I moved to Thailand to teach English in 2014, just after graduating from the University of Miami. Unsure of an exact career path to follow, I sought out an opportunity that sounded like paradise - living in Thailand. Little did I know when I agreed to move to the other side of the world to be a teacher (something that I had never done before), my students would actually end up being the crucial element that fully completed my time in Thailand. I awoke each morning excited and inspired to engage with my students. If I was homesick, actually sick, or simply in a bad mood, I could always count on my students to cheer me up.
Every time I walked into the classroom, someone screamed, “PLEASE STAND UP!” Followed by, “GOOOOD MORNING, TEACHA!” Each day was sobering and refreshing, standing up in front of so many young humans who were so genuinely and collectively happy to be right where they were at any given moment. And better yet, I was in charge of what and how they would learn that day?! Bring it on.
I was lucky enough to teach the same group of about 110 students for my entire 3 semester stint at Amnuayvidhya School. I moved with them from second to third grade and thoroughly enjoyed watching them blossom - socially, mentally, physically and educationally. The entire class added me to a group chat on the widely used communication app ‘Line,’ from which I still receive daily messages (with my notifications set to disabled).
On april 25, 2015, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 struck Nepal, killing 9,000 people, injuring 22,000 and leaving hundreds of thousands more homeless. Bhaktapur, an old capital of Nepal nestled between surrounding mountains about 45 minutes outside Kathmandu, was among the worst cities impacted by the earthquake.
Kevin and Joanna opened the Happy Kids Center for children in the community to gather after school, or after work, as many of the children gather trash in the town square instead of attending school. I found out about the center through a mutual friend on Facebook and decided to extend my trip to Nepal and finish out my visa after a trekking trip there. I split off from my friends and headed to Bhaktapur for 11 days to volunteer at the center and create a short video to help with fundraising.
On the ride over from my Kathmandu hostel, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The town of Bhaktapur is off the beaten tourist path and had just been hit by a significant earthquake two years prior. I stayed with a beautiful family for the first three nights - Chadani is 21 years old and cares for her entire family by working as a teacher at the local school and at the center after work. Their family welcomed me and fed me to no end, as is the culture there. I helped her mother peel garlic for the daal baht, played with the children as they got ready for school, and Chadani insisted on me taking her bed. I had to graciously thank them for their hospitality and check in to a guest house after a few days.
The people of Bhaktapur are a beautiful and resilient representation of the country as a whole. I met friends here and made memories I know will last a lifetime. At the guesthouse I met a vivacious, hilarious Irish girl who was traveling the world solo, and aside from volunteering at the center, we visited a Tibetan shaman, trekked to a nearby temple, witnessed a local wedding, and attended a "chicken party" where we helped a local farmer pluck, skin, clean and prepare a chicken dinner.
Anna Julia Cooper is a middle school in east Richmond, VA provides full scholarships to students in the community ages 4th through 8th grade. The school is run by a dedicated staff and many volunteers who make its mission possible. While I was living in Richmond in 2016, and coaching field hockey at my high school Trinity, I found out about AJC and the truly remarkable opportunities it had already presented for young middle schoolers to graduate high school and attend college just years after opening. There were a few AJC alumni who went to Trinity at the time, including the sweet, soft-spoken field hockey team manager.
I reached out to the school and set up a time each week to read with students, bringing my camera along to document the positive impacts of the school on the community. My experience there was incredibly heartwarming. The entire staff welcomed me and the students were completely open to interacting with new faces. I bonded with a few of the kids and heard stories about their easter weekends and certain high schools they’d like to attend. There isn’t a doubt about the school’s success rate thanks to the dedicated faculty - teachers and volunteers alike.
If you would like to learn more about AJC or get involved, visit their website at https://annajuliacooperepiscopalschool.org.