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Culture News

‘Bamboo schools’ bring hope to Nepalese

08/26/2009 10:34 – NEPAL-EDUCATION-SOCIETY – World News (ASI) – AFP

by Subel Bhandari

When Uttam Sanjel began giving reading classes to street children in the Nepalese capital in the 1990s, he had little idea what his small teaching scheme would one day turn into.
This month, the 35-year-old Kathmandu native who was once an aspiring Bollywood actor opened his tenth school in Nepal and revealed ambitious plans to provide affordable education for all children in the Himalayan nation.
Over the past nine years, Sanjel has built up a nationwide network of schools that offer an education for just 100 rupees (1.40 dollars) a month in one of the world's poorest countries.
They are built using only the cheapest materials – earning them the nickname "bamboo schools" – with funds donated by local businesspeople and charitable organisations.
"I want every child to benefit from my schools," Sanjel told after hosting a colourful opening ceremony for his latest addition in this village in western Nepal.
"No child should be left out of school because the family can't afford to pay for education.
"When the current political turmoil is over in Nepal, we will need educated people to build this country."
When Sanjel built his first school in 2001, Nepal was in the grip of a 10-year civil war between Maoist rebels and the army in which at least 13,000 people died.
The conflict ended in 2006, but political stability remains elusive and more than half the population still lives beneath the poverty line.
Nonetheless, education is highly prized and many families scrimp to send children to fee-paying schools that offer classes in English rather than to the Nepali-language government schools.
But a private education remains out of the reach of many in the Himalayan nation, where the average annual income is just 470 dollars.
Public education only began in Nepal in 1951, and adult literacy rates remain among the lowest in the region.
In 2005 – the latest year for which comparative data was available – only 48.6 percent of adults in Nepal were literate against 61 percent in India, 90.7 percent in Sri Lanka and 47 percent in Bangladesh, UN figures show.
Sanjel said he wanted to offer a better alternative to the free government schools in Nepal, calling the discrepancy between private and public schooling a major social injustice.
"There are two kinds of schooling. The public school students do not know how to speak in English even when they leave school. The private school students can send emails to their parents from grade two," he said.
"This is not how it should be. It is wrong because it will create two kinds of citizen."
 Bus driver Dol Raj Subedi is sending his eldest son to Sanjel's new school, and says he wishes he could have had the same opportunity as a child.
"Driving is hard work. I am not very well and my back hurts a lot," said the 37-year-old, who earns 150 rupees a day.
"If I was educated, if my parents had sent me to school, I think it would have been different.
"All I care about is good education for my children. This new system of education in my village has helped me to get that."
Sanjel has won awards in Nepal for his work in the education sector, but he admits he did not excel at school, and says he never considered teaching as a career option.
He spent seven years in Mumbai trying to realise his dream of becoming a Bollywood star before returning to Kathmandu where, finding himself at a loose end, he began teaching classes for street children.
"I thought only a couple would show up. But around 100 children took part and started learning enthusiastically. I was overwhelmed," Sanjel said.
The experience inspired him to start the first of his network of schools – called Samata, or Equality Schools, on the outskirts of Kathmandu with just 100 students.
Now, that school alone educates 3,500 pupils and in all, Sanjel has 18,000 children in his care.
"There were hardships along the way," he told. "At one point I hid inside a toilet cubicle for two hours because I did not have money to pay the construction contractors.
"I was not able to pay the teachers' salaries for three whole months and it was always difficult to pull together enough money to pay the staff. But if you are persistent, you will succeed."

Physical Theatre
‘Woyzeck’  – Portrayal of a bleak society
The Korean Sadari Movement Laboratory

“Woyzeck”, one of the most well-known plays written by German dramatist Georg Büchner, goes on stage October 2 and 3 at the Macau Cultural Centre, in a new dynamic theatre experience from South Korea by the Sadari Movement Laboratory.
Through movement, sensuality and poetry, Sadari Movement Laboratory’s performance was a sold-out hit at the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where it won a “Herald Angel Award” and “Total Theatre Award”.
The Sadari Movement Laboratory (SML) brings a constellation of object, body, movement and space that generates a new theatrical experience.
Their approach to “Woyzeck”, based on the true story of a soldier in Leipzig found guilty of having murdered his mistress in 1824, is poetic and sensual.
Georg Büchner (1818-1837) adapted the facts from the German soldier’s trial creating the world’s first expressionist drama.
Woyzeck struggles to support his family by performing menial jobs for the Captain and agreeing to take part in medical experiments. The tragic consequences of his increasing alienation and tormenting visions unfold in this shocking drama both for its content and its radically innovative episodic, hallucinogenic structure. Through this play, Büchner – who was then only 23 and already suffering from typhoid fever that ultimately led to his death – portrays a dark society in which the weak and oppressed are exploited by the stronger and those in power. A society in which violence begets violence, being as relevant then as it is today.
Georg Büchner left no complete manuscripts of Woyzeck, only four different drafts of incomplete fragments, no page numbers, with mixed up scenes. With no definite version and the first reliable version dating from 1976, the drama has been subject to various interpretations with multiple narratives and sequences allowing the creativeness of directors and cenographers.
That is one of the reasons why Woyzeck is considered an enigmatic masterpiece, and one of the most influential works of Modern Theatre.
In the Sadari Movement Laboratory performance, chairs are used as objects to depict the authority and the sense of oppression of Woyzeck.
“…When his own chair fragments into pieces and – like his life- will not come together [the performers] conjure up not just physical contexts but atmospheres and inner states”, as one of the reviews pointed out.
The music of the Argentinean composer Astor Piazolla boosts the breathtaking drama and Woyzeck is performed in Korean and surtitled in Chinese and English.
Besides this production SML is also involved in this year’s “Physically Speaking – Korean Exchange programme”, commissioned by CCM.

Tickets are priced at $14o with several discounts and are available from August 21 (Friday) at CCM box office and Kong Seng outlets. For further enquiries please visit or call (853) 2870 0699. Credit card ticketing hotline (853) 2840 0555.