A School in Ruins
Byon June 11, 2012 11:19 AM
Mechi Mahakali School student (center) protests the destruction of her school and home. Erica Boulay '11
The students at the Mechi Mahakali School in Nepal had just started a new pen pal program with schoolchildren in China. They had been writing emails to one another about themselves, their hobbies, and dreams. But all that ended suddenly in May, when the government bulldozed huts, houses, and other construction in order to evict landless squatters from illegal shanty towns in Kathmandu. Nearly 1,000 villagers were uprooted from their homes, and more than 250 squatter homes on the banks of the Bagmati River were demolished.
One of the first structures to be decimated by the police was the Mechi Mahakali school (MM). The school was the brainchild of Xeno Acharya '09, who used his McGill Lawrence grant after senior year, as well as the thousands of dollars raised through Reed and the Portland community, to build and fund the institution. The school, which had over 150 children, had been instrumental in forging connections between villagers and consolidating this once scattered area of refugees into a self-assured community. They had even proclaimed themselves as Paurakhi Gaun (or "diligent village" in Nepali). Erica Boulay '11, who volunteered at MM for a summer and still works actively to ensure its operation, was outraged at the brazen destruction.
"The kids and their mothers formed a human shield against the bulldozers," Erica recounted. "Children as young as seven were arrested and sent to jail. Although they were released, what did they do wrong? Is it a crime to be poor?"
Earlier, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai said that the government planned to provide Rs. 15,000 (approximately $168) to each landless family to provide for alternative accommodations. However, only 39 families have been identified by the government as genuine landless squatters. Those families who earlier refused to participate in the verification process have now been asked to fill out forms and cooperate with the government's eviction drive. Due to the uproar this eviction has caused, the drive to remove all landless squatters living along the river bank will resume only after the government has reviewed its action and the claims of those living along the banks to the land. Following the school's demolition, Xeno has been trying to keep the supplies that were rescued from the destruction dry, while also providing meals, clothing, and temporary shelter for MM students and their families.
"All the property of the school has been destroyed in the demolition drive," reported MM teacher Kalyan Adhikari to a local newspaper. "We don't know where the students will go now."
Erica reports that some families have moved away to other slums, while others have camped out in the nearby UN park without any permanent roof over their heads and few belongings. For now, the future education of these children seems tenuous at best.