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Raymond Native Nicole Lee Makes Journey to Nepal - 3-02-15
   By Penny Williams

It is a long way from Raymond, New Hampshire to Nepal but the journey and the experience proved to be life changing for Nicole Lee, a junior at Bennington College in Bennington, Vt.

As a Bennington College student, Lee, 20, had to find a suitable internship between semesters. At Bennington she focuses her studies on Chinese and Public Action. For her internship, she turned to her father and through him found out about an opportunity in Nepal provided by Ecopolitan and the Everest Learning Academy.

Lee said she was accepted to go to Rangila, Nepal, Chitwan District to teach at the Shree National Primary School Rangila. The school has students from nursery school age through fifth grade. She worked with the students in grades 1 through 5 teaching English but said she was asked to do some science and social studies as well.

 

 

This is Nicole's last day teaching. Her face is covered in red tika powder, applied by the children at the school. It signifies blessing and good fortune. The women pictured are other teachers.

"I just jumped in with both feet and pretty much just did the best I could," she said. "I was at the school for half a day each day. The school day runs from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Sunday through Friday."

After support from Ecopolitan and the Everest Learning Academy funded the construction of a concrete building for the local school, the school population increased by 400 percent. The students in the new building were provided with backpacks and textbooks, and interns such as Lee were brought to help.

Lee said she traveled by herself, and before departing for Nepal was a little nervous after receiving lots of information about what to expect.

 

 

These are some of the children from the Everest Learning Academy sponsored orphanage. The orphanage was on the grounds of the homestay. The boys pictured are 11-13 years old. Their names, from right to left around the circle are Subash, Navin, Saroj, Narahaj, Dipok, Ganesh, Dharmala, Ravin, and Saurab.

"After I got there I always felt extremely safe," she said. "The people my age didn't wear traditional clothing but rather wore jeans. The Western influence is major. I didn't find the issues with women's rights as harsh as I had been led to expect, and I was never singled out as a woman. Women there do all the work."

Lee lived with the Pandey family but spent the majority of her time teaching at the school. She said she didn't have an opportunity to travel but was able to make a stop in Katmandu for one night, where she found the distribution of electricity fascinating.

 

 

This is the area behind the house that Nicole lived in where the water buffalo and the goats were kept.

"The power is on for only part of each day so many places have oil lamps for light at night," she said.

The experience of traveling to and getting the opportunity to experience a different culture and way of life in Nepal was life changing, Lee said. She had been on an educational path leading to teaching, but the experience has caused her to re-think this.

"I found out that teaching is not for me," she said. "I had planned to go to China or Taiwan to teach after college and I might still do that, but I don't think I want to be a teacher. I think I will go in a different direction.

“After this experience I think I want to find ways to increase governmental infrastructure to help people in places like Nepal or possibly even in places in this country,” she added. “I have a new appreciation for our availability of books, for the reliability of the postal service and our other services."

 

 

This is Shree National Primary School, Rangila. This is where Nicole taught. It has about 80 students, from nursery school to 5th grade

Looking back, Lee said becoming confident and knowing what she was supposed to do were the most difficult aspects of her experience in Nepal.

"I learned by doing for the most part," she said.

Classroom discipline was difficult, she said, but she discovered the best way to deal with the discipline issue was to keep the students busy so they didn't get out of hand.

The Ecopolitan Eco-Health Community (EEC) and the Everest Learning Academy regularly seek volunteers on college campuses. Lee said the organization looks for college campus representatives and also for interns to do things such as she did.

"I would definitely recommend this to anyone as being a wonderful experience," she said. "It is a different way to learn about some place new and at the same time help children learn."

EEC, headquartered in Minneapolis, Minn., is a non-profit organization dedicated to “sustainable global care by improving basic conditions for distressed communities and children, increasing literacy and protecting and educating the most vulnerable members of society and providing economic opportunities,” according to its website. EEC funds the Everest Learning Academy.

Lee has lived in Raymond all her life and graduated from Raymond High School in 2012. In addition to her recent trip to Nepal, she has visited Ireland, Germany, Austria and Costa Rica. She is the daughter of Rick Lee and Kathy Lee and has a younger sister, Jackie, a senior at Raymond High School.