Editorial (July 2015 Issue): EFL teachers in ‘super-difficult circumstance’

Namaste and welcome to the July 2015 issue of Choutari!

We hope you enjoyed our June issue which also focuses on education and EFL teaching in Nepal’s post-disaster situation. You can read the issue here.

In this issue, we have three blog posts and a photography project. In my own article, I have discussed the preliminary findings of the survey on the role of EFL teachers in Nepal’s post-disaster situation, which I call “super-difficult circumstance.” The teachers’ responses reveal a multitude of difficulties (e.g., psycho-social, educational and economic challenges) caused by the recent earthquake. Most importantly, the findings of the survey reveal the “transformative agency” of EFL teachers who transgress the “schooled pedagogy” and can create their own “pedagogy of disaster” to help their students recover from the traumatic experience.

In the second post, Nirjana Sharma, an education journalist based in Kathmandu, shares a featured news story based on her observation of the schools on the resumption after a month-plus unscheduled holidays following the earthquake. 

July Issue of ChoutariIn another article, Dinesh Thapa shares with us his own involvement in the relief and recovery operations in the earthquake-affected areas. He begins with telling his own story and discusses empirical findings about how people are affected by the earthquake. His article is a testimony to redefining the role of “teacher-as-researcher” and an important material for EFL teaching.

Praveen Kumar Yadav’s post focuses on his own classroom experience teaching his students after the earthquake. His story documents the importance of teachers’ role in facilitating the earthquake-related discussions in EFL lessons. More strikingly, the way in which he has framed the devastating stories in his “world literature” course resonates what I call the “pedagogy of disaster.”

The Choutari team always explores new ways to promote pedagogical discussions among EFL teachers. We have initiated a “photography project” for EFL teaching. Influenced by the Critical Photography Theory” (Wells, 2015) and the “Critical Art Pedagogy” (Cary, 2011), the goal of this project is to promote the use of photos/pictures in EFL teaching.

Table of contents
  1. From ‘schooled pedagogy’ to ‘pedagogy of disaster’: The role of EFL teachers in the super-difficult circumstance of post-disaster Nepal, by Prem Phyak
  2.  School resumption brings smiles to children, by Nirjana Sharma
  3. The impacts of the earthquake on education: Contemplation of an EFL teacher, by Dinesh Thapa
  4. I survived and have a story to tell, by Praveen Kumar Yadav
  5. The photography project’: Pictures in EFL teaching, by Choutari Team

I hope you enjoy reading this issue.

Happy readings!

Prem Phyak (Guest editor)

(With Praveen Kumar Yadav)

From ‘schooled pedagogy’ to ‘pedagogy of disaster’: The role of EFL teachers in the super-difficult circumstance of post-disaster Nepal

Prem Phyak

Prem Phyak


The memory of taking classes in a temporary shelter made up of bamboo and tin after the 1988 earthquake is still vivid in my memory. The two-story building of my school on the slope of the mountain village in eastern Nepal was very badly shaken by the earthquake. We could not take classes in the old building. The villagers, teachers, and students worked very hard for many days to build a temporary shelter and run classes. I still remember that in the shelter we used to read aloud “Hello Sita, Hello Ram. Knock, Knock. Knock, Knock” to let our teachers know that we are engaged in doing our tasks. Many times, we could not take classes due to rain and storm. I don’t quite remember how our teachers helped us recover from dreadful experience from the disaster, but the Friday cultural programs and the outdoor activities including field trips were part of fun activities. I wish I had a camera or a cell phone to take the pictures of classes in the shelter during that time. Nobody in the village had these devices then. The situation now has changed a lot. The villagers have cellphones to take pictures and upload them on Facebook to share with wider audience about the updates from the village. We have seen the “social media power” during and post-disaster stage of the April 25 earthquake.

The 7.8 magnitude (April 25, 2015), followed by hundreds of aftershocks including the 7.4 magnitude (May 12, 2015)– took  more than 9,000 people’s lives  and destroyed more than 510,762 homes. Various news reports show that more than 25,000 classrooms of 8,000 schools have to be rebuilt. BCC estimates that more than 90% of schools are destroyed in the hardest-hit districts such as Sindhupalchok, Dolakha, Gorkha, Rasuwa, and Ramechhap. The government estimates the costs of $7 billion, a third of the country’s gross domestic product, to rebuild the damaged physical infrastructures. However, what is missing from the discussion is how to help about two million children who are directly affected by the disaster. While the school dropout has been a thorny issue even before the earthquake, this disaster might further contribute to the increase the dropout rate. UNICEF estimates that more than 1.2 million Nepali children (5-16 years old) are out of school and warns that thousands of children may not join school if appropriate measures are not developed in the post-earthquake stage. Since many children from rural villages have to be relocated in other safe places, they may not find a conducive environment and support to go to school and fully participate in educational activities.

In this blog post, I present the preliminary findings of an ongoing survey research on the role of EFL teachers in the “super-difficult circumstance” of the post-disaster Nepal.  I am using the term “super-difficult circumstance” to embrace the multitude of issues connected with the recent earthquake. I argue that this disaster is not just an earthquake but the convergence of other cascading disasters such as landslides, flooding, and food shortage that directly impacts on children’s educational activities. Moreover, the super-difficult circumstance not only includes lack of physical infrastructures (e.g., school buildings, furniture), but also, and most importantly, complex socio-cultural, economic and political ecology that affect smooth operation of educational activities in the post-disaster situation of Nepal.

The language of disaster: What should EFL teachers know?

Disaster, which affects our daily lives, society, and economy, has never been the focus of English language teaching. Due to the disciplinary boundary, disaster has often been taught as a content of science, geography/social studies, and environmental/population studies. However, the global occurrences of disasters (e.g., hurricane, typhoon, earthquake, flooding, drought, and glacial lake outburst) is increasingly affecting our lives. The world has already experienced numerous disasters in which millions of people died. The Tōhoku Earthquake/Tsunami (2011, Japan), East Africa Drought (2011, East Africa), Haiti Earthquake (2010, Haiti), Pakistan Earthquake (2005, Pakistan), Hurricane Katrina (2005, USA), and Indian Ocean Earthquake (2004, Indonesia), among others, have already taught us so many lessons about disaster management and humanitarian assistance. Should EFL teachers be aware of such disasters and their impacts? How can they contribute to responding to such disasters through teaching?

Of course, EFL teachers should be aware of various types of disasters and help their students become more resilient to cope with traumatic experiences from disasters. The first thing that EFL teachers can do is to incorporate and help students understand various disaster-related concepts in their lessons. The integration of the disaster-related topics definitely enriches vocabulary and the content level awareness of students.

“Disaster” is not easy to define. It literally refers to a sudden event or calamity that causes physical destruction and human suffering. Although there is a debate on the meaning of the term “disaster”, the near consensus definition is: a situation or event, which overwhelms local capacity, necessitating a request to national or international level for external assistance [The Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED)]. Other terms such as “catastrophe” and “calamity” are also used to describe disaster. Two important points we should be aware of are: a) disaster can be used as a cover term which includes all kinds of incidents or events that cause human sufferings; b)  as Enrico Quarantelli, a famous scholar of the  sociology of disaster, argues, disasters are not always “natural” but  a “social phenomenon”. Quarantelli and his colleagues argue that disasters are deeply rooted in the social structure; the location of the people, their sociopolitical and economic status, and the type of governance. Although EFL teachers may not contribute to the technical aspect of disaster, they can be instrumental in addressing social issues surrounding disaster.

The recent “Nepal earthquake” has revealed a number of sociocultural issues that EFL teachers can discuss in the classroom to help their students develop “critical language awareness.” In the previous issue of Choutari, Charlotte Benham analyzes various lessons that EFL teachers can learn from the recent disaster. She argues that EFL teachers can learn how some people are unequally affected by the recent disaster and engage their students in a critical analysis of social inequalities as seen in the relief and recovery operations. A number of scholars from other disciplines (such as anthropology, political science, sociology, education, and economics) have highlighted the need for a social justice approach in the “relief”, “rehabilitation”, “recovery”, and “rebuilding” stage of disaster. In the same issue of Choutari, Rojita Adhikari, Neha Shah, Anuradha Sharma, Chetan K Timilsina and Jeevan Karki present on-the-ground experiences and lessons learned from the disaster. EFL teachers can learn many important lessons from their stories. They all highlight the role of teachers as a “change agent” and a “resilient actor” in the post-disaster Nepal.

On a positive note, the recent earthquake has given us rich corpus of language that EFL teachers can use in the classroom. Local, national, and international newspapers have paid a due attention to the Nepal earthquake and documented it in different forms (text, audio, image, and video). Teachers can easily access these materials and use in the classroom. Some key vocabulary words that are used in newspapers include: magnitude, rubble, reeling, avalanche, aftershocks, tremor, epicenter, victims, donors, mitigation, rebuilding, temporary shelter, relocation, resistance, settlements, perish, assurance, high-rise building, trigger, death toll, rescue, emergency, charity, trauma, jolt, shocking, resume, tent, makeshift, ravage, woe, grapple, volunteer, soaring, wipe out, desperate, devastating, injured, limp back , decease, massive, strike, drone, chopper etc. Teachers can use these words in their lessons in multiple ways. Other words/phrases that promote students’ critical thinking include: poverty, corruption, caste-system, untouchability, social exclusion, unequal distribution, poor, rich, urban, rural, overhead costs, rotten rice, discrimination, leftover, (lack of)access to power, NGO-graphy etc. These words/phrases can be used as a base for critical language awareness in EFL classes. However, this requires teachers to transgress “the schooled pedagogy”–the scripted pedagogy adopted in school curricula–and be aware of sociocultural issues connected with the disaster. This “pedagogy of disaster” is collectively built on the life experiences of students, teachers, and communities.

The preliminary findings of the survey

I am receiving encouraging responses from the EFL teachers; out of 100, 25 EFL teachers have already responded to the survey. As an ongoing research the final results of this survey will be shared in the future issues of Choutari. In what follows, I present the preliminary findings.

Trauma and the super-difficult circumstance: All the respondent-teachers have gone through traumatic experiences in the post-earthquake stage. Although there was no any human casualty in their own and immediate relatives’ family, these teachers had “a very traumatic experience” as they were trembled by “the series of main shocks and aftershocks”. One teacher recounts that “all my family members were worried, nervous, confused and restless” while another teacher says he is so much terrified and could not find any “strategy to be free.” Four respondent-teachers have lost their houses and twelve teachers’ school buildings are destroyed. They have to prepare temporary shelters to run classes. Three teachers reveal that they are “financially affected” as they are jobless due to their workplace closure for one and a half months. All the respondent-teachers spent their nights in a tent for 15-25 days. The 65.5 per cent of teachers say that the earthquake has destroyed their schools/colleges/universities that cannot be used for educational activities. Twenty-eight percent of them mention that they are deeply affected by the “loss of their students”. Three teachers report that some students “have not come back” as they lost their houses. One university teacher mentions that they are running their classes in a private college in Kathmandu as the building of their university cannot be used for educational activities. Some major issues reported by the EFL teachers are as follows:

  • Less individual attention, no focus on teaching, and traumatic feelings all the time.

All students are not present in class. They have gone to Terai in their relatives home fearing the frequent aftershocks. Students are not in complete mood of learning, in a way they have lost enthusiasm in learning after the quake.

No readiness for learning. Still aftershocks are trembling them so they feel insecure at school as buildings have cracks somewhere.

  • Students fear of another quake.

Students are not comfortable in the class. School buildings have cracks so they are frightened.

Even the sound of the vehicles make them feel earthquake tremor. They do not dare to sit even in the tent.

Not all but some of them are still afraid of earthquake. For example, they are reluctant to go to their previous classroom on the third floor of the building.

Yes, they are afraid. They try to stay out of the enclosed area. They have completely forgotten their assignments and deadlines.

  • Student cannot concentrate on their subject matter while teaching (they always relate the example or substance of teaching with earthquake).

Many of my students have cracked buildings in their village and their parents and relatives are in very difficult situation. So, students are frustrated and they are not able to concentrate on their study. It’s been very difficult for them to follow the normal time table. They are still restless and worried. In addition to this, there are cracks in the college building and students feel insecure to attend class in rooms which are located in the upper level.

They feel a bit better now as they would like to continue their study after the quake but they still have a fear that earthquake might come again. The Facebook rumor of big earthquake coming has affected their psychology.

The role of EFL teachers in the recovery

The respondent-teachers have contributed to providing relief materials to the earthquake survivors in many ways. They have raised funds, collected food, provided drinking water, participated in rescue operations, distributed medicine, and made shelters for the survivors. These teachers have played very critical role to help their students recover from the deep traumatic experiences from the disaster. Some of the major activities these teachers have done in their classes are as follows:

Counseling: Most of the respondent-teachers have provided counselling services to their students after the reopening of their schools. One teacher says “we have talked to our students and suggested that they should not be worried”.  Another teachers reveals that “we have tried to look and act normal.” These teachers have shared with their students the information about the disaster and how they can remain alert. Some of the teachers have also helped to build temporary learning centers where their students feel safer to learn before they go to school. These teachers have also helped their students buy books, stationery, bags, and uniforms.

Sharing experiences: The majority of the respondent-teachers encouraged students to share their personal experiences in class.  One teacher recounts “I started the class with sharing about the experience. Also asked the students to share how they helped the more unfortunate members of the community.” These teachers also engaged students in making plans to respond to the future disaster. For example, one of the teachers says:

 We all shared our stories together in the beginning, and I talked about the Psychological First Aid (PFA) on the first day of the class. We also talked about how we helped other people in trouble and how we should be helping them in the future. I told them that disasters like earthquake are natural and they come without any alert and we need to face them.

Another teacher shares:

I have started the class narrating my story of survival in the earthquake. The theme or topic of that day’s class was “I survived & I have a story to tell”. I first told them my story and asked them to share their stories of survival. Though the students felt hesitant to share their story, I facilitated them and gave them freedom to use any language and to use any format of storytelling, which they find convenient. As a result, the class became so interesting later. The next days, I have started teaching them with flexible time without sticking to the time schedule of a session. I am not teaching them seriously like I did before the earthquake. The flexible lesson and methods as per their convenience are used in the class so that they will not feel any burden in their mind while teaching. These days, I have stopped giving serious assignments, e.g. in written form but just reading assignment. I chose more interactive sessions which I believe can help them recover from the shock.

Fun activities: Some respondent-teachers are also doing various fun activities with the students. One teacher, for example, has shared her “muktak and gajal” with the class to help students forget the deep shock and sense of fear. Another teacher does not like the idea of sharing personal stories. He believes that it is necessary to “divert their mind to other topics [by] involving them in various creative, fun and entertaining activities such as painting, music, dance and funny quizzes including games.” Some of the respondent-teachers have also used songs, jokes, and newspaper readings as part of classroom activities.

Integrating disaster-related topics in EFL lessons

The respondent-teachers did not include the disaster-related topics in their lessons in the past. But they have started incorporating them after the recent earthquakes. While responding to the question of whether or not he includes the disaster-related topics in his lessons, one of the respondent-teachers asserts that:

Not much in the past but now I do include the disaster-related topics in my lesson. Yesterday, I was teaching them Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) and we discussed at quite length how we can engage the students in discussion to rebuild Nepal. My students came up with some wonderful activities that can be used in high school English class.

Likewise, another teacher says that “I frequently show them movies and videos for taking precautions about the quake.” Some of the respondent-teachers have already started engaging students in developing plans for staying safe in the future disasters. For example, one respondent has already “asked the students to draw pictures of the scene they have seen in and around their homes; to tell me stories they have; to tell me how they felt during and after the quake; to draw pictures on how they can stay safe etc.” These teachers are also engaging students in critical thinking activities and make them aware of how the disaster has affected some people unequally. For example, one of the respondent-teachers ask his students to discuss how the people in Tundikhel [temporary shelters] are living; how they manage food every day; and what they do during rainy days. At the same time, these teachers are also aware of the fact that the repetition of the disaster-related stories might keep students thinking about the devastation. For example, a teacher argues that “I do not want to continue …talking about disaster [as it] will further affect the students. One of students told me that she did not like to hear more about the earthquake as she has already been fed up of listening about it through family, media and friends.”


The preliminary findings of the survey show two critical points. First, it shows that  EFL teachers in the Nepal’s post-disaster situation are, going beyond the “schooled pedagogy”, focusing on the “pedagogy of disaster’ which includes multiple activities inside and outside of the classroom. By participating in rescue, relief, and recovery activities, the EFL teachers have redefined their role as a “change agent” and demonstrated profound agency to the rebuilding of the country. Second, the EFL teachers have shown their critical awareness about the issues associated with the disaster. As one of the teachers argues, the earthquake survivors should not be treated as “beggars” rather they should be considered as a source of knowledge. The storytelling activities alongside counseling and the integration of disaster-related topics in EFL lessons are important classroom strategies for teachers to help students cope with the traumatic experience from the disaster. Following Arjun Appadurai, a famous sociocultural anthropologist and a major theorist in globalization studies, I reiterate that it is important for EFL teachers to engage students to “document” the stories and experiences from Nepal’s earthquake and share them with the global ELT community. This process will not only help EFL teachers develop teaching materials and an archive of knowledge, but also raises students’ critical awareness about society, culture and education.


[Acknowledgement: I would like to thank all the teachers who responded to the survey.]

School Resumption Brings Smiles to Children




Attendance was encouraging on the first day children returned to school Sunday, 37 days after the devastating earthquake rocked Nepal.

The month-plus unscheduled holidays have come to an end. But the tremors have not. Amid aftershocks striking every single day, children in most Valley schools not only managed to bring smiles back to their faces, but also boosted the confidence of their teachers about continuing with the classes.



Arman at the center

Five-year-old Arman Khan had gotten admission to nursery class at Durbar High School in the first week of Baisakh, when the new academic session started. But his first day of classes took place only on Sunday. No one asked him to read or write anything. All he had to do was sing and dance along with other children.

At this oldest school of the country, the children paid no attention to the collapsed infrastructure and instead enjoyed the cultural program at the Temporary Learning Centre set up by the school.

Rojina Lama, 13, and her 11-year-old brother Kumar were witness to many old structures collapsing in Thimi on April 25. And their home in Dhading district is now only a memory. But all that was not enough to keep the siblings away from their Adarsha Secondary School at Sanothimi, Bhaktapur.









“We are happy to come to school and hope to resume our studies soon,” they said while walking in the streets of Thimi.

School teacher Roshani Shrestha at VS Niketan Montessor shared that those who came in the morning crying also seem to have forgotten everything and were playing happily.

For eight-year-old Younish Shrestha, it was a little different. The paper-made ‘smiling’ hairband did not match his expression. About the reason for his sadness, he said, “I enjoyed the holidays and wished they could be extended for more days still.” Roshani explained Younish’s attitude in terms of general child psychology and the tendency to keep avoiding school when there has been a long gap.

Sixth grader Rahul Yadav of SOS School, Sanothimi says he found the earthquake-related information at schools quiet boring.

“We have been facing earthquakes every day and watching the awareness messages on TV and the internet and it was boring to see the same things repeated at school,” he said. Rahul’s mother Bina nodded and suggested that the schools impart quake-related education in a more interesting way.

Less than half of students attend at most Valley schools



Around 70 students made it to Durbar High School where the enrollment was around 225 during the last session. Out of 1,000 students, hardly 350 reached Nobel Academy at New Baneshwor.

Nobel Principal Rishikesh Wagle said most of the students who have gone to the districts with their families are yet to return.

“It is mainly children who have gone to their homes outside the Valley who are yet to return,” said Wagle.

At VS Niketan Montessor at Tinkune, 87 out of the 200 toddlers managed to come, whereas 250 out of 500 students at Suryodaya School attended.

PABSON, an umbrella organization of private and boarding schools, said that around 40 percent of students came to school. But the numbers are expected to increase gradually as the guardians see more and more children doing so, said PABSON Chairperson Lachhya Bahadur KC

PABSON has estimated that around 15 percent of the children might not return to the Valley following the quake. KC said this was no bother for private schools, which would soon begin classes in full form as per the interest shown by students.

“The senior class students have shown interest in returning to full-form classes,” said KC. If the aftershocks become milder, schools would resume formal classes for grades 9 and 10, he mentioned.

The Department of Education (DoE)said that most of the schools managed to gather students in their makeshift classrooms for amusement and extracurricular activities, as earlier planned, to help them overcome the post-quake trauma.

“We have received good vibes from the badly-devastated districts and this has encouraged the government to gear up for full fledged classes soon,” said DoE Director Khagendra Nepal.

Stressed guardians wait outside for children

fThough some schools such as St. Xavier’s at Jawalakhel restricted media from the school premises, guardians were allowed to accompany their children to the classrooms.

Some of the schools engaged the guardians also in their activities, and in most schools the guardians waited outside for more than two hours until the school wrapped up for the day.

At the premises of Suryodaya School at Dillibazar and at Maitidevi-based Universal Academy, which was damaged by the quake, the guardians could manage a smile on seeing their children singing and dancing.

Engineer Shambhulal Kayastha took his eight-grader granddaughter Bhumika to Nobel Academy from Koteshor. This was the third time Kayastha has been to the school within a week.

“The green sticker at the building did not reassure me untill I examined the infrastructure myself,” 60-year-old Kayastha told Republica while waiting for Bhumika at the school premises.

Nobel carried out yoga, meditation and cultural programs alternatively, dividing the students into different groups. Guardians witnessed similar activities from a distance at VS Niketan as well.

Like many, Sunita Maharjan said that fear of strong tremors during school hours prevented her feet from leaving the school area.

The author is education journalist with Republica English National Daily in Nepal. She originally published it in Republica and blogged for ELT CHOUTARI.

The impacts of the earthquake on education: Contemplation of an EFL teacher

Dinesh Thapa dtathapa@gmail.com

Reminiscing the day!

A large circle of Early Childhood Development (ECD) teachers–mostly female teachers–are joining their hands. Two facilitators in the hall, one inside the circle and the other at the corner, are observing the activity. Saturday, after the morning meal of 12th Baishakh 2072 (April 25, 2015), the second teacher training session of the day was in progress. The teachers were preparing for an introductory language game which requires them to perform a chant by clapping hands. Sometimes they needed to walk back and forth. Everybody was engrossed in how to perform game the best; they were excited with the easy tips and activities to teach the ECD kids in a better way. They were attending to every bit of the sound, the rhythm and the art of performing a circle-time activity in ECD classes. Then the facilitator in the center began instructing the participants for the refined repetition of the activity. When the participants had just started moving in the circle, the entire building trembled, and the whole earth shook so badly. Nobody could stand upright. Everybody started stumbling to the main gate of the hall. Earthquake! Earthquake! They cried. Soon, a pool of people from all around the vicinity arrived at the open ground in front of the hall, gasping up and trembling. They were praying for safety, for themselves, for their relatives and for their houses and property. In a minute, the exuberance of the training was converted into a formidable catastrophe and a deep serenity resided compelling people to give up all their arts and skills for the sake of life and bodily safety. It was indeed a mega earthquake disaster that had wiped out all the beautiful dreams instantly. Everybody attempted desperately to connect to their families; the entire atmosphere was then terror- driven by an unimagined might of the mother earth. In a minute, news reports about the fall of the Dharahara and many other heritage places were broadcast. TVs showed the damage of lives and buildings; soon, the whole country was mourning in the loss of dearest ones. Hospitals were crumbled, and there was a crowd of the injured outside hospitals. Scores of schools that cheered with the aspirations of the millions of future citizens were damaged; several public and private structures were flattened onto the ground. In a minute, most of the central part of Nepal was deserted. The Kathmandu valley lost several world heritages; the beautiful tourist destinations in Gorkha and the business hubs in Tatopani were completely damaged. People feared the most what they long forever- the hard earned resident buildings. Indeed there was a complete standstill of normal activities. This terror continued for over a month; it still haunts all those who were directly and indirectly affected. The country is thus under a dreadful situation hardest-hit by the earthquake.

Disaster situation in Nepal

Nepal is one of the most disaster prone countries in the world. Some of the disasters such as floods, landslides, cold waves, fire, and lightings are a common occurrence in Nepal. Every year, Nepalis are facing the problem of flood, landslide and fire particularly in the hot and summer season. It is reported that Nepal stands at the 11th and 30th position in terms of earthquake and water induced disasters respectively in the world. The vulnerability to disaster also continues to increase annually, particularly as a result of rapid population growth together with the unplanned and poorly regulated urban planning. The people of Nepal face a variety of life-threatening hazards. The recent earthquake of 7.8 magnitude and thousands of aftershocks have caused an insurmountable devastation in different parts of the country.  Although the actual data about the human casualty and injuries and physical and economic damages are yet to be confirmed, the Ministry of Home Affairs has declared over 8500 casualties, and about 21,000 human injuries.  The government has declared 11 districts as the most afflicted areas in terms of human and non- human damages. Informal observations and inquiries suggest that hundreds of human settlements (including houses and property) have been completely or partially destroyed. The roads, water supplies and electricity have been interrupted. Basic service centers such as schools and health centers and police posts have been dismantled. In a sense, a vast segment of population in the earthquake hit regions is living in a complete middle-aged-like-darkness at present.

Sample statistics about the impact of the disaster

Immediately after the devastating earthquake, the entire nation and several international organizations began their rescue and relief operations in Nepal. The government, charities and donors from different parts of the world joined hands to immediately help Nepal and its people to recover from the devastation. Inspired with the spirit of humanitarian assistance, I also worked with a non-governmental organization (Friends Service Council Nepal) in order to support the earthquake survivors in Lalitpur and Bhaktapur districts. We reached out to different earthquake affected communities with relief materials on the third of April 25 disaster. We were also accompanied by a team of volunteers that attempted to document human casualties and physical property in eight different communities. Among the 2900 supported families, 1192 were involved for a detailed survey. The survey shows a preliminary picture of the earthquake damage as follows.

Figure 1: Respondent’s VDC/Municiplity
Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid Jharuwarasi Lalitpur 182 15.3 15.3 15.3
Bishankhu Lalitpur 92 7.7 7.7 23.0
Ikudol Lallitpur 121 10.2 10.2 33.1
Shankhu Lalitpur 191 16.0 16.0 49.2
Chapagaun Lalitpur 71 6.0 6.0 55.1
Lamatar Lalitpur 141 11.8 11.8 66.9
Dalchoki Lalitpur 129 10.8 10.8 77.8
Maha Manjushree Bhaktapur 265 22.2 22.2 100.0
Total 1192 100.0 100.0


The sample communities have different characteristics in terms of the topography and development features. Two villages, Ikudol and Shankhu in Lalitpur, are located in a remote hilly area whereas Bishankhunarayan and Jharuwarashi are semi-urban settlements, near the city. Likewise, Chapagaun represents the community of the marginalized people (Dalit community) whereas Lamatar and Mahamanhusree represent to an averagely developed communities. These communities are chosen as to understand how the disaster acts upon differently built-up communities, though it has affected all Nepalis. The following table shows the present status of the respondents.

Figure 2: Respondent’s present shelter status
Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
Valid Living under open sky 413 34.6 34.6 34.6
Living in tents outside 666 55.9 55.9 90.5
Living in community places 32 2.7 2.7 93.2
Living on rented homes 41 3.4 3.4 96.6
Living in own home 40 3.4 3.4 100.0
Total 1192 100.0 100.0


Home is the source of aspiration and physical-emotional wellbeing for human beings. When there is a threat to our home, all the hopes turn into a painful agony and frustrations. A home is the emblem of emotional attachment; it doesn’t matter whether it is a cemented or just a thatched one. Education, prosperity and futurity become mere dreams when there is an instant threat to survival. We cannot even imagine how dreadful it is to live under the open sky. It was not an adventure for them; they were compelled by the unlucky fate. It was found that more than 90 percent of the sampled families had their houses either completely damaged or unfit for living. I cannot describe the pathetic situation of the children and the elderly. It is hard to describe the shattered dreams of the adults and how the damaged souls take on for the future. Buildings can be reconstructed, but it is very difficult to regain the shattered emotions and passion attached to them. The chart below displays the condition of damage houses and property in the sampled communities.

 Figure 3: Damage of house and indoor property

damage of house & property

Along with private property, the earthquake also caused an insurmountable damage to the hard made public property. Local school is just an example. The Nepali society has a very short history of public education. Indeed, school represents the single most development indicator in many rural parts of the country. As of now, there are many places where no market places or health centers are built yet, but there are public schools to educate the children who could contribute to the national development in the future. Public schools are the only places that show the presence of the government and serve the poor and the disadvantaged. In the sampled communities the public school buildings are also flattened down; the children of these schools cannot takes classes in the past buildings. The new academic session had just started when their schools were crumbled. Reconstruction of these public school buildings is really a challenging work in the present context of Nepal, in which the private educational establishments are seemingly drawing the sympathy of the middle and upper classes of the society. These already peripheralized public schools may take a decade for their complete reconstruction. By then, millions of children might have been passing their formative lives yearning for a good school building. The condition of local public schools is presented below.

Figure 4: Damage of local public school

damage of public school

The post- disaster context in education

It is often observed that the emergency response to disasters such as flooding and earthquake focuses mostly on food, shelter, and water. Restoring the dignity and identity of the people become a less priority in the time of crisis. Education, which comes only after the survival needs is, therefore, affected for a longer time in the disaster-hit contexts. The relief and reconstruction initiatives in the present context of Nepal also observe a similar trend. Schools in the most disaster-affected areas had remained closed for over a month. During this long span of terror, a lot of upheavals could be seen in the everyday lives of the people. The quake took away the lives of 64 teachers and over 1,000 students and damaged 25 thousands classrooms. The entire community of teachers and students were also at a complete break-off from the teaching-learning activities. This situation shows an educational crisis in Nepal.

Even after the resumption of schools, a deep sense of fear lingered due to incessant aftershocks occurring day and night. The safe schools buildings had cracks due to aftershocks. A sense of terror was further exacerbated by the danger signals that hung at the entrance of the damaged buildings. Only a few schools had buildings which were safe educational activities. In such a situation, panic stricken teachers and students came to the school ground and involved mostly in psycho-socio trauma soothing activities. The reopening of schools created a space where teachers-students can get rid of the long held trauma. The trauma in the tender minds had to be released through non-content engagement rather than through involvement in instructional activities.

The deeper impacts of the disaster

The field of English language education in Nepal’s post-earthquake context is also no more appalling than other sectors. The primary indicator for this can be traced back to the psychological fear that has been lingering in the minds of students, teachers, parents and the general public. It is indeed a survival threat; a challenge to livelihood and safety of property. Be the cause the loss of relatives or acquaintances; be it the damage of houses and property, all the stakeholders of education, including the forefront agents (students, teachers and parents) are reeling the disaster with a terror and anguish. Neuropsychologists have researched in depth into how the differently specialized functions located in the different parts of the brain are affected by the survival threat of the organism; especially in relation to the role of Amygdala in the temporal lobes of the brain. It is, however, apt to note here that where there are fear and stress intrusions overpowering the normal functioning of the brain, there will hardly be any learning taking place. The brain is then sensitive to respond only against the threat to the ‘life’; it is focused to the ‘here and now’. The brain then spends most of its directional resources only to accumulate the energy spread across the body so that the collected energy can be used to save the life. This safety mechanism, so, responds in such behavioral forms as running away of the life-organism from the spot, sweating, uncontrolled urination, clenching of fists and teeth, and so on. We can argue that this is the state of a complete ‘distraction’ and ‘firewall’ of the normal academic practices required for learning, including English language learning. This phenomenon is similar to what Krashen argues in his Monitor Model of language acquisition (1977, 1988). In the context of disaster induced anxiety and fear, the monitor is already heightened (though not necessarily for filtering for the correctness) barring any perception and processing of the language input.

Another area of impact lies on the learners’ external social-material dimensions of education. It is evident that hundreds of school buildings have collapsed and become inhabitable for teaching-learning activities. All the classrooms, ‘facilities’, and ‘affordances’ are gone. The cosmic gloom that grows while observing the damaged school infrastructures can never be substituted with any other tragic feelings.  But with better hopes some ‘Temporary Learning Centers’ have been built to help students engage in educational activities. Teachers are worrying about how long this situation persists. There is not a staff room intact. With this mega-scale disaster, people throughout the country have a very slim optimism for the speedy resettlement of the school facilities. Not only students have their textbooks and other stationeries buried or lost, but they have also lost the educative-entertaining community of hope in the pre-disaster days. Informal talks now are confined mostly to ‘where and of what scale of magnitude of the after- shocks’, and people are primarily concerned with ‘how to get relief materials. However, much attention has not been paid to reconstruction of schools and support to children. Indeed, the school atmosphere created the feeling of ‘unbelievable loss’ of the gambler, who cannot easily accept that the wallet has become completely empty just because of the single unlucky event. Every activity, and of course, everything in school and at home are strange now; there are strange classrooms and toilets; there are strange needs and responses of the students and the teachers. Occasional visits of the authorities and relief material providers further constrict the already shattered ego to the level of a pitiable infant-dependent. That the classrooms are damaged; that the library is collapsed; that the laboratory equipments are damaged; and that other basic school supplies are halted imply that school is shrinking down rather than flourishing. Therefore, the days ahead are going to be more challenging for EFL teachers to create conducive learning environment for the earthquake affected children.  Again, when there is a threat to one’s livelihood, education and its quality, and a quality learning of English will surely be negatively affected.


Mr. Dinesh Kumar Thapa, a life member of NELTA, is currently a Faculty of English at Kitini College Lalitpur Nepal. He has been teaching English at different levels for over 10 years. He is also involved in EL teacher training. He has published on issues related to ELT in different local and national journals. He is one of the editors of NELTA ELT Forum (neltaeltforum.wordpress.com).

I survived and have a story to tell


Praveen Kumar Yadav

The college I work for had resumed after one and a half months following the devastating April 25 earthquake. I teach World Literature for Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) 2nd semester at King’s College, Kathmandu.

The classes after the destructive earthquake are quite difficult for both teachers and students as the disastrous incidents are still fresh in their minds. The fun-related activities such as games, drawing and dance can be taught to younger students for the first or few days after the schools resume. Such activities give comfort for both teachers and students. Although I had learned many ways to teach the quake-affected students while I was still writing education related stories on behalf of the district based correspondents for Republica, I myself was puzzled about my lesson plan for the first class.

During the review process of syllabus and the course of study for World Literature, an idea struck my mind. I decided to teach a story related to the recent earthquake to my students. It was not only relevant as per the course I teach, but it was appropriate in the present context of Nepal too. In this blog, I share my experience teaching the first day when the new semester began following the earthquake. I also incorporate other teachers’ experiences about their first classes before I draw my conclusion.

First class after earthquake

Aftershocks are still on; many students have turned up to the college on the first day. Indeed it was a reunion for everyone. I felt that my students were a warrior who came back home after fighting a battle. Their faces looked curious; they were curious to talk to each other. Before they got a chance to talk with their colleagues, I had an ice-breaker activity.

“We are survivors, aren’t we,” I asked.
They shouted, “Yes.”
“Thank God. Everyone survived. So, everyone has a story of survival,” I added.
I told them to tell their stories. I could see they were hesitant to share their stories. Then one of them asked me to tell my story first and so did the rest of students. I told them my story as follows:

I had two different experiences in the last two deadly earthquakes: one in my living room and another at workplace, one escaping from the ground floor of three-storied building and another from the second floor of seven-storied building. Though both magnitude and duration of the second earthquake (7.4) was less compared to the first one (7.8), I felt more scared in the second one.

April 25. 

All of a sudden, all electronic gadgets in my room were automatically turned off Saturday noon. I had been working on my laptop at the time. At that inauspicious time when the clock showed 11:56, my bed started to shake and the TV set almost jumped at me.

I rushed to the door and stood between the pillars from where I could see and hear other people in my neighborhood yelling and running helter-skelter. I shouted at them not to run but stay inside safely till things were settled.

Nobody listened to me, and I was scared. The earthquake continued for more than a minute, and nobody was inside. I had never experienced continuous tremors and it made me lose hope. I was at wit’s end.

I came out in the open after it stopped. Hundreds of people had already gathered outside. I saw parts of some buildings and boundary walls nearby collapse. I tried to contact my family, friends and colleagues, but in vain. I browsed the net, which was luckily available. I tweeted about the earthquake and also posted a status on Facebook.

Immediately after the first quake, no Nepali media covered the news, except Radio Nepal. But I could read Facebook posts and tweets about earthquake from different parts of the country. Though there were reports about damage and loss of properties and lives in Kathmandu alone, at first, nationwide reports soon followed.

Through social media, I could learn that Saturday’s devastating earthquake measured 7.9 on the Richter scale with its epicenter in Gorkha district. Thereafter, international media was not only quick but also active in reporting the incident. Nepali media became active only after news spread through international media.

May 12
First, I thought it was an aftershock and decided to stay inside. But the intensity got noticeably higher. Then I managed to escape from the tall building that had started to swing and later developed cracks as well. Thank God, both the powerful earthquakes occurred during daytime.

Had they occurred during the night, or on workdays, human casualty, especially school and college students and structural damages would have been immense.

So far the death toll from May 12 quake with epicenter in Sunakhani of Dolakha has crossed 100. Likewise, the toll from the first quake with epicenter at Barpak in Gorkha is around 9,000 and twice many are injured, according to Nepal Police. Of 14 affected districts, Sindhupalchowk is the hardest hit. Over 3,000 people have been killed there.

All Nepalis, both in and out of the country, have stood by the victims in these difficult times. They have lent their helping hands with what they can. Although Nepalis had earlier been divided along political, gender, ethnicity and geographical lines, they are united now. Such a bonding was not possible in any other way.

Then the students started sharing with each other their stories. I could observe some of the important points they were making while listening to their stories. Some of the students were good at narrating the story, while others became hesitant as they could not fully narrate stories in English. Even I allowed few hesitant students to tell their stories in the Nepali language. The presentation of the stories by individual students varied. Some presented in details and interesting away, but others told very short story skipping the details. This is because of individual differences and diversity of students. I found that even the students who failed to stand up and speak out earlier told the story. There was an overwhelming response from students.

At the end of the class, I briefly introduced different genres of literature – fiction prose, poetry, drama and non-fiction. The story they shared is an examples of non-fiction, I told the class.

To conclude, I have also interviewed some of my colleagues about their first classes after the disasters. I found out that some of them began their classes with something related to the earthquake. For instance, an environment science faculty member held a discussion on how disaster brought environment problems in Nepal. As economics faculty provided shared his thoughts on how the earthquake affected the country’s economy.
The next day, I assessed the students’ interests, but many of them were no longer interested to talk about the earthquake. They argued that they were bothered by listening to their parents or neighbors and the other people, who always talked about the earthquake.

As aftershocks are still on, some precautionary measures are a must to save our lives from the future disasters. I facilitated a discussion on how to take precautions, and went back to a normal situation of taking classes. The college also organized some events like treasure hunt, which I believe helped students recover from the quake trauma.

Teaching helps forget quake victim Sarita’s pains

And then there was teaching which she chose to forget her pains, and resolve her psycho-social problem. “While I was idle, thoughts of damaged house, shop, studies, mother and brothers always used to come into my mind. Such thoughts adversely affected my health as well,” she recalled. “Wherever I looked at, I found similar plight of many people. Then I decided to deviate my mind to something that would help me forget my troubles. Finally, I decided to teach children.

Rojita 1

Rojita Adhikari, Journalist

This is the translated story, that was originally written in Nepali language and published in Kosheli edition of Kantipur Daily.  Click here to read the Nepali story in Kantipur. 

After the monstrous earthquake of April 25 left them devastated, Sarita’s four-member family is now forced to live in a temporary shelter at Tundikhel of Chautara in Sindhupalchowk district. Although five persons can comfortably live in a tarp provided by a foreign aid agency, twenty persons from four families, including hers, are to live together under the tarp awkwardly. Anyone visiting them can easily figure out hardship of their life in a small tent.

Sarita wakes up early in the morning, cooks for her family at a corner of the tent, and leaves for another temporary shelter nearby with a bag of copies and pen at around 9:30 am. By the time she reaches a temporary learning space created by Save Our Soul (SOS), children of quake-hit families from Chautara are already there waiting for her.

Over a hundred children of displaced families living in temporary shelters at Chautara and Tundikhel attend the learning center. Though it is an emergency class, it starts formally with the national anthem ‘Sayaun Thunga Phoolka Hami Eutai Mala Nepali’ from 10 am and ends at 5 pm.  Four volunteer teachers engage children of grades ranging from nursery to five in fun activities like drawing and games. Sarita is one of them.

Sarita is neither a teacher by her profession nor had she wished to be a teacher someday. The student, pursuing her Bachelor of Arts (BA), used to run a grocery before the earthquake. However, the earthquakes of April 25 and May 12 have changed her daily lives.

Following the death of her father some years ago, Sarita, the eldest child in the family, had to bear the responsibility of managing home. Even her mother, after her husband’s death, had to struggle to raise a daughter and two sons and educate them. They possessed the only property ‘house’, where they had starting a shop. The family used to live on a handful income generated from the shop. They lived a simple life and their lives were gradually improving, but the earthquake ruined them all of a sudden.

“The sudden quake left us back to the poor life of early days,” said Sarita, whose eyes filled with tears. She could not utter any word for a while. The only property was a house, while the shop was the only source of income for the family. The earthquake destroyed them.

“Where to go? What to do? How to manage fees for my education and also of my brothers? How to rebuild our houses. Worried over all these problems, my mother fell sick,” she further said. “We could not even brought out the valuables and goods from the shop before our house reduced to rubble in the earthquake.” With the deteriorating health of her mother thereafter, she was also worried over how to cope with the situation. “Later I also felt like a sick person,” she added.

And then there was teaching which she chose to forget her pains, and resolve her psycho-social problem. “While I was idle, thoughts of damaged house, shop, studies, mother and brothers always used to come into my mind. Such thoughts adversely affected my health as well,” she recalled. “Wherever I looked at, I found similar plight of many people. Then I decided to deviate my mind to something that would help me forget my troubles. Finally, I decided to teach children.

She has been teaching quake-affected children since the fourth day of the April 25 earthquake. For her, teaching was not a difficult task because her love for children, she told me.

By the time I was talking to her, the clock had already struck at the noon. Then I saw three of children, approaching to Sarita, told her, “Sarita Miss, Sarita Miss, give us drawing papers.” She handed over a paper and pen to each child. It was the time to draw.

“Miss, which picture should I draw?” said one of the girl children.   Sarita was quick to respond her, “Draw a picture of a house.” Sitting nearby her teacher, she started drawing. First she drew a house that stood intact, then another damaged house. After that, he wrote ‘before’, on the top of the first house, and she wrote ‘after’ on the top of the second. Finally, she showed the pictures to Sarita. The pictures that her student drew and showed to her once again reflected her damaged house in her mind.


Sarita is teaching school children at a temporary learning center in Sindhupalchowk district following the earthquake

According to her, most of children from Sindhupalchowk have similar feeling after the earthquake. “If it is difficult for a 25-year old girl like me to forget such catastrophe, how much has the quake terror traumatized children?,” she questioned.

She complained about the government’s apathy to address the psychosocial impact on children even after a month of the earthquake.

When and how can children in trauma after the earthquake can overcome them?, she questioned, urging the government to understand the need of psychosocial counselling before their classes resumed.

Now she enjoys a new experience of her hobby that has changed due to the earthquake. “I want to pursue my interests in teaching quake-affected children for some time,” she said. “However, there is no destination of our life now. No place to live and go further.”

“I rushed out of home in a pair of clothes at the time of earthquake. I do not have additional dresses to change. I wear the same dirty clothes and go to teach children,” she further said.

She says, whenever she goes near the children, she forgets her dirty clothes that she is wearing and the destroyed house.

I wonder how many generous people like Sarita could be in our society, who devoted herself to teach quake affected children even after losing all her properties in the earthquake.

The author is an investigative multimedia journalist. For the investigative reporting in Nepal, she was awarded an investigative reporting prize by International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in 2014. Currently, she is reporting on investigative reports and news stories with focus on migration or foreign employment of Nepalis, violence against women, and good governance in Nepal to be published in different media.

Recently, she has completed my assignment of producing and presenting radio magazine Nikash for Equal Access Nepal which was focused on transitional justice. Before that, she worked as producer and presenter of Sarangiko Bhalakusari for the BBC Media Action. Sarangiko Bhalakusari is a Nepali radio magazine produced by BBC Media Action.

Lessons in Language: What EFL Teachers Can Learn from Earthquake Relief Efforts


Charlotte Benham

I am an ESL/EFL teacher with four years of experience teaching in various contexts in Nepal, but these days I am also an academic observing the online organization of earthquake relief efforts. After several weeks of reading, posting, sharing, messaging, and tweeting, I believe that the relief and rebuilding process has uncovered social issues and brought about changes that EFL teachers can play a role in exploring with their students and school communities. As Phyak wrote in a recently published op-ed, “This disaster is no longer just a ‘natural’ phenomenon; it has deep socio-political, cultural, and economic meanings.” (2015) The meanings that he refers to have their source and are reflected in language in ways that can shape what we teach in the post-earthquake classroom. Here, I cite some examples of language choice to highlight what is being said and being left unsaid in order to contextualize some practical pedagogical goals that can be integrated into the EFL curriculum.

Be concerned if someone doesn’t ask your name: Whilst conducting voluntary relief work in Gorkha, a British tourism company owner took a picture of an older gentleman wearing a hardhat sorting rubble into usable and unusable material. She later posted it on Facebook, not indicating the place or the man’s name. One of her contacts asked her if she had been there to take the picture and knew where she had taken it, to which she replied “Yes.” The contact then explained that he was from that village and knew the man in the picture. The company owner could have made the choice to ask the man’s name, and thus give him credit for his work. Instead, her only comment was that “He is a strong man.”

As teachers, we should be aware that this type of carefully selected anonymity allows others to label and define our communities, schools, and students (and even ourselves when fulfilling the public role of “teacher”). What if the photographer had asked the gentleman at least for his name, if not about his own perception about his work of separating out the rubble? The richness and complexity of his life and experience during the earthquake would add value to the photo and appreciation for the individual in it. What we should take away from this is that instead of permitting the photographer telling their story, we can prepare students to tell their own.

Working through the storytelling process with students in EFL classrooms has both pedagogical and social benefits. On the broadest level, integrating storytelling into second language instruction fits in nicely with other components of communicative language teaching and reinforces the premise of this method of instruction – that it brings in authentic language and increases personal motivation. Within the sphere of authentic language, the stories that students develop can be used to engage all four language skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. (Atta-Alla, 2012)  For example, when simultaneously read out loud and contextualized by illustrations and props, storytelling can help with word recall and be followed-up with further activities to support reading skill development. (Huang, 2006, p. 53) These extra components of the story are all things that students can create in preparation for telling them. Indeed, students are already being prepared for this kind of work through the programs designed to address students’ mental health needs. What occurs during playing, drawing, singing, and dancing now can be revisited with a pedagogical purpose over the coming weeks.

Storytelling also goes beyond simple personal motivation to enabling students to develop an identity within English as their foreign language by giving them to opportunity to communicate with a social purpose. Conversely, students can be made aware of how English can be used to describe their social lives outside of textbooks, exams, and classrooms. There are initiatives already working on eliciting and publishing personal stories, such as Stories of Nepal (www.storiesofnepal.com) and the Book Bus, which is sponsored by the American Embassy. These efforts can serve as a way to publicize selected individual’s stories, yet again the content of what is selected as important is put in the hands of the outside observer. They cannot bring communities together to develop a “whole” story and offer relevant reflection. This type of work can only be done in locally-based social institutions, such as schools.

There are many forms of knowledge: Two recent posts from one of the most vocal Nepali online organizers of volunteer relief efforts have highlighted the further divisions that those providing relief make when deciding what to offer those in need. In one post, he commented that “villagers” are only concerned with food because that is “all they know,” and as such, made the recommendation that volunteer groups should limit the amount of food they provide and instead focus on household, hygiene, and rebuilding supplies. In the second post, which was in reference to the status in Gorkha, Sindhupalchok, Dolakha, and Dhading, the writer reiterated his belief that food supplies should be restricted, this time insisting that only psychological, medical, and educational relief should be provided under the threat that he would take personal action against those who did not follow his advice.

The foundation on which he built his argument was the idea that “local villagers” are those who are uneducated and are thus unreliable sources of information. “Educated people are updating me that local people are being more dependent on to the aid and not doing regular activities like making shelter, agriculture, handicrafts, etc… Note: we are going to develop our country not making rich in slum-dog areas.” The perspective from which these comments come again seeks to lump those in need into one anonymous category – this time, as those with little education. The writer equates this lack of formal education with limited knowledge of survival and planning skills. It is also underpinned by biases against low-income communities who may not have previously been living in conventional housing by labelling them as “slum-dog areas” and implying that they are undeveloped eyesores.

Teachers in any educational context cannot avoid being aware of their students’ lives outside the school gates, even if they do not live in the same locality. After all, we are social creatures interacting in a social institution. We should not, however, allow others to put us in the position of speaking for our students or community members simply because we are affiliated with the field of education, which in turn is affiliated with the notion of being “developed”. If we work in a school in a city where most of the students’ families run businesses or a school in a rural village where everyone is involved in agriculture, we see that schooling is only one form knowledge. It does not give us the experience to know who to hire for a position or how to take care of a pregnant buffalo. Just as we hope to have every student speak up in class, we should hope to create the space for every community member to also speak. Similarly, we are driven by the desire to have every student take in the material that we teach and are disappointed when we don’t reach this goal. Within the community, we should also maintain this type of persistence.

What we say reflects what we believe: The story above highlights the importance of being aware of the words we teach to our students and their meaning. Similarly, another post on Facebook from a young Nepali woman in Kathmandu reported her volunteer trip to a marginalized community. She did not give the exact location, but focused readers’ attention on the social status of the community by commenting, “I don’t know why people call […] people uncivilized. I found they behave so nicely, better than [list of different castes]. They are true Nepalese.” (paraphrased and edited) Personally, it is my sincere hope that the writer could only express her beliefs in this way because of her EFL skills, and not because this is how her worldview has been shaped.

In order to address situations like these, we can explore the suitability of the target language in different social contexts when using English as a Foreign Language in addition to teaching meaning and form (Nagy, p. 8). We can engage students in projects to map out synonyms and antonyms based not only on the target language’s definition, but also their correlating contexts. This can facilitate clearer communication in storytelling and also broaden students’ emotional expressiveness in English. They can be empowered to create language that is not only factual, but also reflects their underlying beliefs.

Two Nepali academics have published op-eds related to language choice in media and public discourse with regards to post-earthquake Nepal. Tamang warns that by describing Nepali citizens as “resilient,” the onus is put on volunteers and those in need to rebuild. This leaves the government unaccountable for its part in relief efforts (Tamang, 2015) Phyak, a NELTA member, highlights the socio-cultural and political effects that words like “victim,” “poor,” and “helpless” can have, cutting those who are in need down into “beggars.” (Phyak, 2015). Just as we can conscious about when we speak and who we speak for, we can also model for our students various choices in what to speak.

A recent post from a friend described how when he was a student, he learned about the unification of Nepal, the geography of the country, and its natural resources. What was missing from his textbook was the history of earthquakes in the country. Similarly, students have not been prepared to talk to INGO workers, volunteers, engineering assessors, or local government officials. Just as social science classes will integrate the history of Nepal’s earthquakes, science classes will discuss tectonic plates. Health classes will reaffirm the need to run or drop, hide, and hold. To do our part as ELF teachers, we must prepare our students to communicate in the post-earthquake world.

Charlotte ‘Sangita’ Benham recently received her M.S.Ed. in TESOL from the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to her graduate-level work, she taught Academic English and essay writing to high school and graduate students in Kathmandu, Nepal for three years. She also served as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Nepal, working with local English teachers to provide EFL lessons at a rural, government-funded secondary school in Kavre District. Charlotte received her B.A. in History from Brandeis University in 2007 after writing her thesis on the historical roots of the political ideology of the Maoist insurgency in Nepal. She grew up in Massachusetts and is now based in Philadelphia


Atta-Alla, M. (2012). Integrating Language Skills through Storytelling. English Language Teaching, 5(12).

Huang, H. (2006). The Effects of Storytelling on EFL Young Learners’ Reading Comprehension and Word Recall. English Teaching & Learning, 30(3), 51-74.

Nagy, W. (1995). On the Role of Context in First- and Second-Language Vocabulary Learning. Champaign, Illinois: Center for the Study of Reading, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Phyak, P. (4 June, 2015). Survivors, not victims. The Kathmandu Post. Retrieved on 7 June, 2015 from: http://www.ekantipur.com/the-kathmandu-post/2015/06/04/oped/survivors-not-victims/276991.html.

Tamang, S. (25 May, 2015) Dangers of Resilience. eKantipur.com. Retrieved on 7 June, 2015 from: http://www.ekantipur.com/2015/05/25/oped/dangers-of-resilience/405651.html.

Language matters in the post-disaster discourses

  • The use of certain terms in the post-disaster discourse seems to be disempowering earthquake survivors

This write up was originally published in The Kathmandu Post. Click here to see the source or read it below.

Prem Phyak

Prem Phyak

The recent 7.9 magnitude earthquake and its over 200 aftershocks, not only took the lives of about 9000 people and destroyed thousands of houses, including major world heritage sites, but also generated some fresh discourses on nationalism, politics, and nation-building. This disaster is no longer just a ‘natural’ phenomenon; it has deep socio-political, cultural, and economic meanings. This disaster is reflective of Nepal’s stratified social structure in which rural people, farmers, women, indigenous nationalities and Dalits lack access to economic and political resources.

As a result, criticism of the government’s uncoordinated rescue, relief and recovery efforts has already dominated the public sphere. The role of the government is no doubt central to nation-rebuilding process. Even so, every individual, including the media, has to maintain some ethical considerations in the recovery and rebuilding processes.

Language matters

Language is not only key to effective communication, but also a sociocultural construct that indicates our perspectives and views towards others. It creates discourses that reproduce particular worldviews about people, society, and the ways of doing things. Language includes the selection of particular words/phrases and tones, and gesture (body language).

The language we use has the ability to empower or disempower the people. In all the stages of disaster—rescue, relief, recovery and rebuilding—it is necessary to embrace the use of local languages to reach out to and effectively communicate with the local communities. For example, the use of Tamang in Sindhupalchok/Rasuwa, Thangmi in Dolakha, and Gurung in Gorkha should not be ignored by all the individuals and organisations that work with these communities. People in these communities cannot effectively communicate in Nepali, and forcing them to speak Nepali may not be the best way of represent their needs and concerns.

Language also creates categories that might be disempowering. Here I cite a few examples based on my close observation of media discourses. The disempowering ways in which language is used include the way both the local and global media are describing the earthquake ‘survivors’ as ‘victims’ (pidit in Nepali). Here are some examples: ‘Nepal earthquake: Victims treated on hospital floor’ (BBC), ‘Nepal earthquake victims overwhelm’ (CNN), ‘Admire Nepal to help earthquake victims’ (TKP), and ‘Global effort to help Nepal earthquake victims intensifies’ (Republica). Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube constantly reproduce this term. And most importantly, NGOs/INGos and volunteer groups raising funds to support the recovery and relief operations further highlight this term. While the word, in simple terms, refers to the people who are suffering from the disaster, it represents survivors as ‘passive’ and  ‘helpless’. The term ‘victim’ ignores the lessons we can learn from these survivors. We should not forget the fact that they have witnessed and experienced a massive disaster, and their stories can serve as a resource for rebuilding the country.

Another troubling discourse that is being reproduced on social media is that of poverty. For example, in the headline ‘Nepal earthquake: what the thousands of victims share is that they are poor’, the survivors are simultaneously labelled as ‘victims’ and ‘poor’. The discourses on poverty in Nepal and in other Third World contexts are largely shaped by the Western ideology of market-based economy, which largely makes invisible  the economic activities of women, farmers, indigenous communities, and Dalits. The current recovery and rebuilding discourses are reproducing the same ideology. For example, the government has recently decided to provide Rs 15-25 lakhs loan to the survivors. The decision was based upon the assumption that people who live in cities are rich and the value of their houses is higher than that of the villagers’. This kind of language is very discriminatory and disempowering for the people in Langtang, for example, who have lost their hotels in a major tourist destination. Such categorisation of people in terms of their geographical background creates a hierarchy among survivors and devalues the contribution of rural farmers, among others, to the nation’s economy.

Likewise, the term ‘donor’ has also become very popular these days. The government has recently unveiled plans to organise a donor’s meeting in Kathmandu to seek more support from the international community. The term valorises the power and role of the international community and diminishes Nepal’s own role, ability, and resources to rebuild the country.

Not beggars

Now let me discuss some other scenarios that can be observed on social media. There are many people, particularly those belonging to volunteer groups, who are working really hard and helping survivors. Some of them don’t care about the documentation, dissemination, and recognition of their works, so they don’t even make their efforts public. On the other hand, we get to see the so-called ‘generous supporters’ collecting some boxes of Wai-Wai, mineral water bottles and chiura and driving  their vehicles loaded with the supplies till where they can travel to. There, they gather and line up some survivors (mainly women, the elderly and children), take pictures and distribute their ‘relief’ goods. The scene, as circulated on social media, projects survivors as ‘beggars’ and volunteers as erstwhile ‘landlords’. It is quite ridiculous to observe some so-called relief providers carrying fancy cameras on one hand while handing out a tarp to survivors with the another.

New ways

The use of certain terms in the post-disaster discourse seems to be disempowering earthquake survivors. While both the government and non-governmental organisations are busy making plans and policies to rebuild the country, the engagement of survivors in this process has not received adequate attention. International experience shows that the participation of disaster survivors during the planning phase not only empowers them, but also ensures their ownership in the recovery and rebuilding process. This disaster has given us an opportunity to develop and implement an inclusive, empowering and bottom-up approach to nation-building. We just need to reframe our use of languages/discourses and policies from the ‘what-we-have’ perspective and not ‘what-we-do-not-have’. We should embrace the non-negotiable principle that survivors are not beggars; they are key agents in recovery and rebuilding processes.


Phyak is a PhD candidate at the Department of Second Language Studies, University of Hawaii, the US

Helping children overcome quake trauma

I was worried about the thousands of children who no longer have the protection of their parents and comfort of life after the historic disaster. And as someone who has been advocating for increasing opportunities for Nepalese children to read, I was now left with an almost debilitating set of questions: read what? read how? read when and where? When food and shelter, pain and fear, and the care and perhaps presence of parents have disappeared for so many children across the country, how can I talk about reading and writing? And to add to the misery, we hear cases of rape, sexual harassment and theft. I may only be able to add a drop in the bucket, but I wanted to add that drop. I could not stay in my tent while it shook and return to my house when it stopped. I wanted to go where homes had collapsed, lives were shattered, children’s tender minds were shaken.


Anuradha Sharma

‘Finish your food, or I will call the police,” said a mother in our neighborhood to her four-year-old son on the first night in the shelter after the first earthquake. In the next couple of days, the traditional bogeyman of police, ghost, and teacher would be replaced by ‘earthquake’!

While my knowledge of child psychology is only based on experience and interest, I could see a contradiction in this situation. We were faced with the most traumatizing situation of our lifetime, but our society doesn’t seem to have a culture, tradition, of profession for dealing with psychological trauma and stress. What if we have a generation of psychologically impacted children? How is the disaster going to affect the education and careers of the next generation? What are the local resources and practices that we can build upon in order to mitigate trauma in children? How can we turn the disaster into a turning point, to recover and rebuild, and to inspire this traumatized generation to do great things?

I was worried about the thousands of children who no longer have the protection of their parents and comfort of life after the historic disaster. And as someone who has been advocating for increasing opportunities for Nepalese children to read, I was now left with an almost debilitating set of questions: read what? read how? read when and where? When food and shelter, pain and fear, and the care and perhaps presence of parents have disappeared for so many children across the country, how can I talk about reading and writing? And to add to the misery, we hear cases of rape, sexual harassment and theft. I may only be able to add a drop in the bucket, but I wanted to add that drop. I could not stay in my tent while it shook and return to my house when it stopped. I wanted to go where homes had collapsed, lives were shattered, children’s tender minds were shaken.

So, as soon as I had access to the internet and after informing friends and families about my safety, I set about researching material on what I believed was a blind spot in my society, the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Meanwhile, I also wrote to friends in my close network, and shared some preliminary ideas for a possible project. I spent the first week finding out what organizations, experts and resources are available and who I could partner with. Also, with the help of my teacher/ friend/ mentor Shyam Sharma, who is currently a professor at an American university, I started a Facebook page named Saarathi (connotation: friend, from Sanskrit “charioteer”). Saarathi was able to successfully raise close to $1500 (our current goal is $2000) in less than a week!

After the Nepal government announced that all schools should resume from the first week of June, the schools were anxious about how to deal with students once they come back to school and how to deal with the questions that the students are likely to ask. Over 16,000 schools have been impacted. Save the Children estimates that 90% of schools have been flattened to the ground in Gorkha (the epicenter of the quake). The Government of Nepal mandated that schools reopen on May 30, 2015. There was an immediate need to train teachers and provide them with earthquake focused lesson plans to address the trauma that teachers and students carry into the classrooms before regular lessons resume. Therefore, Naulo Margha prepared a package of lesson plans that help schools ease students back into regular activities even as they resource them to cope with the inevitable trauma resulting from the earthquake. Around 100 trainers were trained to train another 2400 teachers in Kathmandu valley in just a week. Under the project, ‘Post Earthquake Relief Through Education: Training of Teachers’, we were then able to provide one day training to teachers and equip them with a five days’ lesson plan that they could use in their classes. It is wonderful to see many of the schools around Nepal have resumed and children are going to school even though they have to sit under tents all day since the school buildings no more exist.

This is challenging work but I feel very strongly that it must be done — children deserve to be brought back to normal routine life and they must be protected.

I am hopeful. I am already smiling with the children day after day.


About the Author:

Anuradha Sharma, a graduate from the University of Central Lancashire, UK in Intercultural Business Communications, is a children’s story writer, and is currently working towards helping mitigate psychological trauma in children.

Facilitating School Children at Post Earthquake Classroom

I had to deal with small kids and it was comparatively easy in some ways. I played the music, gave them sports equipment, asked them to sing and tell jokes. They enjoyed, and did not make any mention of earthquakes meanwhile. So, that’s all we focused in initial days of school reopening. It diverted the minds of the students who cried while coming to school, and had smiles on their faces while returning back home. Slowly the number of students coming school started to increase.

Neha Shah

Neha Shah

Earthquakes and their effects

Earthquakes are movements of the earth’s surface, often as a result of a fault or fracture in the crust that can be violent enough to destroy major buildings and kill thousands of people. The severity of the shaking can range from barely felt to violent enough to toss people around. They happen more often in some parts of the world than others.

Literally, earthquakes and its devastating effects on the people is very complicated. Most people are affected by it and fear it yet there are few who are not at all sacred. The recent earthquake in Nepal has also killed thousands of people, and has resulted in psychological effects on people- perhaps more on children. If we consider the children of the age group (5-8), they also have different thoughts towards earthquakes. They actually do not know what exactly earthquake is and what all differences does it bring to one’s life. Therefore, they are more likely to make false assumptions and eventually bring more fear in themselves.

What I experienced in my classroom  

Being a teacher of this age group, I was initially much tensed how I would be handling the students after this massive earthquake and how I was going to deal with my students. At the same time, I was curious as what all questions my students might raise to me. This had triggered a lot of interrogations in my head, and, as a result, I prepared a set of answers to the possible questions in my mind if I was asked.  But to my surprise, my students didn’t even raise a single question. On the contrary, they were very much pleased and happy to meet their friends and teachers after a long gap. They had pleasing smiles on their faces. Yet, there were few who wear crying and scared when their parents dropped them to the school. It might have happened because of two reasons, either reporting to the school after a long time, or they had an awful experience during earthquakes. Generic assumptions can therefore not be made about the way children may respond to such disasters. It is very much individual situations. This has suggested me exploring and understanding each child in my classroom that is very challenging, but demanding.

Parents, in addition, can play a significant part in handling kids especially after such calamities. If parents keep themselves calm and strong- with shaken heart however- and handle situation wisely then children can also act accordingly. The stronger the parents are the more mentally stronger children become.  Eventually because of those parents who handled their kids wisely we, teachers, didn’t face much difficulty in dealing with the children.

Yes- nevertheless, there are few children who are badly traumatized. The aftershocks, cracks in the wall, rumbling noises, destroyed buildings, smell of fire and smoke, the places where they experienced the earthquakes, seeing people with disabilities, funerals can get them traumatized again. These kind of students can be given time for  counselling  from the ones they get along with, from the ones they feel comfortable to talk to or love spending time with or the ones who can be a better counsellor.

While conversing with my students, I asked them a simple question what an earthquake is. One of them simply answered that moving of the ground is an earthquake, during which buildings come down, people die, we live outside our home, etc.  Then, I asked a next question, “What should we do when an earthquake takes place? Almost everyone answered this question since they had been told by their parents about the earthquake and what one is meant to do while it occurs. This is an example of children from the capital city where the majority of parents are well educated. However, I would wonder this might be a different case in remote locations where parents are themselves not aware of the all these ideas. It would therefore require different concerned agencies to look at this issue.

What the school planned

Before the school actually started, we were called for a meeting where we discussed what we intended to do as far as classroom activities were concerned in terms of abating children’s fear and bring them to normal learning environment. We also focused on safety measures in order to keep the students outside on the ground level to avoid any accidents in case of any aftershocks. We were advised not to talk about earthquakes and not to ask experiences of students what they had. This was thought for building positive environment it, therefore children can get out of the trauma.

I had to deal with small kids and it was comparatively easy in some ways. I played the music, gave them sports equipment, asked them to sing and tell jokes. They enjoyed, and did not make any mention of earthquakes meanwhile. So, that’s all we focused in initial days of school reopening. It diverted the minds of the students who cried while coming to school, and had smiles on their faces while returning back home. Slowly the number of students coming school started to increase.


Finally, resuming the school after the earthquake was a very good decision; it was boon for the student as well as parents. We should, by no means, shop children from learning. We should rather create opportunities to continue learning even in emergencies, as stated, however with precautions. It was difficult for the parents to leave their kids at school but when they saw the children’s happy faces at home time, they thought of sending them to school is a wise decision. It is still challenging, but we are strong and careful for our lovely kids.

The author, a graduate in Business Studies, teaches in Ideal Model Higher Secondary School, Kathmandu.

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