Sonam Gurung, SMD alum and artist, just returned from Red Cross Nordic United World College in Norway, where he was studying on scholarship to complete grades 11 and 12. While there, he presented a project proposal to make art classes available to SMD School students after class, hold art exhibitions and produce new generations of artists at SMD. His project entitled ‘Colour the Dreams of Himalayan Children’ won and received 10,000 Norwegian Krone (~USD 1,000).
He’s now back at SMD, has bought art supplies, and teamed up with his SMD friends to deliver after school art classes every Tuesday and Thursday. The classroom is full with eager SMDers lining up to join the lessons. There are 36 students in the Junior class (four years old and younger) and 33 in the Senior class.
Sonam says, “The project is very much based on my own experience and goals. One of my life goals is to take education back to the mountains. The right education. Therefore, I aim to change the current education system of Nepal. I see this project as a small initial step toward achieving my larger objective.”
Sonam is concerned that in Nepal, the diversity of interests and talents are not respected and supported. He feels that children who study humanities and arts are stigmatized, labeled as dull and without a stable future.
Nepal’s unemployment rate is close to 50 per cent, as such, it is not uncommon for students to be encouraged to become doctors, engineers or teachers to ensure they have better job prospects. Sonam believes that the direct and/or indirect pressure by family, faculty and society for students to focus on sciences and math, stifles talents, creativity and critical thinking—he says the dreams of children are suppressed at all times. And it’s not only the stigma, but the lack of opportunity as well. Sonam notes that at SMD School for example, there is an understanding of the importance for classes like visual and theatre art; however, SMD lacks the funding for them and therefore needs to concentrate on the delivery of the core curriculum.
Sonam says that “fortunately, during my time at SMD, two volunteers helped me to fight against this pressure. They are Samantha (from U.S.A.) and Pedro (from Portugal). They were my first art teachers. First Samantha visited us. Then she brought along Pedro. They taught us different kinds of drawings and paintings, and we even held exhibitions. We (students) were called ‘After School Artists.’ It helped us understand and explain who we are and gain confidence in who we are. It naturally let us express ourselves, be visually reflective, and help us see the world differently. For me, it helped me to accept my interests and nurture them, and it showed me the importance of doing so. This was my inspiration. And I am hopeful that my project, ‘Colour the Dreams of Himalayan Children,’ offers the same opportunity to the current Himalayan children at SMD School.”
So what’s next? Sonam says, “I want to study psychology and Arts (visual arts, illustration and design).” In September, this dream may just come true. Sonam will start his studies at the University of Oklahoma (OU), where he received an OU and UWC Davis scholarship to make this journey possible for him.