The words of Robert Frost perhaps summarise Chandan’s journey so far:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less travelled by
And that has made all the difference.
Chandan graduated from Pestalozzi in 2013 and went on to gain a BSc in Civil Engineering from New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD). He is an incredibly busy young man and is currently back in his home country of Nepal working as Executive Director of Bloom Nepal School and the Managing Director of the Telford Institute and Engineering Services (TIES).
I received a warm welcome from Chandan, who I had not seen for around five years, as I returned to Bloom Nepal School. He is currently running the school while another Pestalozzi alumnus and school founder, Ram Rijal, is studying for a Masters in Mathematics at the University of Bonn in Germany.
Chandan appears unfazed by the amount of responsibility on his shoulders and I observe as he takes the Friday morning assembly, recognising a number of students for their academic progression. He enthusiastically provided me with a tour of the school, which has grown exponentially since I visited the original school building back in 2013, which was subsequently destroyed by the 2015 earthquake, when student numbers were only 18. Today the school roll is around 300. Sadly last year some students had to be turned away because there was not enough accommodation. Chandan shared that they hope to raise enough funds to build an additional hostel for the female students.
On completion of his degree Chandan was offered a lucrative position with a major property developer in the UAE. It would have been all too easy to have accepted this option; however he chose to return to Nepal to set up TIES and to support the work of Bloom Nepal.
Chandan reflected upon his Pestalozzi experience. ‘Without Pestalozzi we would not be where we are now. It allowed us to network and to grow. It is important to appreciate the importance of being given the right opportunity at the right time and making the most of it and not to forget the fundamental reasons why we had been selected. It was the launchpad for what I am doing now and provided valuable guidance on my future educational path. Pestalozzi made me crazy about education.’ We recalled the day that he missed the public bus and walked along the rather dangerous road so that he could reach college in time for his Maths lesson and receiving a reprimand for doing so.
Being a Pestalozzi scholar isn’t purely about academic attainment. Chandan explained, ‘It was a beautiful environment. Everyone felt respected and had a space to share views and opinions. Even my washing up duties in Swiss Hall taught me about work ethics. Living in a diverse community taught me to respect others and not to form opinions straight away, but to research and seek the truth. This is something that we teach at Bloom.’
In Nepal, if you ask a student what they aspire to be the chances are that the answer you will receive is to be a doctor or an engineer. Indeed, Chandan initially considered pursuing medicine, before changing to study civil engineering. However, he does not see this as his only profession and also views himself as a teacher, in part motivated by his father, a primary teacher. ‘Many people do not consider teaching as an option, but you need good teachers to train for the future or you end up in a vicious circle. Even some of those who do teach think that once they are qualified that they no longer need to learn. If we do not take the lead, then nothing will change.’ Chandan himself spends his weekends training young engineers.
It is clear to see that Chandan wants to be an agent of change in Nepal and has plans for the future. In the short term, Bloom has just opened its second school in Itahari and there are plans for a third in Hetauda. A longer term goal for Chandan is to run an engineering college offering quality education to produce a skilled workforce.
‘People don’t invest in education, because the return is slow. It could take 15 years of investment until I can give back. It is like dropping water onto sand. You can’t really make anything until you add other elements. People have invested and trusted in me to make the best out of the opportunities I have been given. I also want to provide those opportunities for others and hope that the students at Bloom will see us as role models and also choose to give back. We should aim for the sky, but always have our feet on the ground.’
I share a few more minutes with Chandan before we join the students for lunch, our time together having passed far too quickly. I see in him a determination to succeed and to make a difference not only to Nepal, but also to the lives of the young students who aspire to follow in his footsteps. Witnessing the journeys that alumni such as Chandan have made over the years I have worked at Pestalozzi is truly humbling.