ANSWER Sponsor Michael Redell, Grand Rapids, MI
Where Students have fun watching movies, playing games, sing, dance and share their lives and ideas.
I was able to spend about a month traveling with the ANSWER staff-Bal, Sangeeta, Bir Jung, Somita, Simran, and our driver Suman. We visited tens of schools and hundreds of students all across Nepal. We sat shoulder to shoulder in our jeep; bumping and shaking our way over near impassable roads throughout some of the most remote corners of the country. At one time, we had to get out of our vehicle because the road was blocked ahead by a truck stuck in the mud. We witnessed what seemed like a whole community banding together to help get this vehicle moving and on its way; which meant out of everyone else’s way. We had a tractor pulling, people pushing, others throwing rocks under the tires, and some watched with amusement the spectacle that was before us. Life on the road always kept us on our toes.
I was able to participate in many Social Welfare Club (SWC) activities. The objective of which, is to get students to critically think about social issues that need to be addressed in their lives/communities and developing the tools and leadership to start to tackle them. Hey, we are a group of dreamers, we must try! The most common way of doing this was through movie watching followed by a discussion/conversation. By the end of the trip, I’m pretty sure I could quote most of the movie, Finding Nemo.
My first SWC experience was in Kathmandu working with Somita and a group of about 10 students. We watched the movie, To Sir With Love. It was surprising to see students sharing so openly about their life struggles. In our first session, we had a girl whose family had split up. She said, “I don’t know where I would be without ANSWER, definitely not in school.” Another student shared how ANSWER had helped rebuild his house after the earthquake. He didn’t know where he would be living without ANSWER’s help. I listened to their stories and fought back my tears as theirs freely flowed. To see such vulnerability, the warm embrace of Somita, and how it helped to reassure the students made for a powerful moment.
In Nepal, you have to be extremely flexible, because you never really know what is going to happen. You can have all the plans and preparations in place, and then, boom!, something unexpected may happen that throws your plans out the window. One such day, when the power unexpectedly went out and we could not show our movie for SWC, we had to adapt. I ended up finding a short video on youtube, and we showed it to the group on my phone. Afterward, we talked with the students about their interests/talents and what they wanted to do as a possible career. We had one young man who wanted to be a musician. He wanted to travel and give performances, singing and playing the guitar. So, naturally, we asked him to stand up and give us a little show. You could see the apprehension on his face as the other students smiled/giggled nervously with empathy for his uncomfortable situation. We kept at him in good fun and encouragement and eventually he stood and sang for us, with a very nice voice, I might add. The youngest girl from this group was extremely shy and was struggling to talk in front of the other students. Our antidote was to get the girl to stand up, put her hands on her waist, and count to ten as she swayed from side to side sticking out her hips in a dancing motion. We did this with her to join in the fun. The stories are many and could go on…
Getting outside our comfort zone is a big part of the growing process, and SWC does this in a variety of fun ways. As I experienced, and more actively participated in these meetings, I saw how crucial these get togethers are for the students. They get opportunities to watch movies or play games, but most importantly they are creating a community that is encouraging and yet challenging them to grow individually, and to be the change they wish to see in their communities and world. I am happy to have witnessed and been a part of this crucial part of ANSWER-Social Welfare