By Laura Sandall
The Sankhu-Palubari Community School was a very special place for Laura Sandall’s older sister Emily. A young woman with tremendous spirit and energy, Emily raised money for the school when she herself was still in high school. A few years later, she seized the opportunity to live in the Sankhu-Palubari community and volunteer at the school for several months. Emily died, unexpectedly and far too young, in a hiking accident in November 2006. The Sandall family decided shortly thereafter that they would honor Emily’s legacy by continuing to share her passion for education of the most disadvantaged children. They created the Emily Sandall Foundation, because, as their foundation’s website says, “In the midst of tragedy comes opportunity”. The Emily Sandall Foundation has supported The Advocates’ school in Nepal for more than five years, along with many other educational projects that Emily would have loved. Laura Sandall and her mother, Becky Sandall, were able to visit (and make their own unique contributions to) the Sankhu-Palubari Community School for the first time in September 2012 as volunteers on The Advocates’ team. Here, in our first guest post on The Advocates Post, Laura shares her thoughts about the Sankhu-Palubari Community School. ~ Jennifer Prestholdt
I wasn’t sure how I would feel pulling up to the Sankhu-Palubari Community School for the first time. Emily had loved the school dearly since she was in high school, raising money on her own to support the kids in Sankhu. She would carry around a milk carton during high school and collect change and send it off to the school. She even helped me do a presentation at my own middle school and we raised a hundred dollars. She was so passionate about these kids’ education.
Sankhu is a very poor village located outside of Kathmandu, Nepal. The Sankhu school began in 1999 when a group in Minnesota wanted to give these kids a chance at a great education Luckily, my mom and I were able to visit the school with this group from Minnesota, The Advocates for Human Rights. They are a group of very intelligent, very passionate people who have worked so hard to support this school and with the help of a local Nepali organization called Educate the Children, they have all been able to make this school very successful and to be able to give children an amazing education.
The kids that enroll in Sankhu are at a very low caste, their parents are mostly farmers and most of their parents cannot read or write. The children, due to their families’ low income, would normally be doing labor if it weren’t for this school. Many of them were child laborers before this school was started. Now, the Sankhu-Palubari Community School enrolls over 300 students, ranging from nursery to 10th grade. These kids who would have been working in a farm or making bricks now can read and write and have a chance to get a great education.
I knew all of this before visiting the school but I wasn’t prepared for the emotions of actually seeing it. I was able to meet the children in all of the different grades, meet their teachers, meet the headmaster of the school and see all of the classrooms. I was able to interview over 15 students and ask them detailed questions about their families and about what this school means to them. I was even able to lead a nutrition class for the 7th and 8th graders and teach them about the importance of eating well. I also lead a few classes on reading.
I felt closer to Emily the past week then I have in many years. Seeing the kids and having them tell me firsthand how this school has changed their lives and how grateful they are to have our support meant the absolute world to me. These kids are special. Some of them walk over 2 hours a day each way to come to class and many of them work before and after school to help their parents with their farms and with housework. They are incredibly dedicated children in their studies and with their families.
Although the children in this school are the poorest of the poor in this village, they have done extremely well in school and 100% of the 10th grade students passed the SLC exam, which far exceeds most of the other schools in the surrounding area and Kathmandu. They are all so happy to be getting an education. And to hear one of the students tell me that if it wasn’t for the school, he would be making bricks and not be able to read or write is very moving and shows how important education is to these children.
I love this school and I love these kids. And even after ten years since Emily lived in Nepal and volunteered at the school, her presence there is still very strong. Many of the older kids remember Emily and told us she was their favorite teacher. One of the teachers who still works there was one of Emily’s close friends and had the children in her class sing us Emily’s favorite Nepali song. And the headmaster of the school called Emily his best friend and reminisced about her dancing and singing and her passion for helping disadvantaged youth. It’s amazing how she touched so many people and after all these years, she is still remembered so fondly and so loved by so many people at the school.
She continues to awe me in her love for life and her love for people and her love for helping others. I am still so proud of what Em did in her short life and I also am so proud to be a part of the Sankhu school. The kids were so polite, so willing to learn, so excited about their education and their futures. To know that if it wasn’t for this school, they would be child laborers and would have completely different futures. To see the graduates of the 10th grade continuing on in their education, wanting to be doctors or teachers, and applying to universities. Many of the students said that after graduating university, they would want to come back to their village and help the people in need.
I know Emily was there with us as we sang with the kids, asked them questions, and as I taught my own classes to the 7th and 8th graders. I know that she would be so happy that we saw the school that was a catalyst for her passion of helping child laborers. Even though she is gone, Em is still challenging me to see new places and to help others in need and for that I will always be grateful.