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The Teaching & Learning Initiative: Nepali Style

Briana Bellamy's picture

Hello beautiful Serendip world! 

My name is Briana Bellamy, I'm a BMC alum '11.  Recently, I returned from an incredible year of living in Nepal, working on a project funded by the Davis Projects for Peace grant. The project was called Sharing Knowledge for Peace, and its basic structure and philosophy grew from something that may be very familiar to some of you: the Teaching and Learning Initiative (TLI). As a sophomore at Bryn Mawr, I became involved with the staff-student branch of the TLI as a student mentor with a wonderful man from transportation services. It completely transformed my experience at Bryn Mawr, and became a huge part of both my sense of community and personal development. The relationships I built through the reciprocal model of the TLI and the deep learning I experienced both in these relationships and in the reflection meeting had a deep impact on me. I went on to become a coordinator for the program, and even wrote my thesis about it, exploring the inner workings of friendship, community, and shared spaces. I knew there was something powerful about the dynamics at play, and I was curious as to how the model of intentional reciprocal teaching and learning relationships could be valuable in other settings. 

Meanwhile, I also had the life-changing opportunity to spend my junior semester abroad in Nepal. During my first trip, I began noticing many areas where I thought the underlying impacts of the relationships built in a TLI setting could be of value. The following summer, I returned to Nepal for an internship with a women's rights organization called SEWA Nepal. There, I began to explore my hunch more deeply, speaking with various community members, NGO workers, and educators to see if they, too, might see some value in such a program in the Nepali setting. The following semester, I began deeper research into the possibility of tailoring a project to fit the Nepali context, and collaborated with SEWA Nepal to develop a plan for a small pilot project, which would soon come to be known as Sharing Knowledge for Peace, or TLI Nepal. 

The project was based in Kathmandu, a city of rich cultural diversity and complex political, social, and economic dynamics. Going into the project, I was much attuned to the need to be intensely collaborative in order to create a project that was truly relevant and valuable to the cultural context. We had small team of 2 facilitators, 2 coordinators (including myself), and a few assistant office staff, along with 18 volunteer participants (youth and adults), and the support of many friends and stakeholders. Every level was a learning experience, and the complexity of cross-cultural collaboration - not just between myself and my Nepali friends, but between Newari, Magar, Brahmin, Tamang, Gurung, Sherpa, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, young, old, high caste, low caste, professionals, students, etc, etc ... the list goes on - only deepened the learning, providing opportunity for new questions and reflection to arise at every turn.

The Sharing Knowledge for Peace Project brought together 9 partnerships between youth and adults from various walks of life. Some examples of the subjects taught and learned include(adult teaching/youth teaching): Hair cutting/computer literacy, Newari language/literacy, Muslim culture/Hindu culture, brail/computer software for the blind, Newari cooking/accounting and literacy, traditional weaving/literacy, and various similar skills. Aside from the obvious skills being traded, participants were challenged to deepen their learning through reflection about the relationships being built. In alignment with the mission of the project, all participants were strongly encouraged to learn more about their partners, and the youth met each week to discuss various social justice issues that were linked both to their partnerships and the wider context of Nepali society.

Much like the experience of the TLI at Bryn Mawr, these conversations ranged from privilege and communication, to gender and class - with culture specific elements that linked to Nepal's unique history and diversity. For me, it was an incredible experience to be a part of both the TLI at Bryn Mawr and the Sharing Knowledge for Peace Nepali version of the TLI, and to be able to reflect upon the ways that each culture viewed and measured issues of social justice. Things that would have been hot topics of controversy in the US were sometimes hardly of concern to the Nepali youth, while other issues that might slip away from American debates ignited hours of heated discussion in the context of Nepali culture. As I this page opens into conversation, I will certainly write more about these differences and how my reflections of this experience have given me new perspectives on the culture of social justice dialogues in the US. For now I'll say, the conversations held in our tiny office in a busy corner of Kathmandu often appeared to be as eye opening for the participants as the experience was for me - and it was an incredible journey to be a part of this process of unfolding that occurred as our conversations took on a life of their own. 

At the end of the program, we held a conference (pictured below) in which all participants had the opportunity to share their experiences of the project with various stakeholders from NGOs and other education oriented organizations. Our hope was to share the model of non-formal education with others to see if they, too, would be interested in using its structure in different contexts, and to open a dialogue about the potential for this model to be used to address issues of diversity, peace building, literacy, development, brain drain, etc. Many fascinating ideas emerged, and part of this page is intended to discuss possibilities for new programs to emerge. Again, this will be something open for more discussion on this page and I hope to invite new ideas to enter the conversation. 

So, for now, that’s an introduction to the project, and a glimpse into some of the topics I hope to go deeper into as this conversation begins. I hope that members of the Bryn Mawr and Serendip community can join in and offer insight and reflection about these issues as well as other alternative education and social justice related experiences they have, and the potential for new connections to be formed across experience and borders. I also hope to invite some of the Nepali participants to join in and share their perspectives on the experience and the potential for these ideas to evolve in the Nepali context. 

Check out the video on the main page for some reflections on the Sharing Knowledge for Peace participants! And please feel free to add anything you think might enrich the conversation, be it ideas related directly to this project, or to other forms of education, connection, empowerment, or…?

I look forward to seeing how this conversation unfolds!