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The hot pink school in Nepal: A story of students taking action

Image provided by author and edited with Adobe Illustrator.

By Janet Levang, retired teacher, Cranbrook


In September 2011, I stood before my Grade 5/6 class at Gordon Terrace Elementary in Cranbrook and told them I had a story to tell. Far away in a country named Nepal, there is a small village called Kuttal. Approximately 80 people live there growing and raising what they need: chickens, goats, rice, coffee, and vegetables to support their families. My students listened politely as I told my story, but I could see that they were thinking, “What does this have to do with us?”


They—and I—didn’t know yet that this story would take us all on a 12+ year journey!


David and Patricia Stock, two retired teachers in Cranbrook who had been fundraising to support the current school in Kuttal for several years already, approached me and Michelle Sartorel (then principal) at Gordon Terrace to ask us if our school was interested in raising funds to build a new three-room school for children aged three to five in Kuttal. The people of Kuttal had specifically mentioned this when asked what other supports would be useful for their community.


We told David and Patricia that I would propose this idea to my class. And so, I did.


The response was loud and clear from my class: “Yes, we can do this!”


The students asked me what it would cost to build the school. I didn’t answer directly, wanting them to realize that just the building wasn’t enough. I asked them to look around our classroom and think about what makes a building a school. Together we determined it is supplies, equipment, and teachers! We worked out a budget together—to include the building and operating costs—setting our fundraising target at $6,000.


The Nepal Project had truly begun.


Announcements to the school by my Grade 5/6 leaders shared that Gordon Terrace needed to help build a small school, provide school supplies, and hire teachers for the village of Kuttal in Nepal. We sold DQ Dilly Bars, end-of-life library books, book fair posters, zippered fabric bags filled with various items, book bags, and gym bags. One class made beaded bracelets and knitted items to be sold. Other classes held coin drives and collected Canadian Tire money to be resold. We held a small Christmas sale to sell donated, beautifully crafted items from the students and their relatives.

A student at one of the Christmas fundraisers for Gordan Terrace Nepal. Janet Levang photo.

Fundraising continued with carnations for Valentine’s Day, a Mother’s Day sale, jewelry sales, and cash donations of support from Gordon Terrace, the Canadian Friends of Nepal, and the community.


Gradually, we met our goal for the year! More importantly, our students learned the value of giving to others without regard for oneself.


In September, my Grade 6 group left for middle school. My previous Grade 5 group was determined to continue the Nepal Project in Grade 6 and were soon planning the year’s fundraisers, building excitement in the new Grade 5 students in my blended class.


As construction of the school in Kuttal wrapped up, the Nepali people painted their new school hot pink with maroon shutters and doors. They named the school Gordon Terrace Nepal to thank us for our generosity. We continued to send $6,000 a year, as this was the amount of money that was needed to buy equipment and school supplies, pay the teachers, and have a fund for snacks, school upkeep, and administration.


Each year as we sustained this project, the students learned math skills when making change, communication skills when talking about the project and describing the sale items, and project management skills when planning and executing fundraisers. As we participated in the project, the children cast their hearts and minds outside their realities, learning about empathy, disparity, and kindness.


In April 2015, a devastating earthquake hit Nepal.


We waited anxiously for news of the impact on Kuttal. Soon we learned the buildings in Kuttal were destroyed—except for the earthquake-proof little hot pink school Gordon Terrace Nepal. The school became an emergency accommodation as some families moved in until they could build temporary shelters. The earthquake wasn’t something that had happened to anonymous people: it had happened to our friends in Kuttal; people who we knew and cared about. The students immediately wanted to do more to help. When they saw pictures of the villagers moving the dirt in the village with shovels, they made plans to raise money to hire a grader and a front-end loader to make it easier to repair their village. The students doubled their efforts and raised $4,000 over the $6,000 target for that year.


The Nepal Project continues to this day.


As Gordon Terrace Cranbrook has new students and staff join the school community, those already there share the story of the little hot pink school called Gordon Terrace Nepal. And each year, students and staff work together to maintain our long-standing relationship with the hot pink school. Our twin schools have benefited from a global perspective, improved education, and a project that continues to give.

As we participated in the project, the children cast their hearts and minds outside their realities, learning about empathy, disparity, and kindness. 

Fundraising efforts have changed and grown year by year, as money is sent to maintain the school with supplies, equipment, building maintenance, and landscaping. We also added special funds to build a second floor on the school building for community services and to increase the teachers’ salaries.


As of this writing, the total raised by Gordon Terrace Cranbrook for Gordon Terrance Nepal is $100,261.11.


The students who heard my story in September 2011 are adults now. Some moved from Cranbrook, some have stayed. Many have shared with me that they are proud of being involved in the Nepal Project. In childhood, they learned to think outside themselves and to consider how their actions can affect another person. In adulthood, that is reflected in their thoughts and behaviours.


The students who first attended Gordon Terrace Nepal are teenagers now. They received two to three more years of education than the previous Kuttal village children. The opportunities for their future have increased and they have learned the benefit of kindness.


In retirement, I reflect on the hundreds of students who passed through my classrooms. There have been many highlights in my 35 years of teaching. The creation and continuation of the little hot pink school in Nepal makes me smile whenever I think of the growth in the social responsibility of my students.


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