3/11/2015 - Interview with Ajay Rimal, Headmaster of the "Superb Catalyst Academy" in the village of Khanikhola.
AR: Ajay Rimal, headmaster of the school Superb Catalyst Academy.
MB: Maxence Banide, volunteer.
FD : Florence Ducler, volunteer.
MB - Let's start with you. Who are you, which is your background ?
AR - My name is Ajay and I live in Khanikhola. I come from a family of 5 siblings, 3 sisters and 2 brothers. I had the chance to attend one of the first English schools in this village, which was created by my father more or less 30 years ago. I attended that school from the 1st grade until the 4th. Afterwards, I carried on my studies in a governmental school, where we were 124 students in 6 different levels in the same classroom. I was not that kind of child who participated a lot in class, I felt pleased if I could listen to the teacher and I got involved in the subject I was interested about. I finished the high school in the same place and then I moved to Kathmandu to study in the Tribhunav University. It was really hard due to economical struggles which avoid me to pay the rent and the school. My parents did not have the resources to help me either so, at that moment, I decided to give up. I quit university and I decided to go to India to invest all that I had, 1000 rupees (9 euros). An after all, at least I could survive 6 months there, even if I had to sleep a lot of night in the street...
MB - Did you finish your studies in Kathmandu?
AR - Yes, I finally got my master's degree in Political Sciences and I am in process to obtain a new master degree in Foreign Languages (English). At that time, I was hurry to obtain my certificate in order to celebrate it in an "American style", to hold a great party and forget about the academic life. However, I finally plunge into the studies again!
MB - Was it a childhood dream the fact of seeking to meet foreign people?
AR - Yes, absolutely. Since I was 7 years old I had the interest to talk to the travellers. At that time, I had already met 4 English speakers who stopped in Khanikhola to have a rest and, despite my low level in English and my shyness, I went to talk with them and I could help them to find a proper hostel where to sleep.
MB - Were the other children also so curious about it?
AR - No, I was the only one. An precisely, the day after meeting one of those travelers, I went to the hostel before he woke up to continue talking with him. They were from Austria and they spoke about petrol ... They offered me tea and I got really surprised when I received a bill of 100 rupees. That time, that was a lot of money and I had never had that much in my hands. With that amount, I went to Kathmandu with a friend on a truck and, for the first time, I could walk through the city without my parents. We managed to go to a cinema to watch an Indian movie. It was a new experience that amazed us, with the big screen, the dark room... Afterwards, when I was in 8th grade, I wrote a letter to those people to express my gratitude thanks to the address they had left. I waited two years until I got their answer, which contained a bill of 50 dollars what meant 3500 rupees! That allowed me to buy all my school books that year, and during more scholar years.
MB - Now let's look into your life as a principal of the school; how did it happen?
AR - First, I wanted to follow my father's steps. He was also the headmaster of a school. My "Superb Catalyst Academy" was situated in the same place where my dad had his school. He died during the civil war in Nepal. His last will was to educate his people and to help them to develop. I am proud and happy of my choice to follow his will, even if it was and it still is a way with a lot of holes and handicaps. I had already passed my 11 or 12 years in Kathmandu before his death, I had already finished my studies and given some English classes. Afterwards, I started the creation of the school which was inaugurated in 2007. I gave everything to create that school, my school. It is a little bit like Emi (his daughter of 9 years old). Today, I am grateful to see how it evolved. Already, 250 volunteers have come to support and help us and they carry with them, I think, a really nice memory of that experience.
FD - Can you tell me about the resources you used to create the school in 2007?
AR - That time I was teaching ICT and English in the Catalyst Institute, founded in 2005 by the young people of the community. With that job, I could save 1000 dollars. I also got a loan from my relatives (mainly from my wife's family, Bina) of about 4000 dollars. Those 5000 dollars were used to create the school. Seven years after, I had not been able to return all the money and I am no longer able to ask for more.
FD - Then, afterwards, how did you manage to maintain the school opened?
AR - The school stayed opened thanks to internal resources (the fees payed by the students that could afford it). So, in total, 180 students pay about 800 rupees in a month (8 dollars), and the rest of the children do not pay because their families have not the resources to do so. However, we want to welcome and accept all the children, even if they cannot pay the school, regardless their origin or cast. The school also survives thanks to the volunteers. We have host more than 300 volunteers these past 4 years. All of them contribute economically according to their possibilities and they help specifically helping in the teaching sphere or in the building process of the school. Also, the children in critical situations are sponsored by certain people who donate regularly.
We have also carried fundraising campaigns on the Internet thanks to the connections made by the volunteers all around the world. We had been able to save almost 6000 dollars by holding four different fundraising projects.
MB - Are the students' results good
AR - 100% of our students who reach class 10 are enrolled in superior studies since 5 years ago.
MB - Which are the future projects for the Superb Catalyst Academy?
AR - Our main goals are to improve the teaching in Math and English but we also have different project like "The great mother project". The objective of this project is to help the mothers of some of the students who have no longer husband in order to give them the skills required to become independent and to better raise their children. Because here, in Nepal, there are a lot of forced marriage cases, domestic violence... Nowadays, 14 women are involved in this project, either in means of suggestions and counseling in order to manage their house work or to learn how to self sustain their family. For example, we can give some chicken and wait until they reproduce. Then, we leave them the small chickens and we take back the adult ones, in order to give them to another mum and continue the process.
Another project is called "PROMANENT WELFAIR SOCIETY NEPAL". It is a non for profit association which helps the population in subjects related to justice, education and environment. Regarding the environment, we collect the plastic rubbish in order to recycle them and to obtain new objects useful in the daily life. This way, we avoid burning or throwing them like we normally do. Other projects like the "Aquaponic" are based on technologies able to create gas from the toilet blocks.
This house, Global Home, where we live with Emi and my wife Bina and which hosts the volunteers is also a project itself. It has been built thanks to the volunteers' donations. The next project, which is already being developed, is the "SUPERB CATALYST TREKKING AND TOUR AGENCY". It consists on the creation of a trekking agency where all the profits will be invested in the school. The first trekking routes will be starting in a month.
The last project is the "EARTH BAG", this one is specially urgent and important due to the fact that we have 60 students in the same classroom. It is necessary to built five new classrooms in Earth-bags, which will be able to overcome the earthquakes. This will cost around 6500 euros, an amount that, unfortunately, we do not have. In the same way, we would like to teach this anti-earthquake building technique to the population in the community in order to avoid them suffering from the horror we all lived during the last natural tragedy.
MB - What is an Earth-Bag? Which is its utility?
AR - The Earth bag is a hessian full of soil which is compressed and covered by iron string. Afterwards we add a cape of cement around it. This enables to create walls and structures able to resist earth quakes.
MB - Ideally, which would be the perfect amount of money to run all these projects?
AR - For now, I do not focus on all the projects but principally on the construction of the 5 classrooms (6500 euros for a standard building, with a limited work-force resource). "Be the change you want to see in the future".
FD - Can you make a list of all the spenses in order to manage the school ?
AR - Rent : 2200 US$ per year
Teachers' salary: 1500$ per month
Bus (fuel and driver): 500$ per month
Administration : 500$ per month
Bina and me are not receiving any salary from these activities.
MB - Which type of critical situations are you encountering due to the lack of resources?
AR - One year ago, when the school was situated 4km from the current place, we had to face an increase in the rent which suddenly was no longer 10000 (100 euros) but 35000 (350 euros) each month. That was too much for us, for a place which had no space. We had to look for another place and, luckily, we found the area where we are now, which is 5 times bigger than the previous one and which costs the same rent, 35000 rupees per month.
MB - How could you stand after all this during all these years?
AR - I believe in 3 things; the creation, the preservation and the destruction. This is the logical cycle in life that everyone has to face and to adapt to. I tolerate everything due to the fact that all that comes has a reason to be.
MB - You have mentioned your father's last will but which one would be yours?
AR - My only dream is to keep on working on Education and to see how the Superb Catalyst Academy progresses, maybe with partnerships, sponsors; I am opened to all the possibilities.
MB / FD - Thank you for the interview Ajay.
AR - Thank you to you for having spent your time with it.
Currently, Ajay and Bina have under their responsibility 300 students and the obligation to pay the teachers, the rent, the school bus, house work, etc...