A Conversation with Vipassana Chettri, Trainee, Partnership in Education Program, Kathmandu, Nepal

April 14, 2021

Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Project, in April 2021 graduate student Tierra Hatfield (G’22) interviewed Vipassana Chettri, a trainee with the Partnership in Education (PiE) program at St. Xavier’s College (SXC) in Kathmandu, Nepal. In this interview, Chettri discusses her experience as a PiE trainee and SXC student during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?

My name is Vipassana, and I live in Kathmandu and talking about my background, my mom is a principal at a college and my father, he owns a business, and I’m currently doing a bachelor’s studies in social work. I have been teaching in the PiE program for only five months.

Thinking back to before the COVID-19 crisis started, could you walk me through what your typical day was like at the university?

Before the crisis began, I was in first year, and it was like a quite familiar environment for me, Tierra, then suddenly the crisis happened and suddenly it changed everything around me.

In my neighborhood, I lost communication, I lost communication between my friends also. I started having anxiety attacks. I'm a, you know, student with a history of depression, and I was depressed since I was in Grade 10. And suddenly those things that happened because of the pandemic, we had to stay inside and we stayed at home. I’m the only child, and I cannot interact with any of my cousins or anyone else, and I’m in a teenage age and my mom and dad wouldn't understand what are my desires and the kinds of stuff I want to do, so it really messed up my head and that's all. I lost communication with everyone, and I started having anxiety, and my mom, my mom did an online therapy for me actually.

Could you tell me when you came back to the PiE program after the initial lockdown?

After one year. They shut it for about a year.

What decisions did the college and the PiE program make in response to the COVID-19 crisis? Do you know what the conditions were for the other government schools in your area?

What changes, let's see, I mean the distance was the main changing feature. It was really hard for me to be alone, and even though I had some reaction to my Facebook-connected people and stuff like that, it really made me feel uncomfortable. It was complicated, you were in the university and when we returned to our university, it was not as as before. To go to the classes, there was lots of changes, and it was hard being direct, like you had to be careful that you don't interact and don't touch anyone else.

Were there a lot of students who returned to the in-person classes after COVID-19, or the same number of students as before COVID-19?

There were actually less after COVID-19.

Could you walk me through what your usual day was like before the COVID-19 crisis and how it has changed since the crisis? How did the responses from the college impact you and PiE?

Okay, actually, we have to arrive at SXC by 6:00 am and start the PiE program at 6:30 am to 7:30 am, right, and then it ends—that’s before the crisis. After the crisis, the schedule has been messed up, and right now we are recovering from the schedule changes and daily changes, and it's hard also.

Actually talking about that, there are both sides—good and bad—in the side that’s good in the sense, we can interact more and go hang out outside, and during the crisis we learned some new stuff, a lot of things in our life I mean. Like, the relationship between families and the importance of families and stuff like that, because we don't give much time to families [before], and we just have to give time to ourselves. And the bad side is that we had problems and also the financial stuff like that.

What are the changes and impacts you have seen in your own community?

Yes, especially the financial stuff, especially my community was hard. One person has done suicide because their financial stuff, and it's very heartbreaking. Lots of people have gone through the financial stuff, and even gone through lots of depression during the crisis.

How has the College responded to the COVID-19 crisis and how have you been affected by that? I have heard right now that the university is back up and running, with in-person classes, is that true?

Yes, it's true, actually. The university did a good job handling all the school graduation during COVID, but also our university did all my classes online to maintain our studies. Because during the first lockdown, I guess no one studied or even looked at their books, and our university did an online class as soon as possible—within a month we did it in our university and we got to do our studies, so they did not let it affect any studies and we even got to do online exam stuff like that, so the university did a very good job with it.

Do you know if many students, and specifically those in marginalized communities, were able to access education and online classes during the crisis?

For some people who are at the village areas, because they won't have power or internet money, it was quite hard for them to get access, and a few of the students were not even present in the online classes. But in our university, I think our university even managed to give them the data back.

Is there anything that you would change about the decisions and changes made by the college or other universities during the crisis? 

I think there's a very hard situation, right. The university programs are making our minds more creative and teaching us every, every single day, teaches us new things and new responsibilities. So I think I’m not going to change them, and I am satisfied with what the university has given me. 

In terms of a timeline, when did you actually come back from the online classes to the in-person classes? And is your schedule now with the in-person classes similar to before the crisis or is it very different?

It was a year-long lockdown. One year and one month, so around last month. And it changed because I joined PiE, and when I was not in PiE a year ago my schedule was like to wake up at 8:30 am and getting dressed at 9:00 am and coming to university. But for now for PiE, I have to wake up at 5:00 am and get ready and get dressed and, so I think it changed for good.

How did you originally find out about PiE?

Actually, my seniors, my senior did this, and according to the seniors in the PiE programs, they explained about this program and it was an inspiration for me. I also found that I was fond of the children, and I just wanted to teach them more and learn more about their background stuff like that.

Can you describe your experience teaching in the PiE program?

Teaching the first one, two, three months, it was going great, and after three months the students they got attached and it's quite hard. It was quite hard for me to handle those students, but the teaching method at PiE is going great, which I am applying according to my training.

So this is your first time teaching with the PiE program, during the COVID crisis. How do you see your students' experience of the COVID-19 crisis and of going back to in-person classes after the crisis?

Yeah, it's hard for them to understand what is forbidden and to explain, because sometimes we cannot apply the safety measures, also we have to tell them again and again, do this, do that, and it's kind of hard for the students. I think the students, for them during the crisis, it was quite hard to get access to the internet because they were not given proper education [during the crisis]. And when they returned to PiE from the lockdown and from their school, it was quite hard to start teaching them again, because we have to start from the basic level like counting one-two-three and adding two plus two and stuff like that.

How did the PiE program balance the educational and academic training with the social development part of the program following the crisis? 

Actually, the PiE program is now focused on their education and some self-development. For self-development as of now, it's just been one month when we get a set up an exhibition where they can do their own creativity, like building on cars, building new innovation, and stuff like that. They even won some medals, and I think they did quite a good job and the program is not just on education but also personal development. During, after the pandemic, mostly students are coming out to the PiE program because some of the students are not in the school, and they come only to PiE. 

What levels do you teach and how big are your classes at PiE, usually?

I am teaching Level 1, 2, 3, 4. We have about one hundred right now. So if we get maximum haulage to this, but right now we have completed one.

Is there anything else that you want to talk about that I haven't asked yet and that you think would be important to me to know about the PiE program or the COVID crisis?

Yeah, I think there's one thing—the PiE students are facing a lot of financial problems. And I think how can we improve in that and how can we provide those financial stuff, and even the education stuff, is important. Lots of students are not even going to schools for the tuition. We are healthy for now, so we are hoping we can think about more stuff we can do for them.

Did PiE resume the home visits and have you conducted any visits since the in-person classes started again?

Yes, they did. I have realized a lot of things during the home visits, because we are from a privileged family but they are not, and watching in a small home where there are just two beds, one kitchen and everything they need is just in one small room. But also, they are happy and it's kinda hard and heartbreaking for me to see that, it's very sad and I did not even imagine that things are so hard.

The crisis made everything worse, especially in education, and even how our university responded was that if we can provide them with financial help for their condition, then the college will try to help them.

Do you have to do any training to be a trainee in the PiE program? And how long do you think you will stay in the PiE program?

Actually, we have to do it once a year. But in June is our end of the semester, and if we are going to continue or not is not sure, because the previous six months we were stuck at home. So I don't know if you're going to stay here until a year or six months.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I really appreciate you sharing with me your perspective of everything that's happening with the program and the students.

Thank you so much, it was really nice meeting you.

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