STUDENTS GAIN A NEW VIEW OF THEIR WORLD
In Why Geography Matters author and noted researcher Harm de Blij makes a dramatic point:
“The American public is the geographically most illiterate society of consequence on the planet.” Now hold on; there’s more. The timing is terrible, says de Blij, since in our day “United States power can affect countries and peoples around the world.”
OUCH! OUCH AGAIN!
If you’re American, the critique hits like a hammer to the head. We ask, Is this any way to “make America great”? Even to the rest of the world it comes as distressing news; What hope for a world when people with such outsized influence are shrouded in a cloud of unknowing?
But think for a moment: are Canadians and Cambodians, Brits and Brazilians really that far ahead? So, wherever you live, here’s a test question for you: Can you find Nepal on a map? How much do you really know about it?
TAKING ITS PLACE ON THE WORLD STAGE
Let’s start with location. Nepal is a landlocked country squeezed between two powerful neighbors, China and India. It seems, to many, puny in size, population, power. In area Nepal stands 93rd among the world’s 206 independent states; its population, estimated at 26 million, is approximately twice that of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, or between Texas and Florida (28 million and 19 million, respectively).
Nepal’s history, on the other hand, stretches across 27 centuries. Today it is a parliamentary democracy and a secular republic, having abolished its monarchy in 2008 and established a system with executive, legislative and judicial branches, under pressure from Chinese Marxists ((1991)) and with the model of the United States as a guide.
Until 1950 Nepal was a closed society. Walled away, we might say. Contact with the outside world was virtually nil. Question: even when walls are seen as beneficial, can they have negative results?
TODAY’S SILENT REVOLUTION
Fast forward to 2019; choose the option of being invisible as you look in on a school. Here is some of what we see:
So what is happening? An American volunteer teacher who goes by the name of Kirk Nepal, (officially Kirk Richmond) explains
Nepali always say.. “oh, we are a small country”
The Peters Map shows they are bigger than Ireland, bigger than Portugal. Kinda blows their mind. Being the “kidney bean between two rocks” (China and India) affects their perceptions of themselves.
The Peters world map – which always blows people’s minds – plays a big part in a quiet educational revolution in Nepal. In round numbers, only about 1 in 4 Nepalese get to high school – grades 9-12. But the numbers are improving as classrooms become available. This school system now boasts five locations, having expanded steadily from just one a few years ago. As more young people grow more aware of the world, they become better prepared to participate in the global community. Equal-area maps such as the Peters are ideal tools for visualizing a world of justice and fairness for all peoples.
HOW DOES PROGRESS HAPPEN?
Progress is always a collaborative effort. Neither the Peters map nor Kirk Nepal stands alone. Service organizations including Lions Clubs and Rotary also deserve credit. Here’s the story:
A visitor from Holland was impressed with the people of Nepal. But they had such meager educational opportunity! Back home, he convinced his fellow Lions of the opportunity; together they raised funds and took an active interest. Over the years they have sent volunteers as well as enough money to open five schools, the Shree Manhankal.
Rotarians, true to their motto of “Service above Self,” regularly support progress in Nepal’s schools, including a broader grasp of world geography. If you are a Rotarian, would you not agree that this project totally meets all four of Rotary’s tests for right action? (Not a Rotarian? You’ll learn by Googling Rotary: The Fourfold Test.)
STORY OF A VOLUNTEER
Meanwhile, an American in Seattle, Washington faced a momentous decision: would he devote the rest of his life to the people of Nepal? (Having taken several trips there, he had come under the spell of both its importance and its need.) Acknowledging a great teacher – one who owned neither a home nor a bank account – advising a rich and restless young inquirer to “Go sell your stuff… give to the poor … then join my group of friends actively pursuing the good…” – briefly referring to that story, the man from Seattle sold his business, his house, his cars, and moved to Nepal. He has never, he says, looked back; he has found his reward, his niche, his calling, his reason for being. He is having “the time of my life.”
Kirk Richmond -- now known as Kirk of Kathmandu or Kirk Nepal – serves as a volunteer in schools and community. His great contribution has been to introduce the Peters world map to students. As the Shree Manhankal schools, built to UN structural standards, have resisted the deadly force of recent earthquakes, so, one hopes, the students of those schools, firmly buttressed with a worldview based on fairness and respect for all –values made real through human example and the Peters map – can help build a safer, saner world.
Will Americans and others be as ready for that new world as the eager students of Nepal? What would Harm de Blij think?