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COVID-19 Update – June 2020

SMD School COVID-19 Update

Dear Friends of SMD School,

Like all schools in Nepal, SMD School has been closed since March 27 and we sent all our children home to their villages where it is safer for them (speaking from a pandemic perspective). See SMD’s COVID-19 May update for more details.

The National Board exams (aka Secondary Education Examinations or SEE’s) for Grade 10 students have been cancelled and students will receive their certification based on internal evaluations done by the schools. The government will decide what to do about the final exams for Grades 11 and 12 this week. All our other children in the lower grades finished their final exams for the school year before the lockdown started.

COVID-19 is now surging across Nepal. It is in all but four of 77 districts (see the Nepal COVID-19 map here). Fortunately, the districts that are currently still virus-free are high mountain districts, one of them being Manang, where many of our children are from. The government is considering declaring a health emergency—however, at the same time it is slowly relaxing the lockdown to ensure essential services can operate, taking a phased approach.

For more information on the situation in Nepal, see Kathmandu Post article on Prime Minister Oli’s recent address and youth protests. 

Continuing education and support in the villages

For now, the children are safer in their villages than in the crowded urban centres of Kathmandu, but we have concerns about food and clothing. We are making contact with the villages to assess needs. With a view to providing material support, we are asking them the following:

  1. Were the villagers able to do the spring planting?
  2. Do our kids’ families have enough food for the time being?
  3. Have the families started to eat the food that was stored for winter?
  4. Do the children have enough appropriate clothing and footwear?

We are also planning to offer some continuing education in the villages. Children could meet with some of our older students to keep everyone’s interest keen. This is especially important for the small kids—we want to ensure they don’t lose their early learning. We are also exploring whether we can use the high-altitude nunneries and monasteries as learning centres.

When will schools be allowed to reopen in Nepal?

We don’t know when the government will order schools to open but when that happens, full operation will be challenging for SMD School as we are simply too crowded for social distancing. Also, bringing all the children back down from the high mountains will pose challenges:

The first few days of trekking down pose mainly risks due to the current monsoon season which started this week—trails prone to landslides will be unsafe.  And once the children reach the road-heads (more populated areas), and in the last leg of the trip, when they board a public bus to travel to Kathmandu, they will be at great risk of being exposed to the corona virus—we are very worried about that. We would have to quarantine the children for 14 days at SMD in Kathmandu once they arrive but we don’t have the room to quarantine everyone. As such, we are looking to operate as follows once schools are ordered to reopen again:

  • First, we will help our older students: Grades 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 and those who are studying General Medicine to become Health Assistants (paramedics). They will come back and be quarantined at SMD, then continue their education.
  • Second, we will help the children in the villages. After we assess the needs (food and clothing), we will work on getting the goods into the villages when movement is allowed. We’ve had reports that soap is badly needed.
  • Third, we will organize classes in some central areas in the mountains. We will report more on this once we have it planned out.

Looking after SMD School staff

We have told all our staff that SMD will continue to pay salaries, as much as we can for as long as we can, to support their survival. We paid full salaries in April and gave 30 kg bags of rice to each staff family. In May we also managed to again pay full salary. Many of our staff have returned to their home villages, and when the lockdown is lifted, we expect that more of those who have families outside of Kathmandu, will leave to go home to take care of them.

How you can help

While SMD School cannot operate normally, we still have ongoing costs for the children in our care and for our staff (as per the above plan)—we will continue to do our best to support all of them. To do this, we are asking all sponsors that are able, to please continue to pay their yearly student sponsorships, and for any of our supporters who are able, to please make donations to SMD’s general operating fund.

We look forward to the day when the SMD family can be together again, and in the meantime, are sending you and your families our best wishes.

Principal Wangchuk Tenzin and Director Shirley Blair