I believe that teaching is one of the most demanding professions there is. As a teacher, you carry with you delicate, young minds, nurture them, and build them a safe future. There are no mathematical formulas to teaching; it requires persistence, compassion, undeviating dedication, and a supply of intuition to deliver within a classroom. The instructor’s training that led to me working with the Book Bus, with workshops, reading sessions, and school visits, had made me realize how I could contribute to provide a beautiful learning experience to at least one student. Even that, I learned, could make a big difference. After four months of training, I was on a bus to Jhapa as an instructor for my first ever Book Bus trip. I would be working with hundreds of students, facilitating two workshops – Histories from Home and Civil Rights –for them, reading along with them, teaching them and learning from them. I had come a long way, not just on a time scale but also on how I perceived and fit into this system of education. I couldn’t wait to continue this journey.
My journey of becoming a Book Bus instructor stems back to 2017 at Staff College in Jwalakhel, at an U.S. Embassy event. My friends were running ahead to catch up to Samriddh Rai’s concert nearby. I had fallen behind on catching sight of the Book Bus. Growing up a bookworm, I had read everything from the classics like Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and Jane Austen, to the fantasies of Hogwarts. I was therefore instantly drawn to the bus, embellished with colorful stickers, a plethora of books on display. I wished then that I could be a part of the Book Bus in any way, and nearly two years later, here I was, working with the Book Bus in Jhapa.
The Book Bus was stationed at Damak Municipality and had scheduled its programs at three different schools- Dhukurpani Secondary School, Panchaoti English School and Himalayan Higher Secondary School. A majority of my classes were on the Histories from Home workshop and Civil Rights Sessions- both being integral to understanding the societies we would be working with. As the first rays of sunlight hit us in Jhapa, I was petrified and anxious. I wished I had never signed up for it. I imagined a classroom full of children staring at me, waiting for me to speak but all I could do was croak. People were laughing at me. All I wanted was to hide under a table and never stand up again. I was battling with my fear of being in a crowd
But with every school we visited, my anxiety faded a little. The Book Bus was welcomed with enthusiastic eyes and charming smiles. Little girls and boys swarmed around the bus, yelling and whispering to each other about what might be in the bus. And when Dalang Dai finally lifted the lid off the treasure, the children hustled in, reaching with their tiny hands to grab at every book on the shelves. I was enthralled. I wanted to let them grab every book they laid their hands on, but fighting my urge to surrender to their excitement, I asked them to line up and pick out their books one by one.
Some students sat in groups, making a big circle, with their eyes glued to my fellow instructor, who was reading The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin aloud. Some parked themselves on the grass, immersed in the mysteries of planets and stars. Some reached for the top shelves with the novels and the story books. Some were secluded in a silent corner, lost in the wonders of history and art. A little tour of the classes, and you could see children having fun with colors, making ants and cockroaches out of stones and leaves, silently watching documentaries, and writing beautiful, endearing stories. Learning seemed fun!
I primarily facilitated the Histories From Home workshop, a module developed in partnership with Nepal Picture Library, which builds upon Arantxa Cedillo’s ‘Broken Rules’ photo exhibition. Through the exhibition, Arantxa tells stories of Nepali women who have broken rules and stepped over the boundaries of society for the better. Incorporating that vision, we introduced the Histories From Home workshop to Jhapa, with the hopes of bringing forth stories of women from the local communities. Stories were shared across the classrooms, and each day I left with a heavy heart, contemplating the strength and bravery the women had showed in the most adverse circumstances. One such story was Sita Tamang’s, a local resident of Damak and a divorcee, who ran a tailoring centre, supported a family of four, and provided employment to at least twenty locals.
Another heartwarming experience was working with the children from the Bhutanese Refugee Camp. With continuous talks of third country resettlement and immigration, I had wondered where school and learning found a place in their lives. One hand drawn illustration, neatly pasted on the bamboo walls of a classroom, broke my heart. The illustration followed a series of sketches – firemen putting out fires from the refugee camps, people working together to rebuild their homes, and International Organization for Migration vehicles loaded with people, taking them to the United States. It’s hard to comprehend what a child of four or even sixteen feels about education. In dealing with them, I would measure every word, scared it might be too sensitive. Every time I entered a classroom, I went with a purpose to give the students something positive to return home with. As an instructor, you cannot expect to turn the lives of students you’re working with around. All you can hope for is giving an experience that might bloom into something larger than what it is now.
I will always hold the stories from Jhapa dearly in my heart. Looking back on that trip, I realize how much I’ve grown as an instructor, how much I’ve come to appreciate the significance of an inclusive and democratic education. Though I had been anxious at the beginning, I wish I could relive those nineteen days: the never ending plains, the tall palm trees, the tuktuks beeping their horns in the bustling city, and most of all, the people I crossed paths with and the memories I made on the Book Bus. Those sparkling eyes peeking through bamboo walls, a million stars shining through the tiny holes of a classroom roof, the red bus bringing joy to every premise it touched, and the children picking their books: red, blue, brown, or yellow; flipping through them or reading line by line and jumping up to ask for another made me feel as though spring came twice this year
Saira is a Language and Arts Instructor at Book Bus Nepal. She spends most of her time reading, writing, or doodling in her sketchbook.