Nepal – Debate Mate International Programme 2019

Nepal – Week 1

On a dusty, potholed road, with personalised brightly painted trucks nearly scraping the sides of our bus as we fought to share the narrow and notorious Prithvi Highway that climbs out of the expansive Kathmandu Valley; we had a bumpy eight hours to reflect on the first week of teaching at the Kathmandu Samata school.

Founded in 2001 by philanthropist Uttam Sanjel, the famous Samata (translated as bamboo) school system reaches 12 countries and provides affordable yet high-quality education to both the boys and girls of South Asia. Kathmandu’s school consists of a beautifully built courtyard of bamboo-lined classrooms centred on a raised concrete stage. The use of bamboo isn’t only for aesthetic purposes. It is a local material that has a natural resilience to disasters such as earthquakes. In the wake of the 2015 earthquake that shook much of Nepal’s infrastructure to the ground, the use of bamboo is both boosting the local economy and providing natural protection to the students.

It was on this stage, four days earlier, that our group of mentors (from London, Birmingham and Manchester) launched Debate Mate’s ninth iteration of its International Summer Programme with a closely fought, impassioned show debate on the motion This House would ban school uniforms. The purpose of this show debate was not only to excite the children, but to use as an instructive reference in the upcoming programme.

The International Summer Programme’s task is to deliver a condensed, three-day masterclass in the fundamentals of debating. The first day’s challenge was to instil in the students a confidence that would allow their voices to be heard. This is where we were first surprised. Due to Debate Mate’s perennial existence at the school, whilst the year 8’s were all new to the programme, many of the year 9’s and 10’s were returning for the second and third time. Although we would spend the morning teaching the year 8’s how to project their voices and control their body language from the beginning, the afternoons were reserved for the older and more experienced students. This allowed us to teach them more advanced debating skills – team strategies, rhetorical questions, and defining the motion.

One of the first day’s activities is called the Boat Debate. In this activity, students take on the personas of famous public figures or celebrities of their choosing and, over the course of several rounds, plead to the audience to save them from an imaginary sinking boat to which they are all consigned. The purpose of this activity is to have the children speak continuously for 30 seconds, using simple argumentative structure and style – in order to practice convincing an audience. The five (year 8) girls who volunteered for this activity, blew us away, not only with their character choices, but also with their English fluency and natural flair. We heard inspiring speeches from the girls, who fully inhabited their characters, which included: Anuradha Koirala, a Nepalese social activist and founder of a non-profit dedicated to helping sex-trafficked women; Jhamak Kumari Ghimire, a writer who overcame cerebral palsy and currently is a columnist at Nepal’s Kantipur newspaper; and Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Nepal’s first women to summit Mount Everest.

It’s safe to say that surprising and inspiring is an understatement. 

It was on the second day that we learnt what the students were passionate about. From climate change to the effects of social media on society. When debating motions such as This House would ban cars in cities, the children brought in many arguments from each side. Yes we should ban cars to help the environment argued the proposition, and no we shouldn’t, we should prioritise economic growth to help those in poverty, responded the opposition.

The third and final day of delivering lessons in Kathmandu entailed of students demonstrating their culminated communication skills through in-class debates with each other, delivering full 3 minute speeches and refining their debating techniques. Motions debated varied, with the popular topic of This House would make all teachers wear school uniform argued throughout different classrooms. Largely popular due to the student’s opinions of strongly wanting Teachers to wear school uniform to create equality and mutual respect between them. 

This final day of teaching proved extremely valuable in growing the confidence of our young Nepali debaters as each pupil had the chance to practice using their new persuasive speaking, accepting and rejecting POIs and learning final improvements for each individual to then bring forth, game face ready for Competition day. One last debate within the final few hours of teaching was delivered from a few of the classrooms with students as young as 13, proposing This House would lower the voting age to 14! As the voting age in Nepal is now 16 in contrast to England’s voting age of 18 the mentors found the topic fascinating, especially being privileged to hear from the perspectives of the young debaters about why they believe and support for their voting age to be lowered even more significantly. 

After all of the hard work and hours that all of our students had put in this week, our competition day finally arrived. Students turned into debaters and Mentors turned into judges, with an air of excitement to the teams, they were now ready  to debate in front of other teams within their school. Our teams assembled to debate for the first round which saw Team Unity, Debate Evolution, Team Avengers and Team Emperors debating the motion This House would make the school week 5 days long. As the pupils from the debate highlighted, the Nepali school week is 6 days long, thus the students expressed and stressed the importance of having enough time to rest, revise and relax. Moreover a common opinion communicated was that having enough time off of school as a young person allows for space to grow in non-academia related creativity. Judges gave detailed and useful feedback to each individual speaker from both opposition and proposition of all 7 debates occurring in round one, providing pupils with the chance to understand what they excelled in and what they could practice to refine in the next debate.

Many of our students brushed off their nerves after the first debate of the day, finding confidence in having participated in an official debate against other teams and eagerly awaited for the second round. The second motion of the day consisted of the pupils debating proposition and opposition for This House would ban gambling. All mentors agreed that they were highly impressed with the maturity and general knowledge that the young pupils brought to the debate. As the debates were called to a close, the final results of the day were collected and the two finalists who would debate in front of everyone were announced… Team Unity and Team Emperors! 

With an impressive day of debating all of our students gathered to watch the two finalists debate over the motion This House would ban social media for under 16’s. Team Unity held proposition, discussing the dangers and harmful ways in which social media can influence impressionable young children, whilst the opposition, Team Emperors, strongly debated the ways in which young people should be trusted with social media. Our judges then faced the difficult task of deciding the winners. Our Kathmandu teams in the final debate demonstrated refined and well rehearsed debating skills, however the team that won through their impressive team strategy was Team Unity! 

We are excited to return to Kathmandu in a couple weeks where we will have Haider and Holly’s Team Unity from Kathmandu compete against our yet to be announced winners of Pokhara and Bhaktapur!

Stay tuned! 

Toby & Holly

Nepal Week 2

After a bumpy 8 hour bus journey in the sweltering heat, the Debate Mate Nepal team finally arrived in Pokhara, the destination of our second week of teaching. Centred around Phewa Lake, Pokhara is an enchanting mixture of city life and idyllic natural scenery, so the team were more than excited to begin their first day teaching in this beautiful metropolis.

While we had grown accustom to mentoring in pairs, in order to reach as many students as we did in Kathmandu, we decided to teach individually in Pokhara. With class sizes ranging between 20-27 and the grasp of English slightly lower than in Kathmandu, the first day proved to be challenging but incredibly rewarding work. Games like ‘Where Do You Stand’ revealed the thoughtful, nuanced and personal opinions of the students. While most rejected the notion of removing school uniforms, due to the pride they felt in their education, opinions on issues like the Nepali royal family were much more polarised. It became very clear to us that these students had their own voices and knew exactly what they were talking about.

As former Debate Mate students, watching the students’ rapid growth in confidence and skill became both a point of pride and a reminder of our own journeys. Neither of us would have the conviction and oratory skills needed in life without having done the programme, and being able to empower these students, the way our own mentors empowered us, was a complete pleasure.

By the second day of teaching, the students began to come out of their shell and it was wonderful to see their cheekiness and wit. A round of ‘Zah’ very quickly became a round of ‘Jaa’, Nepali for ‘go away’! While the progress in their skills became a source of pride for us mentors, their ability to have fun and enjoy the programme became a source of joy.
In order to build excitement about their first debate, and to demonstrate the structure of a debate, we began day three with a high-energy show debate in which the students cheered on the mentors they’d been taught by all week. Their unwavering enthusiasm was appreciated considering we were all standing under the glaring sun for the whole debate.
We were glad to see some remarkable first debates delivered by our students. It was great to see them grasping the important skills we set out to teach and formulating intelligent rebuttal and fully developed PEELs – impressively comparable to our previous classes despite these students being younger.

 

The competition in Pokhara was larger than the one in Kathmandu, and saw The Dragon Warriors, Ultra Legendary Gang, Diamond Debating, Vengance Debaters, Pokhara Warriors United, Debate Rockers, and The Samatians engage in battles of words throughout the day.
The scores were excruciatingly close with only 5 points separating the teams ranking 1st and 5th at the end of the day.

The final saw Jim’s team, Debate Circus, face off against James’ team, Vengeance Debaters, in a well-matched debate which culminated with the latter being crowned the Pokhara Debate Mate Cup Winners.

After the competition, the school treated us to a special lunch, following which the mentors and some teachers from the school gathered to watch Jim attempt to climb the hill behind the school in under 5 minutes – which we are happy to say he successfully did. (The school principal was very impressed).

We’re now travelling back up the bumpy road from Pokhara, through Kathmandu, to the historic city of Bhaktapur for our final teaching week in this year’s Debate Mate Nepal Programme, where we will find out the final two teams who will be joining Team Unity, Team Avengers, Vengeance Debaters, and Debate Circus in the Nepal Debate Mate Cup Final!

Haider & Chhaya

Nepal Week 3, National Final & Reflection

Bhaktapur

Despite unfamiliar surroundings, not a hint of trepidation hung about the humid air, as nine confident mentors prepared to tackle their third and final Samata School in Bhaktapur. The morning air of the historic town lay still and undisturbed, but as day broke, we were soon greeted with exotic smells, the discourse of bartering shop keepers and innocuous animal calls. Quickly, cheery and garrulous conversation turned to strategic talk of the task at hand; as we were told Bhaktapur students were the winners of the National Final for the last two years. It was then revealed that we would have one less day to teach than in Pokhara and Kathmandu. Untroubled, we marched through the main gate and were swarmed by hundreds of excitable, beaming students, ranging from the ages of three to fifteen. It became apparent the school was victim to the harsh rains of the previous day, the main courtyard, where we were to teach was overrun with water and detritus. Much to our surprise, the students appeared unfazed and greeted us with openness and sincerity; we could not help but admire their love for education. Brimming with pride, we began to acknowledge the extent to which our previous year’s programme had inspired enthusiasm for debating. The children were soon split into groups as they followed their mentors into classrooms. No soon as they had begun, the students far exceeded the admittedly high expectations of their mentors. Again, another testimony to the amazing work Debate Mate has performed in previous years working with the school. Students, who had taken part in previous year’s programme, were eager to help those with no prior experience. One student in particular, Subash, the quintessential Debate Mate enthusiast, was quick to take on the role of assisting mentors in explaining the more intricate lessons of strategy and style to the novice year eights, the communal sense of deference was inspiring. Two days of smooth mentoring breezed past, as students became stronger and stronger with each passing day. It was soon time for the Bhaktapur competition.

Our third local competition day started off smoothly. The grade nine students from Kathmandu had joined the competition, the instant an awe- inspiring sense of community was apparent by both schools wanting to converse immediately with each other, a potentially rare sight in England. The competition was underway and motions of banning gambling and reducing the school weeks caused intense preparation. All students performed exceedingly well and mentors racked their brains to give critical feedback on how to improve and narrow down there vast list of positives. However, the Janus-Faced nature of competitions is that there could only be two finalists, two exceptional teams from the Bhaktapur Samata. The final motion was given “This House Would Ban Social Media for Under Sixteen Year-Olds.” After furious preparation the debate was underway. Both teams verbally jousted fully employing all the various techniques and methods illuminated to them by their mentors, the crowd sat awestruck in silence at the abilities of  peers, listening, determined to catch their every word. All at once it was over, and the judges departed to confer. All present knew it had been close, this was only confirmed by the faint dichotomous discussion of those judging. They returned… drum roll please…  “And the winner of the Bhaktapur 2019 Debate Mate Competition is… Ruthless Rebuttals!” A mighty cheer erupted from crowd, both teams shook hands as the winners were congratulated and rewarded with medals. A truly magical end to our time in Bhaktapur!

National Final Day

Beats and bars of the winning team chants rang throughout the square of the newly built Kathmandu Bamboo school. On arrival, Uttam Sanjel welcomed the winning teams of Pokhara, Kathmandu and Bhaktapur who culminated to the final event. The beaming smiles of the children resonated a pride that filled all mentors. Not only had all mentors secured a winning team in the final but had developed dynamic and personal relationships with the children in such a short space of time. 

Sushil, the headmaster of Kathmandu school watched the development of his students standing next to schools from across the nation. The ability on show was astounding, with the audience reacting to all POIs and the buzzing energy from the arguments flying between each side. Persuasion and involvement were demonstrated by all students on the stage in their rally between teams. The interactions and relationships that were cultivated between the mentors and the students fostered connections between different students from Nepal’s different regions. The result was extremely close with both teams finishing with outstanding performances and the big win going to team Unity.

Uttam’s embracing hugs and cake offerings led to conversations of Debate Mate’s future engagements with the 77 other bamboo schools residing in Nepal. Reflecting upon his vision he spoke of the bridge that he has formed between the expensive private and public government schools. Uttam’s humble address into his life story behind the development of Samata radiated a genuine nourishment of the development of Nepal’s education system and the minds and hearts of Nepal’s young. The celebratory lunch developed an even deeper rapport as we reflected on the programme as a whole. It was both an honour and an inspiration to speak with such influential individuals at such a humanistic level. The work they perform and continue to accomplish will stay with the 2019 Nepal team in our teaching, our professions and our minds. The journey back to the guest house was bittersweet. Upon reflection of all the kids reached and the true relationships between all mentors this is an experience everlasting. 

Reflection 

Serenity over the tops of the hills adjacent to the knocking and drilling of cement into new forms and shapes laid old. Laden and layered with red bricked clay tiles and golden piped crowns of the stupas that stand in their full glory. Bhaktapur guesthouse oversaw the square the welcomed the locals. Horns blazing and bouncing off cobbled turns, rocked from the shaken earth. Streets filled with with sellers of papyrus, bush knives and egg shelled gemmed anklets and varnished desks amongst clay pots. Shattered drainage in the puddled filled classrooms of the Bamboo Samata Schools, these are smiles and minds filled with integrity unforgettable. Red shirted men, gleamed at the paper kites they flew across roofs for spectators to admire. Observed as we sat in the coffee scented pottery café, rickshaws mounted themselves with vegetables, green marrow, leeks and corns. Laundry sprawled on stoned piles up valley winding roads. Building tops with sights of paragliders tumbling into lake Pokhara and fireflies swimming in the thick heat that holds hands with the silence of black night. Swashing stream of rainwater tumbling along roads trodden into drains panelled drains that hug street corners. Mauve, coral and apricot coloured shawls that drape shoulders of the women who weave colour with their eyes. Fuel pumped arms of the men who ride through the clogged airways of this city. Each vein has pockets so distinct from its neighbours observing the passing by. Gravel crunches as it is piled on by shovels held by woven baskets and lured by the creased and nimble workers. Hands clasped round the backs of their skulls rebuilding the rubble that shook lives shook souls. Meat sprawled over rusted metal tops, guarded by the beige pollutants that poison the lungs of our young. Scuttling and scuffing the corners of barred cages stacked one, two three, flutter chickens. Red beaked, street roamers walking with motions of disillusionment intoxicated from the fumes of Kathmandu valley. This. Air. Lingers. Especially Jim’s gas from my preventing garlic mosquito tablets. Wooden carved door frames that hold entrances into life portals. Windows hatched ajar peering into the faces that acknowledge. Shines commodified and ornamented on the openings of houses that spill into the streets, into the minds. 

James & Abby