Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The purpose of this website is to raise awareness, and ideally funds as well, to help support BBAS Memorial School. BBAS is a small private English-medium school, located directly next to the jungles of Bardia National Park, in the rural village of Thakuradwara, Nepal. F.R.I.E.N.D. is an acronym we created for "Funding Rural & Indigenous Education in Nepal Directly."

So... who are we, the site creators? Our names are Anderson & Elizabeth Muth and we are a 26-year-old married couple from America. Anderson grew up in Colorado, while Liz was born and raised in northern Wisconsin, but we both went to Cornell College in Iowa, which is where we met (in a Philosophy class). After getting married in September 2004, we lived and worked in Iowa City, IA for two years, to save money for international travel. Now we are teaching ESL in Pusan, South Korea for the next year - after 14-months of traveling, primarily in India and Nepal. We lived out of a single internal-frame backpack from September 2006 until November 2007.

In April 2007, when we first arrived in Nepal (from India), we visited Bardia National Park as tourists, and fell in love with the people, the park, and the community. Bardia is in the Terai region of Nepal, the jungles that make up much of the southern part of the country. Much different in culture, religion, and climate from Kathmandu, Pokhara, and the mountainous regions of the country, the area around Bardia (primarily the village of Thakuradwara where BBAS is located) has suffered significant economic hardship due to the decrease in tourists due to the political and violent turmoil that has seized the country for most of the new millennium. Bardia has always been a less-touristed location, since Chitwan National Park is the country's most developed park to see animals, but that means that Bardia is much more authentic, both in indigenous culture, building design (mud huts versus Chitwan's cement buildings), as well as animal sightings. When we were in the park, there were usually only a handful of other people walking around.
On our third or fourth day in Thakuradwara, we were presented with the opportunity to volunteer as teachers at BBAS, and ended up doing so for an amazing two weeks. We taught the older students in Class IV, V & VI primarily, since they have the highest proficiency in English. While every day of teaching was fun, the last Friday was particularly enjoyable - we took all of our students on a field trip to some of the nearby park facilities: the Tharu Museum and the Crocodile Breeding Center. The majority of the children at BBAS, as well as most of the people who live around Bardia, are ethnic Tharu and coexist quite directly with nature, despite the changing world around them. For photos of the school, you can go to our personal BBAS photo album. We will soon post other photos of the park and our friends in Thakurdwara, as well as a few other school photos and some videos.
After our time spent volunteering, we continued to travel around the subcontinent (doing additional ESL teaching with Tibetan refugees in Dharamsala, India), until we were fortunate enough to return to Thakuradwara for another week in early August, 2007. We went with our cousin, Reannon, who traveled with us for 2 months total, one each in India & Nepal. She also fell in love with Bardia, and BBAS, and ended up returning to volunteer teach there herself for several weeks in August and September.

BBAS was founded six years ago by our good friend Bikram, whose family runs Bardia Jungle Cottage, one of the 16 lodges outside the park entrance, and an Australian tourist. Currently just over 200 children attend BBAS, of which 50 are sponsored by the kindly Australian co-founder. These children are from the poorest families in Thakuradwara, are often the first in their family to receive any formal education, and are certainly the first in their family to learn English, use a computer, etc. While teaching we immediately noticed that the funded children were particularly motivated and hardworking.

Given all of this, our goals with this website our twofold. First, to spread awareness of Bardia, Thakuradwara, BBAS, and the Tharu people, in the hopes that foreigners might choose to visit Bardia while visiting Nepal as tourists, or go to Thakuradwara with the intentions of volunteering as a teacher at BBAS. Bikram has kindly extended the offer of free lodging, and traditional food (dahl baht) at cost, to any volunteers during the duration of their stay. Compared to the many (equally worthy) charities based in Kathmandu, which usually charge foreigners hundreds of US$ to volunteer their time, BBAS is an amazing opportunity to volunteer in Nepal without any additional non-travel costs. Due to its remote location in south-western part of Nepal, it is a day-long bus ride from Kathmandu or Pokhara, although accessing Bardia is also quite doable from India, whether entering via Nepalgunj (the closest border crossing), or near Lumbini, the more standard tourist crossing point.
Our second goal is to raise money to support BBAS, and by doing so also assist the entire Thakuradwara community's future. The reality is that foreign money, whether dollars, euros or pounds, has tremendous ability to promote change in Nepal. BBAS, as mentioned, currently as over 200 students, and they are constantly trying to educate more, particularly as kindergarteners. The current Class VI have attended BBAS since the school began, and are all spectacular students.
Funds can be used, then, to directly sponsor students (costs range from $40 to $55 per year, depending on age, for tuition, books and tests -- which does not include around $15 for two school uniforms). BBAS also has other goals, the most current which we are currently talking with Bikram about is new buildings for the upper classes, since the current mud buildings aren't in the best of shape. The cost of that project is just under $700. Or 450 Euros. Or 345 British Pounds. We have also talked about obtaining the school some computers, since the current one is more than a bit outdated, but building construction is definitely the current top priority.

To give you a realistic picture of BBAS, this is a school built entirely of traditional Tharu mud buildings. It has one bathroom and no running water, yet educates over 200 enthusiastic and energetic young minds. These children really are the future of Nepal, a country which is currently wracked with economic and political turmoil, and a small donation can make a big difference in their lives. Any donations will be forwarded to Bikram's bank account in Nepal, to directly support BBAS. This is a completely grassroots effort, we are not an NGO, but rather FRIENDs.
We have established an email address and Paypal account, to go along with this weblog: Bardia F.R.I.E.N.D. (that's bardiafriend AT gmail DOT com). If you have any questions you can contact us by that email, leave a comment on this blog, or feel free to contact us by our regular blog as well. Any suggestions are also appreciated, as we definitely aren't doing this for ourselves, but rather for our friends, the children of Thakuradwara, and the beautiful land that is Nepal.

Thanks so much for reading this, and for any actions on your part that may incur from you doing so,

Anderson & Liz