There is excitement amongst the fourth-graders at Lord Baltimore School in Ocean View. Their school is becoming a sister school with Samata Shiksha Niketan, near Kathmandu, in Nepal. The special focus will be an exchange of art and culture.
Each of the five fourth-grade classes taught by art teacher Melissa Kelly has been visited by Holly Kaufman and her mom, Amy Kaufman, to present the program and answer questions. Holly was herself a student of Kelly’s at Lord Baltimore about 10 years ago, and she has also taught at Samata.
Holly started her presentation with the typical Nepali greeting “Namaste,” her hands prayerfully together and with a little bow. She then proceeded to talk to the students in fluent Nepali, just to give them an idea of how the language sounds. They were impressed. Then Holly used slides to tell the children about Nepal and the differences between their schools and daily lives.
The children at first had difficulty understanding where to find Nepal on a map. Then one remembered that Nepal is where Mount Everest is located and another realized it must be in Asia, and another guessed it was sandwiched between China and India. Nepal is approximately the size of Tennessee. Holly told the students that, because of the high altitude, the Nepalese think their country is at the top of the world.
Both schools have about the same number of children in the fourth grade, but Samata is larger, because all grades of students attend the same school. All 60 of Samata fourth-graders are in the same classroom, and many times they have to share books.
Whereas Lord Baltimore is built with brick and mortar, Samata is built with bamboo and mud and has no electricity. Several students in the class thought it was “cool” to hear that the rain sometimes dripped into the classrooms from the ceiling and that snakes have been known to slither in through open doors.
Nepalese children learn their subjects by rote, copying and remembering everything the teacher writes on the chalkboard. The chalkboard is the only item on the brown walls of the classroom — no pictures or posters or photos — no distractions.
They don’t learn gym or music or art, and their school week is six days long. Many of the children have to work in the rice fields before the school day starts. Yet, Holly says, the children are happy to be there, getting an education.
It was the lack of art and opportunity for creativity that had struck the mother-daughter travelers when they first went to Nepal and serendipitously visited Samata. Their journey had been a pilgrimage of sorts, a seeking of meaning, after the tragic death in a car accident, at age 17, of Amy and Ian Kaufman’s eldest daughter, Shauna.
Shauna was a highly creative person and a gifted artist. The Kaufman family formed a nonprofit organization, the Shauna Rose Kaufman Foundation, with the purpose of “working to make the world a better place through art, equality and education.” By coincidence, Samati means “equality” in English. A collaboration with this school smacks of destiny.
Since that first visit, funds from the foundation have been used to purchase art supplies and, most important, to pay the salary of an art teacher. Durga “Sir” is “Ms.” Kelly’s counterpart. Durga is only 20 and knew little about art when Amy Kaufman and the school’s principal, Shova, selected him for his enthusiasm and vision.
Amy and Holly both taught him some basics and gave him art books to help him teach himself. When the children were given their supplies, it was the first time they had ever seen a paint brush.
Durga’s compensation is $1,200 per year and he is paid monthly.
“After we saw how well he and the students were doing, we wanted to pay him more,” said Amy Kaufman. “But Principal Shova did not want him to be paid more than her other teachers. She is amazing. She knows all 1,300 of the children’s names and often feeds and houses the neediest at her own home.”
Kaufman added that Shova is very appreciative of their work and of the money from the foundation, which she knows is donated in small quantities by many Sussex County residents. She is so mindful of the cost of the supplies they went to purchase together with Durga that Amy had to insist that they buy enough pencils so that the students could each have their own.
Another purchase from the foundation was a cabinet to store all the supplies and artwork the students have completed. Shova’s wish is to eventually have a whole classroom dedicated to the arts.
The collaboration between the foundation and the school is now in its third year, and the results are extraordinary. Holly and Amy brought many examples of the children’s art work with them to show at Lord Baltimore. Durga had asked his students to draw pictures of their local community for their final exam. Not surprisingly, many of the pictures included glimpses of snow-covered mountain peaks in the distance.
“What do you think of their pictures?” asked Holly.
Many hands shot up to express how neatly drawn the pictures are and how they look as though the children spent a lot of time and care on them. One student asked if they could become pen-pals with their sister school classmates. But this idea was nixed by the realization of language barriers and the lack of a reliable postal system in Nepal.
“Instead of writing, we are going to draw and exchange our pictures,” Kelly explained. “Like them, we will start with showing them how our community looks and the things we like to do. For example, just as we have no mountains in Delaware, there is no ocean in Nepal for the children to experience.”
After the class, Kelly said she has been delighted with the enthusiastic response from her students.
“It is a wonderful opportunity to expose them to another culture through art. It also fits perfectly with one of the art standards that are part of the curriculum.”
To learn more about the art program at Samata and the Shauna Rose Kaufman Foundation, visit www.ShaunaRose.com.