At the Epicenter



As we piled out of the Book Bus onto the dusty, sunlit sports ground of Old Capital School in Gorkha, I squinted in the bright light and smiled to myself. This was the first time Rishi, Akchheta, and Sunima – three new Science Instructors I had been working with over the last several months – had traveled with the Book Bus outside the Kathmandu Valley. I was happy with how much they had developed as teachers and curious to see what they would do over the next week.

Earlier that morning, we had followed a steep and twisting road to reach Shree Dunghagade, a tiny government school outside the city of Gorkha. The Book Bus planned to spend 3 days there after working at the larger Old Capital School. After discussing the program and planning logistics with school members, our group walked out of the yard to explore. Rishi, who is a geologist, was drawn toward an exposed cliffside across the road and started pointing out different types of rock. “I saw schist…feldspar…quartz crystals… the rocks outside the school were mostly metamorphic rocks – they have been transformed by heat and pressure because Gorkha is surrounded by a major faultline that runs across the Himalaya,” he recalled when I asked him about the trip. Once Rishi started pointing out the geologic features, we realized it was a natural place to bring the students. They would see the colors, feel the textures, and interact with geologic history of Nepal.

Nepal’s geologic history is all about the formation story of the Himalayan range, which is similar to how a tablecloth bunches up if you push it with your hands. Over tens of millions of years the layers of rock have been pushed together, compressed, folded, wrinkled, and piled upward to create the high peaks of the Himalayas. High temperatures and pressures cause the rocks to transform and grow various minerals or crystals. Showing the students the metamorphic rocks and telling them the formation story is a tangible way to explain how what feels like solid ground beneath our feet is actually in flux, part of a highly dynamic system.

A smooth, brown object in the road caught my eye and I picked up a seed with a hard, shiny coat. I decided I would show it to the students during the Botany lesson as a familiar local example, explaining how the seed contains the infant plant but it can lie dormant until the environmental conditions are right for growth. Then one of the teachers showed me how it could be spun like a top with the right flick of the hand, and I realized it was also a well-known toy! I slipped the seed in my pocket to save for the lessons.

All this preparation delighted me – seeing the new Instructors coming into their own, finding resources outside the classroom – and this was on my mind as we stood blinking in the sunny field at Old Capital School. Then suddenly the ground began to shake as we experienced the major earthquake that struck Nepal in April 2015. Suddenly, we had our own lesson about the dynamic nature of earth’s crust. Geologic history was moving forward and a nearby fault was releasing stress that had been building for years. In geologic terms, it was a small change, yet for us it was shocking, drastic, and destructive.

Our plans changed instantly. Instead of working with students, we focused on how to obtain food and water, where to sleep outside, and what to do while we waited to return to Kathmandu to our families. At first we were restless – wanting to do, wanting to help. Two of the instructors wanted to hike up out of the city to try to help people nearby. But we were counseled by everyone to wait and grudgingly we accepted that it was wise and important to conserve energy, resources, and wait until we had more information. After three days, we learned the roads had finally been cleared and we could return to Kathmandu. When we reached Kalanki Chowk in Kathmandu, Dalhang Dai, the Book Bus driver, rested his head on his hands with an audible sigh of relief. I understood then what a great weight had been on his shoulders the whole time, he alone responsible for the entire Book Bus and for helping this group of young people get back to their families after a terrible natural disaster.

The city we returned to was slowly recovering from the effects of the earthquake. Many schools were damaged, many students were in temporary tent-classrooms, and there were camps where displaced people needed activities for children. Again, at first, we were anxious to be active, to get back to work, to help. And again we realized that before we brought our regular Book Bus programs, we needed to give schools time and space to recover. Instead, all of us went in various directions to volunteer at relief and rehabilitation centers that desperately needed support. I felt like those days after the earthquake in Gorkha and those first months back in Kathmandu, our Book Bus program became like the seed that I found on the road and slipped into my pocket, hibernating and waiting for the right condition to grow.

Now our team is reunited and the Book Bus programs are moving forward. Recently we met with Science teachers and administrators from a mix of 12 government, community, and private schools to brief them on our Science Program for 2016. We also collected information and feedback from them on the best ways we can work with them this coming year. We are now planning visits where we will do Science lessons that are hands-on, multi-sensory experiences for students and teachers. The Book Bus will be working with a least one school whose Science Lab was destroyed in the earthquake, and we will be able to bring activities that show teachers low-cost ways to incorporate experiments into their Science lessons without requiring a lab. And next spring, the Book Bus will collaborate with multiple schools to host a Science Fair where students can use experiments to explore the scientific methods and learn how to communicate scientific concepts to an audience.

Some of the lessons we are working on are related to Earth Science and Geology. I asked Rishi if anything has changed after the earthquake in terms of what he wants to teach the students. After a minute of thinking, he responded, “I will teach about the basic rock types, the transformation of the rock cycle. The formation of the Himalaya. It’s the same, it hasn’t changed. People need a general idea about these things because we live in a tectonically active zone. Many people around the places around where I’ve been volunteering think the earthquake is a curse because they don’t understand the science. People might be more prepared if they know the scientific reason.


Written by Adele Paquin. The Book Bus visited Gorkha in April 2015.


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