Bloom Nepal Win Zayed Sustainability Prize 2020

Bloom Nepal is not like any other school I have encountered before. I had known it would be a special place, but as soon as I arrived, it provoked a particular kind of feeling in me that I wasn’t prepared for. The atmosphere is one created with such deliberate intention. The teachers pride themselves on passion based education, which underpins the way the curriculum is taught and is held at the heart of everything within the school. The students, who hail from over 55 different districts, are encouraged to thrive within their talents and interests, no matter what these are.
The school was built by Pestalozzi alumni Ram Rijal, who graduated from MIT in 2012. He returned home to Nepal to establish the school with the help of several like-minded friends and since then they have seen a number of Pestalozzi alumni come through their doors in a variety of voluntary roles.
Whilst Ram is currently in Germany undertaking his Masters in Mathematics, Pestalozzi alumni Chandan Mishra has taken on the role of Executive Director of the school. Alongside this demanding position, he is also the Managing Director of the Telford Institute and Engineering Services, which he set up after graduating with a Civil Engineering degree from NYU Abu Dhabi. Perhaps it is the wealth of knowledge from so many different experiences that has made Chandan so effective in this post so far.

Just three weeks ago, under his leadership the school was awarded the 2020 Zayed Sustainability Prize in the Global High Schools in South Asia category . The money from this prize will be used to set up a bio-gas plant, which will be used to generate energy from organic waste. This will be used to meet the needs of the school kitchen and the by-product will go to farmers in the local area to help raise their awareness of sustainable practices. Whilst the winning of this prize is an incredible achievement in itself, perhaps even more impressively is that Chandan designed the plant himself.

Things seem to only be going from strength to strength. When the school was created in 2013 they had only 17 pupils enrolled. Fast forward to the present day and they now teach more than 600 students and were at full capacity immediately upon opening their second school in Itahari. Bloom’s first school building collapsed in the 2015 earthquake, but the possibility of sending students home was not an option because of the destruction of the roads and so students slept and were taught in tents whilst the team searched for a new location. This resilience shows true testimony to the characters of all who have been involved in the school.

Whilst personally for Ram, Chandan and Chandra, the success of Bloom is a fantastic achievement, it is also a nod towards the instrumental role that several Pestalozzi alumni have played in volunteering within the school the school, not only as teachers or working in pastoral care after school, but also in donating books to the school’s library.

‘Pestalozzi alumni have been amazing at Bloom. They understand what we are striving to do here and are very helpful. The kids love them too’.

I was also curious to ask Chandan about whether it had been difficult to make the decision to give up the prospect of a lucrative career, after four years spent studying engineering. He told me, ‘I wanted to give returning to Nepal and also working in education a shot. Luxury can be difficult to give up. I do of course realise things are not as developed here in Nepal, we don’t have good roads or good transportation, but the beauty is in trying to bring about the change in those sectors. At the end of the day, this is our home, it will always be a part of my identity and so if I don’t work towards setting things right here then no one else will.’

It also seems that, with a degree in Civil Engineering, education hadn’t been on the cards as a possible career option. ‘I decided to first set up my own engineering firm because the practices in many firms in Nepal are very conventional. They haven’t moved with time and technology and so I wanted to promote this through my training. But I also wanted to be an educator in order to reciprocate the good educational opportunities I had received at various stages in my life.’

At Bloom, they welcome students into a community of respect and embracing diversity, as well as honour and competence playing key roles in the schools culture. Chandan told me that Pestalozzi had been instrumental in influencing the culture of the school and shaping their learning model to be what it is today.

‘A major part of the learning at Bloom takes place before nine and after five within the student’s residential setting. Our education is based on head, heart and hands and students from humble economic backgrounds are able to attend the school on scholarships. At Pestalozzi we saw the benefits of a multicultural environment; so many of the major conflicts in the world today are because of this, so we’re trying to tackle it at a young age. Nepal cannot always be a developing country – we must develop education for good leaders, in order to make the right framework down the line. Our generation can find the solutions’.

It is clear Chandan leads the school by example in the way he interacts with both the students and the staff. As I see him go about his day and talk with him at various intervals, it is clear that his accomplishments as both an educator and an engineer seem to know no bounds.

Over the next few years, Bloom aims to have one residential school in each of the seven provinces. With two down and five to go, I wonder what else will be next for them and it seems possibilities are wide open when the organisation is led by individuals so clearly invested in challenging and improving the education system of their country.

Often the moments that move us most are the ones we can close our eyes and still sense with such clarity and my time at Bloom Nepal did that for me. I spent only a day visiting the school and wished I could have been there for a month. Their efforts to challenge the status quo and find new and effective ways of making education accessible are ground-breaking and humbling to witness. Bloom is paving the way for a new style of schooling in Nepal and the developments we are going to see from them over the next few months will be nothing short of extraordinary, just like the people who run the school.

It is amazing the impact that one afternoon can have on a person and I am grateful to have stood at the side-lines and been able to marvel at the endeavours of a group of young leaders to change the face of education in a country.

Nancy Anderson

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