsoknyi Nepal Nuns Project, providing both secular and buddhist education. The school also includes an existing Gompa where adult nuns remain in practice. A modern shedra, or Buddhist University, has recently been completed for them. A large temple and a retreat center to house international students for three years at a time are all, by Nepali standards, under furious construction. When this complex is completed, and with the global support that Tsoknyi has inspired, it will become a prominent fixture in the spiritual infrastructure of Kathmandu.
Each of these first sessions was about 45 minutes, presented to a combination of two classes crowded into a single room, sitting on the floor watching the Power Point projection on a white board. The rooms were darkened by securing some of the deep burgundy monk robes over the sliding windows.
The students were interested and responsive to probing with questions about their knowledge and practices with plastic. This is the first time there has been any concerted effort to educate these young girls, ranging from kindergarten to age 15, about environmental issues. We are hoping that with some further discussion and participation from the older girls, that we can go further into more complex issues such as the climate impacts occurring now in Nepal and even further into a more technical conversation about basic climate science.
The Head of School at Tsoknyi Gechak Ling is Fionnuala Shenpen, an Irish teacher who has been in Nepal for quite a long time, a follower of Tsoknyi Rinpoche for more than 10 years and a bright, energetic presence at this school. She is determined to preside over the greening of this school and bringing a much deeper and comprehensive perspective about climate to as many students as possible.
With teachers providing virtually simultaneous translation and with Fionnuala intervening spontaneously, our presentation was a little awkward at first. Setting up the equipment and arranging for the best viewing, choosing moments to evoke more interaction, probing the students for comprehension, re-focusing attention repeatedly to the important material and connecting it all to their direct experience at school will all smooth out in time. Most of them had no idea where plastic comes from and they certainly had no idea where it goes after use. But they were engaged with the visuals and seemed to appreciate the entire process. Time will tell.
I also noted that I am probably one of a very few men who enters their world or has anything to do with their classroom activity. I look like an elder and was treated with shy deference. I hope that can relax a little bit on future visits.
We are beginning with the simplest, most accessible and easily transmitted material. We intend for this to be a bottom-up, inside-out experience for the students, looking for guidance from them as to how to proceed and enlisting the help of all the teachers in coordinating age-appropriate activities. We will attempt to arrive at some common understanding throughout the school, including the older nuns, and a semblance of a future plan to follow.