She has already made a great impact with the children – many of whom have been mentally, physically and sexually abused over a sustained period of time. Here, in this report I received today, Rebecca describes her experience so far...
"When I arrived here, I had never taught before – and for those of you who haven’t either, I would like to share something with you: teaching is exhausting! I feel compelled to apologise to my teachers for any times I caused them to wish that they’d pursued a different career path. It’s not that I was a particularly troublesome pupil - in fact, I was a relatively quiet girl - but Art was the only thing I was ever really interested in, so teachers of other subjects had to work extra hard to keep my attention.
Three weeks into my 3-month placement here, I already realise how challenging teaching can be. The worst thing is that I know for a fact that as extremely privileged public school girls, we were 100% more problematic than the eager (if a little self doubting) girls I am lucky enough and honoured to be teaching.
Art is not everyone’s cup of tea and positioning myself as the teacher trying to impart my knowledge of the subject to students has certainly taught me how much I take for granted my ability to draw or form something three dimensional without much effort. It has always been that way for me, but for these girls who five months ago were more practiced on a tightrope or a unicycle, being forced to draw a still life and get to grips with the finer points of perspective and form must be totally bemusing and baffling. Especially when the person teaching them is trying to explain it in very poor pigeon Nepali!
What we put our teachers through makes me shudder to remember, and I feel an immense shame at how ungrateful we were for the education we received when I consider by comparison just how much these girls have been through, and see every day how willingly these victims of a very poor society are tackling every challenge I throw at them with a smile - and I have thrown them plenty!
I should point out at this juncture that the main reason for being here is to teach sculpture, but I strongly believe that if you can understand form and perspective by drawing it, then it will benefit everything you turn your hand to. I decided from the start that the only way to work out what they could and could not handle was to chuck them in the deep end and see if they swam.
Not really realising that most of them had never actually drawn before - every child I know grows up doodling and drawing something - I set up a complicated still life consisting of lots of fruit, mugs and a big brass water container. Knowing the culture for copying here, I made sure every angle presented a different picture and that plenty of the fruit overlapped so that they would be forced to actually look at what was in front of them instead of just drawing how they perceived it to be.
After an initial nervousness from both parties (did I mention I had never taught before?), the girls settled down to draw, only to rub out every small line they made. I decided to remove all rubbers, only to discover that a couple of them had their own and were passing them around underneath the table!
An hour into the session, I was so exhausted that I had to send them off for a 10 minute break – I was also aware that they were taking in a lot of new information. However, if by lunchtime they were paddling, then by the end of the day they were well and truly swimming and tackling the art of shading. I was exhausted but totally amazed by them.
The next morning they were horrified to discover that they had a totally new still life. I deliberately placed the girls who had excelled on a side of the table where the challenge was harder, with the task made a little simpler on the other side for the girls who had struggled. Again the girls exceeded my expectations, lapping up my instructions and advice - Nepali phrasebook in one hand and sketch pad to draw examples in the other - leaving me at the end of the day proud and humbled by their achievements and determination.
In the ensuing 2 weeks I have introduced them to relief sculpture, which they are modelling in clay and then casting in plaster. It is a serious challenge for them, and one they are proving that they are more than up to, despite not always believing it themselves! The aim of this is to help them understand 3-dimensional form but without the stresses of gravity. It also introduces them to materials, skills and methods that can be used in conjunction with mosaic and may one day be useful if commissions for bathrooms, gardens and general interiors are undertaken.
Teaching in a foreign language has challenges of its own and there are moments when I feel totally bemused by my inability to express myself. For their patience in these times, as I scrabble through my phrasebook for the closest words to explain myself, I am truly grateful.
My time here so far has been without a doubt the most humbling and rewarding of my life. The enthusiasm and determination with which the girls have battled to understand what I am trying to teach them continues to surprise me every day and I am in no doubt that they will continue to do so for the remainder of my stay. My only hope is that their patience with my lack of Nepali can match the total awe and amazement in which I hold them."