The Mountain Village That Stole Our Hearts

AUTHOR: Yap Mun Ching

, 2017

For my last work trip of 2017, I had the rather unusual task of leading a group of 9 Allstars (AirAsia staff) from 5 countries and a 5-member film crew up the Gorkha mountains of Nepal to a village called Olang. The trip was part of a two-and-a-half-year long ‘To Nepal with Love’ campaign that AirAsia Foundation has been running with an excellent organisation called Open Learning Exchange Nepal (OLE Nepal) since the 2015 earthquakes. We had raised over RM800,000 (just above USD200,000) which we pledged to OLE Nepal to rebuild 4 schools that served close to 300 students.

After many hurdles, my counterpart in OLE Nepal, Rabi Karmacharya, called in November to say that the schools were finally ready (hooray!). We began to set in motion our plan to bring an Allstars team to organise a first Sports Day for the children to celebrate their new schools.

Travelling up to Olang is not for the faint-hearted. I would describe the journey up to the village as the toughest ride I had ever made. It started the moment we arrived at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport. We had to wrestle our way through the crowds to get our few hundred kilos worth of baggage. Other than our own gear, we were also bringing 300 schoolbags for the children and 4 sets of wonderful children’s books donated by BookXcess for new libraries.

 

We spent our first night in a charming lodge in the town of Kurintar, before setting off the next morning in a small convoy. Over the next 6 hours, we would crawl our way up potholed paths, mountain streams and dust tracks, not much faster than 5km per hour. Sleep was not an option. With the extreme bumping and jolting, anyone dozing off risked getting a big bump on the head!

Olang is the last village on the trail up the mountains. It is harsh, not only in terrain but also in climate. Villagers grow grain on terraces carved out of the rocky slopes. During the daytime, the sun would scorch but once it set, temperatures would dip to single digits. Thankfully, we didn’t have to camp – we slept on the floor of the new classrooms.

All wrapped up like burritos.
All wrapped up like burritos.

The cost to rebuild is high because materials have to be brought up the same rough roads. Thus, the drive into the schoolyard filled us with joy and a great sense of achievement.

On our second morning, we awoke to the sound of excitement. Some children were already gathered in the schoolyard, curious about their visitors from lands far away. The Allstars soon got to work after washing up in icy mountain waters. A team began pumping balloons while another drew chalk lines on the ground. After a few formalities (speeches and plaques handover), the AirAsia Sports Day was underway!

At the Allstars balloon stand.
At the Allstars balloon stand.

We started with a tug-of-war, followed by a gunny sack race, passing of rubberbands with straws, gorilla walk (children had to clamp a ball each under their armpits and between their knees while racing across to their teammates). Not only did the little ones had fun, parents and teachers were also cackling away at the children’s antics. As for the Allstars, we were happily reliving our childhoods.

Do you remember this from your school Sports Days?
Do you remember this from your school Sports Days?

The AirAsia Sports Day was our way of reintroducing play into education. The children here have endured much hardship and trauma during the disasters. With OLE Nepal, we wanted to provide them not only with hardware but also software.

Each school funded by our campaign joins OLE Nepal’s One-Laptop-per-Child programme and receives 25 cute green children’s laptops, a server with lots of open source materials, teachers’ training, books for a new library and equipment for sports. School should not just be a place to learn but also to have fun. While doing this, we want to help students make a digital leap and connect with people and ideas outside their remote village.

This is the students’ first experience with a computer.

Two days later, we left Olang exhausted but exhilarated. We survived the even rougher ride back to Kathmandu, and thence back to our respective countries. What we bring with us are memories and hope that in our little way, we have been able to touch the children’s and the villagers’ lives, just as they have touched ours.

Seeing the schools, we felt a great sense of achievement.
Seeing the schools, we felt a great sense of achievement.

There remains a long way to go to rebuild Nepal and you can help further OLE Nepal’s reach by donating at olenepal.org.

Last but not least, we thank all guests, Allstars and friends who made it possible for us to make this gift to the beautiful children of Nepal.

Glad they will no longer return to these old classrooms.
Glad they will no longer return to these old classrooms.

Happy Holidays from all of us at AirAsia.

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About the author: Mun Ching is Executive Director of AirAsia Foundation, whose mission is to support social enterprises in ASEAN. The foundation gives grants to social enterprises, mentors them and mobilises AirAsia resources to grow their business.

Find her on Twitter @yapmunching.

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This blog-post has been extracted from AirAsia’s blog site. Find original post here.

Developing the New E-Pustakalaya

## Introduction ##

Since OLE Nepal’s inception in 2007 we have strived to provide open and free access to quality education and innovative learning environments to children all over Nepal.  One of our core missions is to reduce the disparity found within the accessibility of learning tools brought about by geographic location, school type, and population group.  E-Pustakalaya, our free and open digital library, closed the gap by providing a collection of thousands of books, educational resources, course content, and reference materials directly to students and educators.  Not only did this library aid in providing quality educational content, it has aided in the development of reading habits early on and has sparked an inquisitive nature within students by providing the means to conduct independent research.  

## Current Technology and Architecture ##

The initial iteration of E-pustakalaya utilizes FEDORA (an acronym for Flexible Extensible Digital Object Repository Architecture), a digital object repository architecture designed to achieve scalability, stability, flexibility and extensibility, while at the same time providing for interoperability between systems. FEDORA is positioned within a larger open-architecture framework in which the total functionality of a digital library is partitioned into a set of services with well-defined interfaces described in the image below.

Component Stack

Component Stack

Integration Architecture

Integration Architecture

 

Fedora Commons is developed on the top of a Java application and is popularly deployed through Tomcat. The front-end interface and querying of items in Fedora Commons is handled by FEZ and PHP.  Currently we are using Fedora Commons 2.2 deployed in Tomcat 4.1.12 and Java 6. We have tinkered CentOS 6.4 to orchestrate the deployment.

## The Switch ##

It has been over eight years since E-Pustakalaya’s initial launch and we are currently in development of a new E-Pustakalaya powered by DSpace: an open source repository software originally written by MIT and HP Labs and is currently developed by DuraSpace.  The main reasons for our switch are as follows:

  1. The Lack of Support for FEZ and front-end responsiveness

The FEZ interface is currently being loosely maintained at Github and lacks the proper support and documentation we require for the expansion of features like document streaming or a responsive interface.  For instance, a more responsive, dynamic web interface would improve the user’s experience by providing a dynamic view through various multimedia features rather than a static ones.  These features are implemented through languages like CSS and Javascript to facilitate a vibrant interface and make media queries possible which would have been very difficult to implement within the FEZ interface.

  1.   We wanted a more optimized database

Within the old E-Pustakalaya we utilized PHP to directly query for the desired items and their metadata within a relational database.  These queries eventually proved inefficient as several parts had to be queried from a relational database of millions of items that did not have a back-end search engine that provided an inverted index like Solr.

  1.  DSpace showed up with all the solutions

We chose DSpace because it met the standards of scalability, flexibility, and stability we set for the previous iteration of E-Pustakalaya, while also providing a greater environment for the expansion of features.  It provided a robust front-end interface that supported the implementation of the responsiveness that we sought for and had a sophisticated querying system that could handle our immense library.  DSpace also allowed for the same wide range of file formats to cover educational content  from books, videos, and recordings.  

## The Structure ##

Now within the library are millions of items of various file formats.   DSpace records the metadata for these items and then the file formats are converted into bitstreams.  The meta data and bitstreams are tied to the item which then gets grouped into a designated collection. These collections are then organized into general communities.  Take for instance a community was labeled “Literature,”  within this community some example collections could be the genres within literature, for instance: fiction, nonfiction, or children’s books. Within these collections the books would be the items and the metadata would hold various recording information like the authors,  release dates, and other descriptive information.

DSpace

Source: DSpace 6.X Documentation

To query these items from the collections or communities, DSpace utilizes Solr Discovery to facilitate faceting and search result filtering. Solr provides the inverted index to provide speedy access to content metadata and data while simultaneously recording usage statistics. To carry out these tasks DSpace has a multicore setup of Solr which includes a “search core” that deals with the data about the communities, collections, and items, and a “statistics core” that deals with view counts, searches, and user data. The search core effectively finds the item with its indexing and then queries for the relevant bitstreams tied to the item within a Postgresql database.  Solr also allows us to create custom metadata which helps its effectiveness in indexing.  The interaction between Solr querying and the traditional Postgresql database facilitates the fast querying and filtering of items while only querying for relevant bitstreams from a relational database.

The front-end web interface of the new E-Pustakalaya is generated through XMLUI and is based on Apache Cocoon, which primarily utilizes Java, XML, and XSLT.  We have heavily customized the original Mirage2 theme to match the end product designs that were decided upon by OLE designers.  Through Apache Cocoon each page is created through a pipeline where every aspect is “added” to the page separately and work independently from each other.  We have customized the built-in aspects to provide the desired document streaming for books, audio files, and video files. This is accomplished by incorporating open source add-ons like pdf.js and video.js which are HTML5 based interfaces that we provide within the server so that the end-user can access the educational content directly, without the need to install plugins within their browser.  We have also added a commenting feature using Disqus so users have the ability to comment on each item, which can facilitate discussions between students and educators.

Current E-Pustakalaya Home Page

Current E-Pustakalaya Home Page

 

Multiple Document Streaming

Multiple Document Streaming

 

Commenting Features

Commenting Features

Overall DSpace provides an extremely robust and flexible database that can handle virtually any file format that we would ever need.  Its use of Solr Discovery makes queries fast, reliable, and highly customizable.  An upgrade from the previous database which utilized PHP to run queries from a SQL database.  Even on the front-end the aspect style formatting of features allows us to freely customize specific aspects without the worry of affecting another feature.

## The Challenges ##

Our development team, consisting of a systems engineer, a software developer, and a development intern, is relatively small given the scale of the project.  DSpace out of the box did not natively support many of the features already adopted within our own repository.  For instance, the aforementioned document streaming modules are built up of third party add-ons; pdf.js provides the module for viewing pdf files and video.js provides the modules for streaming any file format compatible with HTML5.  Video.js actually grants us with a high level of flexibility on which file formats we can use for videos and recordings, but for now we have chosen to stick with mp4 and mp3, for video and audio respectively, as they are widely used and are compatible with almost all browsers.  

DSpace’s ability to use Solr Discovery is heavily reliant on the metadata tied to the items as these are how items and their bitstreams are easily indexed and queried.  The process of transferring items from the previous data base might have to be done manually as the formats of the databases do not currently provide an obvious solution for their automatic transfer.  We have discussed plans on tiered transitions where we would transfer over parts of the database at a time rather than a full scale transition.  We will of course also be looking into how we can automate some of the processes for the eventual transition.

There is also the challenge of localization and maintenance.  Since OLE is planning on distributing this library format to remote villages in Nepal; access to internet may not be possible and some features of the repository may require an internet connection to work such as the commenting features in Disqus.  There is also the somewhat steep learning curve of customizing the XMLUI interface as it is based on XML, XSLT, CSS, and Java which would require a working understanding of those languages for any form of customization.  We have talked about writing a comprehensive guide on the customization of popular features  the repository and to also provide references to the original DSpace documentation if further customization is desired.

## Looking Ahead ##

As of writing this blog the team is still currently in development of the new E-Pustakalaya and is making steady progress towards the end goal of providing a necessary platform to bridge the gap on the accessibility of quality educational content.  The current local instance of the E-Pustakalaya has the core database established that allows for multiple file streaming on a vibrant, newly designed web interface.  The whole team is very excited about continuing in the development of the new E-Pustakalaya and are enthusiastic about what the end product can help achieve.

Fundraisers 2016!

OLE Nepal is grateful to friends and well-wishers who have supported our efforts to provide access to quality education to children in remote parts of Nepal. Their support have been critical in raising funds to buy durable laptops that we have been deploying to schools in Bajhang and Baitadi districts.


OLE Nepal Benefit Luncheon 2016  

SelectedRam Khattri Chettri and Karen James hosted the annual OLE Nepal Benefit Event at their home in Middlebury, Indiana on November 12, 2016. As in previous years, the communities of Middlebury and neighboring Goshen came together and contributed generously towards our cause. The event raised over 20,000 USD for laptops for children in far west Nepal. Their generous donation will go a long way in helping us reach hundreds of students in remote schools of Nepal. Thank you Ram and Karen for your continuous support!


Sushma’s 100 Miles for 100s of Smiles

On December 10, Sushma KC Manandhar ran 100 miles (160 km) at the  Daytona 100 Ultramarathon  to raise funds for the children of far-western Nepal. Sushma dedicated this amazing feat to something that is close to her heart – quality education. “The DAYTONA 100 course is North Florida’s first point-to-point ultramarathon, spanning over a dozen cities, four counties, and stretching from Atlantic Beach (Jacksonville area) 100 miles south to Ponce Inlet, a gem of a town located on the southern tip of a secluded peninsula, just 10 miles south of Daytona.”

Sushma collage

Photo Courtesy: Heather Davenport/Ignite Health and Fitness

OLE Nepal would like to congratulate Sushma for completing the Daytona 100 and thank her for dedicating the run for children of Nepal. Her campaign has helped raise over 3,000 USD for laptops for children in far western Nepal.


School Life in Baitadi : A Photo Story

By, Shishir Pandey (Program Coordinator) & Anjana Shrestha  (Teaching Resident)

A aphoto story about daily school life of students at our program schools in Baitadi, as captured through the lenses of our team of trainers during the in-school training program. Two teams travelled to 15 schools spread across the district. We’ve selected a few photos from a 21-day field visit in December 2016.

 

 

 

Right: Most of the program schools do not have access to the road. Getting to all the schools meant walking anywhere between 3 to 7 hours, mostly on rough mountains trails.


Morning Assembly at Gopanchal Primary School, Jhusil

Morning Assembly at Gopanchal Primary School, Jhusil

At the morning assembly, students are lined up by their grade, as the teacher holds up a megaphone mic to the E-Paati laptop speaker to play the National Anthem of Nepal streamed from the digital library E-Pustakalaya.


 

It is cold indoors… let’s study outside in the sun.

Cold weather and inadequate indoor lighting urges the teacher, Mr. Krishna Bahadur Chand, to take his grade 2 students outside. Sitting on stones, class is resumed under the warmth of the winter sun.

Cold weather and inadequate indoor lighting urges the teacher, Mr. Krishna Bahadur Chand, to take his grade 2 students outside. Sitting on stones, class is resumed under the warmth of the winter sun.


 

Grade 4 students learning math on laptops

Teacher from Netra Jyoti Primary School, Melauli, teaching her students through E-Paati laptop. According to her, the best part of teaching through E-Paati is that it allows each students to learn at their own pace.

Teacher from Netra Jyoti Primary School, Melauli, teaching her students through E-Paati laptop. According to her, the best part of teaching through E-Paati is that it allows each students to learn at their own pace.


Laptop Integrated class in Janachetna Primary School, Gangapur

Students were will into their second month of E-Paati/laptop-integrated classes in this school

Students were in their third week of E-Paati/laptop-integrated classes in this school


 

In-School Training : Observing E-Paati Class

OLE Nepal’s Senior Training Manager, Tika Raj Karki, observing laptop integrated class at Nanigad Primary School in Nagarjun. Trainers from OLE Nepal visited each program school to observe and provide feedback regarding their integration of digital content.

OLE Nepal’s Senior Training Manager, Tika Raj Karki, observing laptop integrated class at Nanigad Primary School in Nagarjun. Trainers from OLE Nepal visited each program school to observe and provide feedback regarding their integration of digital content.


 

WASH your hands before you eat!

Students at Singapur Primary School, Sungada washing their hands before eating. Along with the School Meal Program, UN World Food Programme is also running WASH Program in most of the schools in far-western districts, including Baitadi.

Students at Singapur Primary School, Sungada washing their hands before eating. Along with the School Meal Program, UN World Food Programme is also running WASH Program in most of the schools in far-western districts, including Baitadi.


 

Lunch Time

Students enjoying their plate of nutritious ‘suji’. UN World Food Programme provides school meals to remote schools across the far-west region of Nepal under their “Food For Education” program.

Students enjoying their plate of nutritious ‘suji’. UN World Food Programme provides school meals to remote schools across the far-west region of Nepal under their “Food For Education” program.


 

Back to class

After the healthy lunch, students are happy to go back to learning new things.

After the healthy lunch, students are happy to go back to learning new things.


 

One laptop per child

Students learn best, when they learn at their own pace .

Students learn best, when they learn at their own pace .


 

Community Interaction Meeting at Nagarchan Primary School, Mahakali

After the training, our team also conducted community interaction meetings at each school. These meetings were a very good opportunity  to understand community involvement in the program. Members representing School Management Committee (SMC) and Parent Teacher Assoc iation (PTA) also attended the meeting

After the training, our team also conducted community interaction meetings at each school. These meetings were a very good opportunity to understand community involvement in the program. Members representing School Management Committee (SMC) and Parent Teacher Assoc iation (PTA) also attended the meeting


 

Padai Mela (Education Fair) at Chamalpur Primary School, Balara 

OLE Nepal’s Senior Training Manager, Tika Raj Karki, explaining about the laptop program with members of the Balara community at the school’s education fair.

OLE Nepal’s Senior Training Manager, Tika Raj Karki, explaining about the laptop program with members of the Balara community at the school’s education fair.


 

School building design endorsed by DUDBC

One of OLE Nepal current projects is the reconstruction of 5 schools in Gorkha, that were damaged during the April 2015 earthquake. After site selections, community interactions, and approval for the project from all district and national level authorities, the building designs were prepared and finalised.

OLE Nepal’s Gorkha Schools Reconstruction Project’s structural design was then approved by the Department of Urban Development and Building Construction (DUDBC), meeting all the building codes for safe school construction. DUDBC has also endorsed the design to the Department of Education. Now, Nepal’s Central Level Project Implementation Unit (CLPIU) and the Ministry of Education (MoE) own the school designs, and any organisation interested in school construction are able to use the building design. The school reconstruction project designs can be accessed HERE

E-Paath & E-Pustakalaya on Department of Education’s Notice to Schools

 Newspaper Announcement

Nepal’s Department of Education (DoE), under the direction of Nepal’s Ministry of Education (MoE), publishes national education related news, notices and all important information on the national newspaper, Gorkhapatra, as a means to disseminate information to the District Education Offices, resource centers and schools, as well as students and teachers, across Nepal. On November 16, 2016, Nepal’s Department of Education published a notice to all ‘students, teachers, schools and District Education Offices’ of Nepal endorsing OLE Nepal’s digital content — E-Paath, and digital library — E-Pustakalaya. The notice urged all parties addressed to commence the use of all interactive digital content created and curated by OLE Nepal, in partnership with Nepal’s Department of Education, Curriculum Development Center (CDC), and National Center for Education Development (NCED), by visiting the digital library website at www.pustakalaya.org.Newspaper all

Process to get approvals to construct schools damaged by the earthquake

As we are getting ready to start constructing schools damaged by the earthquake in Gorkha district, we thought it’d be helpful to share the official process that we went through to secure all the approvals and paperwork. This might come handy to other organizations looking to build school buildings.

Activity Location Detail What to get
1. Site survey, community meetings Schools Survey the location, take stock of the situation, meet with school management, teachers, parents and community members. Check the number of students, and if the total number is low, ask if they are planning to merge with a nearby school.
  1. School, student, community information
  2. Community expectations
2. Preliminary school design & cost estimation Office Prepare a preliminary design that is in agreement with the government’s recommended school design and meets community expectations. and cost estimation that includes the cost of raw materials, transport, skilled and unskilled labor, regular monitoring and supervision
  1. Preliminary building design
  2. Tentative cost of school construction
3. Meeting with community Schools Discuss with the school community regarding the number of rooms needed, locally available construction materials, nearest place where other construction items can be procured, availability of skilled masons and other construction resources. Information to prepare detailed construction plan and accurate cost estimation
4. Secure funds Secure funding required to construct the school(s), if it has not been done already Funding
5. Recommendation from District Education Office (DEO) District Headquarter Once you are ready to build the school, submit a letter of interest to the DEO with the name and location of the school(s). The DEO will check to make sure that the school(s) has not received funds or commitment from other sources to construct the buildings, and also to make sure the school is not in the process of being merged. In such cases, the DEO will recommend other schools, or you can identify alternate schools yourself. Recommendation letter from DEO with names and locations of the schools.
6. Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Department of Education (DoE) Kathmandu Submit the following:

  1. Recommendation letter from DEO
  2. Organization’s registration documents
  3. Funding source details with signed agreement
  4. Proposed school design They will review all the documents and sign an MoU with your organization.
  1. MoU with DoE to build the schools
  2. Letter to DEO requesting coordination with your organization for the construction of the schools
7. Letter from DEO to District Development Committee (DDC) District Headquarter Submit DoE’s letter and a copy of the MoU and request a letter to the DDC to provide necessary approvals to construct the school(s). Letter to DDC
8. Recommendation for extension of work area District Headquarter If the district is not in your organization’s work area, you will need to get extension of work area in the district from the District Administration Office (DAO) Letter from DDC to the DAO to extend work area in the district
9. Extension of work area District Headquarter Apply for work area extension at DAO with the following:

  1. Request letter
  2. Organization’s registration and bylaws
  3. DDC’s recommendation letter
Letter from DAO to DDC recommending the extension of work area
10. DDC’s recommendation to Social Welfare Council District Headquarter Submit documents to DDC:

  1. Letter from DEO
  2. MoU with DoE
  3. Organization’s registration and bylaws
  4. Detailed work plan
  5. Request letter for recommendation to Social Welfare Council (SWC)
Recommendation letter from DDC to SWC for the project
11. Approval from SWC Kathmandu Apply for approval from SWC with the following documents:

  1. Detailed work plan
  2. MoU with DoE
  3. Organization’s registration and bylaws
  4. DDC’s recommendation letter
  5. School building design
  6. Funding source detail with signed agreement
  7. Cost estimation certified by an engineering firm
Approval from SWC for the project
12. Finalize school design School locations and office Prepare the following:

  1. Detailed site survey and measurement
  2. Detailed engineering design
  3. List and quantity of building materials
Final design with budget
13. DoE approval of final school design Kathmandu Get approval of building design from DoE as per school building structural design criteria Signed MoU with SMC
14. MoU with School Management Committee (SMC) Schools Sign an agreement with SMC to outlining the roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders

 

DoE: Department of Education

DEO: District Education Office

DDC: District Development Committee

DAO: District Administration Office

SWC: Social Welfare Council

SMC: School Management Committee