Today 40 students graduated from the English Access Microscholarship Program, the first cohort of students in Nepal. At great personal sacrifice, these students have spent 6 hours weekly for the past two years learning English after school and on weekends. In addition to English language instruction, they have explored U.S. culture, traditions, holidays, ideals, and democracy. As a result of their hard work and supportive teachers, they emerge with greater confidence, lasting friendships, and leadership skills. This program, for many of them, has changed their lives.
I could see it in their beaming faces today, as they stood supported by their teachers, NELTA and U.S. Embassy representatives, and their families. They were happy. They were proud. They have accomplished something difficult and against all odds. As the Deputy Chief of Mission Patricia Mahoney said during her remarks, whatever they can imagine – with education – is possible. They can overcome challenges, contribute to their great country, and make a difference. They are, in short, the future of Nepal.
I first met these students during their Teej celebration during August 2011. They had been part of the English Access Microscholarship Program since that March and were making steady progress. They welcomed me as Nepali youth always do: with respect and love. Since then, I have visited them several times, along with their cohorts in outlying areas.
My contribution has been small (I blog about it here) but has had a lasting impact on me, a journey I will ever be grateful for. I have attempted to instill some form of 21st Century skills in them, or at least a desire to learn. We've covered Netiquette and social media, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and search engines. I've shown them slideshows, multimedia presentations, and how technology can be used for learning English. They've explored my cameras, iPad, and video camera. Just last week we had a good discussion on how they can be contributors and innovators to make their world a better place. They wrote some personal pledges on how they will make a difference.
Today is a day of pride and success: for the students and for everyone who has played a part in their great journey. Tomorrow may bring new challenges and new mountains to climb.But today, for one hour, these students were honored and their efforts celebrated.
Greatness was in that room.