BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Nestled between the northeast corner of India and under the southwest belly of China is Nepal, an elongated country with a rich history of labor, temples and rituals. But the educational process is generations behind what would be considered acceptable in western civilization.
So a retired Central Lee teacher has been taking strides to help bring a brighter education to children in that area of the world. Ernie Schiller made his 2nd trip to that part of Asia to bring some financial support and a few teaching tricks to those children and parents.
Schiller spent just about a month in a very remote village about an hour walk from Kathmandu, the country’s capital. He was, and continues to be, impressed by the culture and its simplicity.
“I went over for a little over 4 weeks. Basically, I was there in 2013 when the State Department contacted me about escorting five students over there as part of a study-abroad program,” Schiller said. “Most of the students were 16 and anyone that young has to be escorted.”
“It wasn’t a paid position, but they paid the airfare so I told my wife I was going to India. I just fell in love with the people…people who are the poorest but happiest people you will ever meet.”
Schiller said the average daily wage in that remote area highlighted by hills and mountains that are part of the Himalayan range, is about one U.S. dollar. The education process and teaching is done in English, but he said the teaching is done by Nepali instructors but the English isn’t the same as it here. The lessons are more traditional in that the models are based on memorization and the students are required to just reiterate what they’ve memorized. Schiller has tried to bring a more contemporary learning model to the students.
“While I was in one of the schools I saw that it was traditional learning, they memorize everything and just regurgitate it,” he said.
“I did hands on science – a lot of experimental things. For example, I took, I think it was, 20 lbs. of gummy bears. They would measure the candy and I took a spy glass along so they could see all the detail in magnification, Schiller said.
“We did a thing on osmosis and talked about the monsoon season, which is how they get their rice. I had little Dixie cups and they would put the gummy bears in the water and the next day they would come back and see what happened and we would talk about how the gummy bears grew. I took about 20 labs in all and we did some other stuff with germination of seeds. We even did an experiment where the students worked on getting a penny to float in water. That really excited them because they got a little money, too.”
He said getting to the schools was a chore in itself. Chores being the key word as the Nepali people work daylight to dusk side by side, women, men and children.
“They grew what they eat and they eat what they grew. At dusk they just go to bed because there isn’t anything else going on,” he said. “I’m just not used to sleeping 10 hours a day.”
He said he slept under the same roof as some of the livestock that the residents care for.
“There were water buffalo, cows, goats and chickens all under the same roof. You got a cold shower at best.” he said. “But these people live this way happily every day. These are very remote villages. I was in a four-wheel drive jeep for 10 hours to Kathmandu and then it was another 45-minute walk to the village where I was staying.”
The main staple for the Nepali people is rice, they also consume a lot of potatoes, corn and lentils, which are legumes that resemble dried split peas but aren’t as sweet.
“They’re vegetarian so they eat a lot of rice. “When I left they were planting potatoes for March and in March they’ll plant corn. They have rice every meal, and cucumber curry so they grow those all year around. The lentils are where they get their protein so they raise lentils, too.”
Schiller said the work ethic is off the charts even for the elderly.
“My host was 64 years old, her husband was over 100 they didn’t keep records he could have been 105 or 118 they didn’t know, but this lady would go out every morning and cut 50 lbs. of grass with a scythe and she would throw that on her back or on top of her head, depending on if she was carrying another 50 to 75 pounds of rice on her back. “I can’t even pick up 130 pounds let alone throw it on my back. These are phenomenal people who know how to work and were so happy.”
“The way they lived kind of reminded me of what my dad, who would have been 100 this year, would’ve talked to me about here. The only thing these people buy was coffee and tea,” Schiller said.
Schiller headed over on his most recent trip on the 20th of October and returned on Thanksgiving. He said the people were requesting that he come back on another visit and Schiller initially didn’t think he would make it back. But now he’s having second thoughts and his immediate goals are trying to raise funds to put 11 students through middle school and high school. The last time he went over he was able to donate about $7,000 to the schools and families to fund educational opportunities.
“The parents have to pay $250 a year to put each student in school and most can’t afford that, so I’m looking for 25 people to donate $125 each and that would pay for those kids to get through high school. So I’ve set up, working with people in Nepal, a GoFundMe site that will fund 11 of the most brightest and poorest kids I’ve ever met,” Schiller said.
The site to make donations is https://www.gofundme.com/2f2mgsek. Schiller said he’ll take a check, too.