| June 27, 2019

A Tale of an Unsung Hero!

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It had been more than a decade since I last saw him, not even on Facebook as I do not have one. It's not that I never thought of him. There were hundreds of things which would remind me of him. One thing that never slips from my memory is his bunch of keys that he often played with, unconsciously as he taught grammar lessons to us. It had in it, a miniature set of cutlery- three tiny bronze spoon, fork and knife - which I adored so much as a kid. In my six-year-long teaching career, there had been many times when I remembered him and tried to be like him. I would consider myself quite successful, if I could have given to my students, to the schools I served, only a small percentage of what he has given to his students like me and the school I went to. I often wonder if my daughter would be as lucky as I was, to go to a school run by a Principal like him.

I think of him, every time I fall down in life. He always inspires me to get up. I think of him, every time I succeed in life. I know he has a big role behind each of my success. There always have been times when I think of him. However, I don't know why, but I never went up to him and said how important he was to me and how thankful I am to him. Every year on Guru Purnima, I would think of sending him a 'thank you' card with some words of gratitude but didn't do so. So many years have gone by and the card still lies there on the top of my bookshelf and I wonder why?

A few days ago, my husband showed me a picture of him on his Facebook page which left me awe-struck. I had never imagined him in that avatar. The picture was taken during the ongoing reconstruction process of the school buildings, completely destroyed by the April earthquake. It shows that he was literally working with the laborers when somebody clicked the picture. With the background of a broken wall, amid the pile of boulders, there he was, sweating in the sun but standing tall as always and smiling. The white vest and black trousers he wore had turned brown and grey with dust and mud but the scorching sun and the hard toil could not fade his smile away. There he stood, proud, contented and undefeated! As I gazed at the picture for a while, I felt my heart melting away with gratitude. I was never so proud of him!

The school could not remain unaffected by the catastrophe that took place on April 25, 2015. As a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit central Nepal, the school buildings collapsed to the ground and got badly destroyed. The classes are now conducted in tents. Temporary sheds are being constructed. Now, the school badly needs funds for reconstruction. The school community along with parents, guardians and ex-students are actively involved in fundraising and the reconstruction has proceeded.

Amid all problems and hindrances, we all believe that Pioneer will rise again! They are just the buildings which are gone and those will be replaced by new and better ones. What has remained unshaken throughout is our unity, love and devotion toward our alma-mater and this is so wonderful! What makes me more optimistic is the dedication of Mr. Puran Lepcha and other teachers toward the school. For many teaching can just be a profession, being a head teacher can just be a job or a position, but for him, it is much more than that. For him, it is life! What can be dearer to someone more than his life? It is his devotion for education and commitment for many little ones in the village! If it would be only for a job, he can easily get highly-paid jobs in very good positions in renowned schools in the capital in no time. It is the same for other teachers, too! It is so humble of them to participate themselves physically in the process of reconstruction. Otherwise, who would imagine a school principal sweating in the sun carrying stones to build a wall?

Mr. Puran Lepcha, the principal of Pioneer Secondary Boarding English School, Tupche 2, Nuwakot, has been serving the school as the school head since the time of its establishment. As the name goes, the school has indeed become a pioneer in the field of quality education in the whole district. When the school was established in 1984, it was one of the few English medium schools in Nuwakot.

With many schools still lagging behind for the quality education today, one can easily imagine how the situation was then. There were very less educated people in the village. Quality education, modern teaching approaches and qualified teachers were just a far cry for the small, remote village of Tupche. In the meantime, Puran Lepcha, with his wife and some of his teacher friends from Darjeeling came to Tupche. Along with them, they brought the light of education for hundreds of children who were plunged in the darkness of illiteracy. Since then, Puran Lepcha and his team have been working rigorously for the betterment of the school and the students to date. Hundreds of students have passed SLC from the school with flying colors. Within a few decades, Pioneer has already produced skilled human resources like doctors, pilots, engineers, teachers, nurses and so on, in abundance.

I first met him when I was nine. It was my first year in Pioneer in the fourth grade. The first day of a new academic year! We all had gathered in front of the school building for the morning assembly as he addressed us with his welcome speech. It did not take me long to notice that he was a very warm, kindhearted and wonderful person with a great personality. I always had the impression of a school principal as a strict, dark, angry old man. On the contrary, I found him very friendly, even with the kids like us.

As time passed on, I discovered in him, a friend, a father, a teacher and a mentor! I had heard many stories of him from the senior students about how he himself used to wade across a flooded stream on the way to school to help them cross it. Not only he motivated children to come to school everyday but also, always ensured that all the students were comfortable, safe and happy at school.

More than a decade ago, when teaching-learning process was quite traditional and book-based, he tried to give the students the best through co-curricular and extracurricular activities. We had everything from sports, music and dance to creative activities, recreational activities, exhibitions and what not. Despite very limited resources, we had our own library, a science lab and our own playground. The values we learnt there are the greatest assets we possess now. I still remember how we were taken to tree plantation programs in the nearby pastures. Such programs only helped us more to grow into responsible social citizens. Pioneer provided a strong foundation for education, moral values, skills and knowledge for thousands of students like me. Thanks to Mr. Puran Lepcha and many other teachers who worked so hard so that we could shine.

I salute the enthusiasm in you, Sir! I can never thank you enough for your contribution in my life. May God bless you with good health, long life and tremendous strength to lead Pioneer toward excellence. Let me take this opportunity, also to thank my dear teachers in Pioneer, Mr.Jay Kumar Thapa, Mr. Bishnu Acharya and Mr.Tanka Pokharel for their immense support, teachings and blessings that made me what I am today. As Aristotle puts it, 'those who educate children well are more to be honored than parents, for these gave only life, those the art of living well'. Thank you for teaching me the art of living!

Janhabi Hamal

Helsinki, Finland