When Kenichi Tanaka came to Nepal in 1981 as a volunteer for Japanese Overseas Volunteers and got posted to Dolakha district, it took him almost five days to reach the village. Covered with paddy and open space, Kathmandu valley had a very few cars and the airport was small.
“Kathmandu was a very peaceful city with a few motor vehicles, green fields with rice plants and everything was simple,” said Tanaka, who came to Nepal as a JOCV volunteer to teach mathematics in a Nepalese school.
Tanaka was posted to a high school of Laduk Village of Dolakha district to teach mathematics and science. “Although it took me four days to reach the village from Kathmandu with half way transport and two days of trek with no telephone, road and radio, I liked the village and the people.
“The village is now said to be completely destroyed by the earthquake. I had worked there for two years. I taught mathematics at the school and I enjoyed living in the rural house with local family,” said Tanaka, 67, narrating his experience as a volunteer.
Since his first arrival as a JICA volunteer in 1981 Tanaka has maintained his relations with Nepal for over 35 years. Tanaka’s contribution in the education sector is memorable as he worked to improve curriculum of math and science in Nepalese schools.
Tanaka’s relationship with Nepal is unique as he got married to a Japanese volunteer who was working as a nurse in TUTH and his son was born in Patan Hospital. Although Tanaka has been working now as the chief advisor in Strengthening Community Mediation Capacity for Peaceful and Harmonious Society Project Phase II, his passion in education sector reform is still there.
The curriculum of mathematics and science was also revised, simplifying the formula of mathematics so that students can find it easy to solve the problems. With a Nepali teacher, I have also published a book for primary school teachers on how to teach mathematics. The book was translated from Japanese to Nepali. It talked about abstract to concrete concepts. However, the book was semi-concrete. It was very difficult for students to learn the concept of fraction. This book helped them solve fractions in a simplified manner.
During 1988, there was a big quake which jolted Kathmandu early in the morning. I was living in Hotel Summit. After the earthquake, JICA also supported construction of the earthquake resilient school building in Nepal. There was another model of building, the iron-steel frame. Japanese government supported to construct the earthquake resilient school buildings in Nepal.
I also saw a major political change in 1990. I came here in 1993-1997 as advisor of JICA under National Curriculum Development Center. Later on I worked as a consultant for school construction program of Japan for four countries. I came again in Nepal in 1999 and spent three months at National Center for Education Development. I came here in 2003-2005 as JICA advisor at Department of Education.
Tanaka flew to Nepal through Royal Nepal Airlines jet from Bangkok to Kathmandu and he saw the Mount Everest on the way to Kathmandu. As he was dispatched to Dolakha by a bus up to Lamasangu, he took another small vehicle to reach Charikot as the road was under construction at that time.
“I can see a lot of changes in Nepal”
Coming as a Japanese Overseas Volunteer in 1981, KENICHI TANAKA, chief advisor of Strengthening Community Mediation Capacity for Peaceful Harmonious Society Project Phase II (JICA COMCAP II) under Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), has been serving in Nepal in different capacities..
How do you see the changes in the education sector?
There were a few students, few school buildings and curricula. JICA has been supporting Nepal all the time. JICA’s support to school building started in 1997. I also worked under Basic Primary Education Program (BPEP). When I arrived here for the first time, the net enrolment at primary level was below 70 and now it is over 98. You can see all the children are going to school. There were 300 students and a few class rooms. There were few female students in high school and they were the offspring of the rich.
What differences do you see?
What I see now is all the students are going to school. When I applied as a volunteer, my first choice was an African country. However, I was chosen for Nepal. Since my first assignment, I started coming to Nepal. It was very hard to live in a village as there was no vehicle available. It took us one and a half day from Charikot. There was no rice. My house owners and teachers provided me rice. Some of my students are advocates now. I was 32 years old when I came here. Only way to make a phone call to family members was through the phone call from Nepal Telecommunication’s office in Tripureshwor. There were only three booths for international call.
How do you see the changes in Kathmandu?
I can see a lot of changes in Nepal over the last three decades. The connectivity has increased and road links many areas. The school enrolment has gone up. You can even take a bus up to Singati.
How do you see Japan’s support to education sector?
The support given by Japan in the education sector has brought immense changes and it contributed to increase the enrolment of school children as well as quality of education. Construction of new school buildings helped a lot. Simplification of mathematics at primary level was very important.
How do you distinguish the time now and then?
I don’t see many differences. I am now teaching the community as I used to teach the students in early days. We also hired a Nepali lawyer to interpret the laws -- this is also related to teaching.
What things do you like most?
Our culture with Nepal is very different. The caste system is unique in Nepal. I read a lot of books on Nepal to know its culture and behavioral patterns. I was interested to learn about Nepal.
The introduction of market economy in Nepal has had a drastic impact. Along with liberalization of economy, there came privatization. The market economy has changed the behavioral patterns of Nepal. Instead of us, people are talking about me. People used to say we and now people say me.
How do you see your own personally?
I got married in Nepal. My son was born in Nepal. Our family members used to talk about Nepal. My son visited Nepal a few years ago and I have shown him the hospital. He went to British primary school. Nepal is moving ahead. Democracy is a process. There is need to have patience. This was the first phase.
How do you see the social and cultural state of Nepal?
When I was in the village, the kitchen was divided on the basis of caste. In a Brahimin family, I was not allowed to go to kitchen. Whenever there was a feast in the village, I was given the status of Chhetri because I was living in the house of a Chhetri. In the initial days, when I touched the kitchen, my house owner who was a Brahmin did not eat the food because it was touched by me.