Corcoran Legacy Lives on Decades Later through Nepalese SchoolhouseIn 1984, students in the Corcoran High School Global Writers Club started a fundraiser in partnership with the Peace Corps: they sold buttons with the goal of raising $2,000 to help the village of Chapakot, Nepal build a primary school.
The Global Writers Club’s purpose was to foster international relations through supporting Third World nations and sponsoring foreign exchange students.
In 1984, they learned about the only existing school in Chapakot – an isolated Nepalese village of about 4,000 residents. The school had one room and one teacher, serving 150 students. The nearest dirt road was a six hour walk away! In the Hindu culture, the villagers are of the highest caste, the Brahmans, so they placed great value in education; yet all of the people there are subsistence farmers with incomes of less than $200 per year. The contribution provided by the Corcoran community enabled the villagers to build a larger school, consisting of three classrooms, an office, and an outhouse. The school is still in use today!
Each year through 2007, the Global Writers Club group partnered with the Peace Corps to support a similar project. In 1985, they provided funding for a primary school in Sierra Leone. In 1986, they provided encyclopedias to students in Botswana; in 1987, they funded a water well in Benin. They went on to fund primary schools, maternity wards, community health centers, medicinal gardens, latrines, adult literacy projects, school desks, playgrounds, and even maternity wards and midwife training centers.
Jim Miller spent 32 years in the SCSD and 20 years teaching Global Studies at Corcoran, where he assisted students with these fundraisers – of which the Chapakot school was the first. He was the one who helped connect with Michael Bologna, who served as the liaison in providing the funds to the Chapakot community on the other side of the world.
“The Peace Corps had a list of projects,” Jim shared. “They were ‘basic’ projects, like schools or wells or maternity wards. We let the kids choose the project they wanted to fund.”
On the other side of the world, Michael Bologna was in his mid-20s, living as a Peace Corps volunteer in Chapakot.
“I had just graduated from college,” he recalled. “I had completed the first year of my service in that little village in Nepal. We were instructed to look for little ‘extra projects.’ If you found something that was interesting but needed some money, you could apply for a grant. There was only one school, but I noticed there was activity in this one area where they were doing some construction. People began to explain to me they were hoping to build a preschool because the population was growing and there was a need for it. So I started writing a grant.”
At the time, Michael had no knowledge of Corcoran High School: his job was to write a grant, put together some rough building plans, and submit it. Then, someone in Washington would match his grant with a potential funding source somewhere in the U.S. – in this case, at Corcoran!
Fast forward to 2022.
Jim is now a professor at SUNY Cortland; Michael is a Bloomberg News reporter. Yet they are still bonded by this project from decades ago.
Following COVID, Michael had the opportunity to take a monthlong vacation. He felt a pull to go back to Nepal, to again visit the area where he had spent time as a young adult. He took a trip to the school he helped build years ago, immediately noticing how much things had changed!
For starters, when he arrived in the 80s, Michael said getting to the village of Chapakot was a two-day journey, involving multiple buses and an hours-long hike through the mountains.
Today, there are roads, electricity, running water, and even Wi-Fi! The village’s population has grown to 15-20,000.
“Change was happening,” Michael recalled of his time in the village in the 80s. “Our project sped things up. It permitted them to launch faster and in a more dramatic fashion than had the school not been built or had it taken five years to evolve. When I visited this year, the building we helped erect had been torn down. But it had been replaced with three big cement buildings, with probably 14 or 15 classrooms. They had electricity, toilets, running water, and a computer lab. What had once been a primary school now reached all the way up to 10th grade… and there was a junior college next to it, complete with a soccer field. That’s a big deal… it was an established school!”
Both men note the significant impact that this project had on both them and the students they worked with at the time.
Michael, who taught English in Chapakot, said he ran into several of his former students during his recent visit. He said the students who as children told him they would be farmers when they grew up had achieved so much more than they ever could have imagined. One became the equivalent of a city manager. One had become a top official in the police department of Nepal. Another had a law degree and had done tours of service as a peacekeeper. Even his formerly ‘mediocre’ students had become hospital clerks or teachers or owned shops or farms. In short: they had all achieved more than they thought possible.
That’s the takeaway from these projects, Jim noted.
“I tell students: you never know what’s going to happen,” he explained. “One person may not think they can make a difference, but they can always add something. We had four Corcoran students from this program go into the Peace Corps! You just never know how you’re going to touch people.”
“Going back, it was a little like Jimmy Stewart in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ when you get to see the impact that some subtle things you did in your life had on people that you had no knowledge of,” Michael added. “There were so many kids that are now middle-aged men and women telling me about something I had done when they were 8 or 9 years old that had an impact on them. I began to realize that I had an impact that was broader than I ever could have imagined when I was 24 or 25. It played out in an important way for a lot of people. Let’s just say the construction of Baindi school by Corcoran students was truly life changing for many.”
We’re proud of the former Corcoran students who helped lead these humanitarian efforts – and of all the ways our current SCSD students are showing leadership and enacting positive change in their local communities and beyond!