In July, Luke Niu and Steven Shi of Gears for Change will bike through the Himalayas delivering school supplies and equipment to elementary schools in Nepal and Tibet. We spoke to them about their upcoming trip, and the state of education in isolated Himalayan communities.
What are you hoping to achieve with Gears for Change?
We will bike through the Himalayas, from Lhasa to Kathmandu. On this trip, we are going to stop by several impoverished schools and donate schools supplies and gifts to the children there. We not only hope to aid these students to have more access to education, but also to illuminate the importance of education to these kids, and also provide moral support along with financial support.
Another goal of our trip is to document the educational needs of these Nepali and Tibetan children through photography and videography. Statistics and text can only describe so much; even though people may hear that students have to walk three hours to get to school, pictures and videos brings a face to these students. Likewise, reading about cold, blank classrooms is not as vivid as a portrait of these rooms. We think that it’ll be really great if we could shed a bit of light on these children, and increase awareness of their current situation.
Where exactly will the donations go?
100% of the donations will go toward buying stationeries, necessities, and gifts to the Nepali and Tibetan children. None of the money will go towards the trip’s cost, that will come out of our own pockets. On our website, we will post our full budget plan once we have final numbers in donations.
How much stationary are you be hoping to donate?
It depends. At a certain point, it would be more beneficial to students to receive other equipment, such as musical instruments, shoes, clothes, and so on. We’re in talks with a few schools about class size and school size, and hopefully donate enough stationery that will last them long enough for us to visit again next year, along with some sports equipment, musical instruments, and clothing.
What are the educational facilities like in Nepal?
It varies from school to school. Buddhist Lamas that we have been in contact with described of an entire classroom of children who had to share one chalk. Occasionally, the students had to sit on the freezing concrete floors for hours due to lack of furniture, as shown in the photo. Moreover, many schools don’t have a clean water system. He further recounted that a few students got seriously injured or died because their schools can’t afford handrails on the second floor. It’s pretty crazy to think about how a small portion of our income can dramatically increase their educational opportunities. A big factor in these problems definitely lie in the lack of financial support and we hope to aid in solving these issues through Gears For Change eventually.
Students usually take their education granted, why do you value education?
When I was a kid, I saw my father going through numerous photos of underprivileged Nepali and Tibetan children who needed sponsorship for education. As we flipped through the sponsorship website, we were amazed and saddened by how many of them needed help. At the time, my dad only had enough money to sponsor one child out of thousands in need. At that point, I realized how blessed I was to be able to afford a good education. I think that many of my peers at the University of Southern California feels the same way.
My father has always told me about his arduous school situation, but that was all words and stories that I could never picture until I visited his middle school a few years ago. Only after fifteen minutes, I had an unsettling feeling of sweat and humidity. I started to wonder how students could spend hours in this classroom, which only further demonstrates their willingness to learn. My dad pointed out a detail that I didn’t think of: the students bring two towels to wipe their sweat as they learn. While we didn’t stay the entire day, my dad recalled that his towels would get drenched in only an hour. The major contrast between this school and Shanghai American School is incredibly overwhelming. I never took my education for granted afterwards. Although we just started, and our efforts may seem tiny, I’m determined to join in the effort to assist students to a universal right – education.
What are you going to do in preparation for your cycle in the forthcoming weeks?
Our entire summer is dedicated to raising awareness and funds for Gears For Change, as well as exercising everyday for at least two hours in preparation for this trip. Moreover, we have been emailing a lot of organizations and bikers who have biked from Lhasa to Kathmandu as well, to plan a specific route that manages to get us from school to school. We’re incredibly grateful of Shanghaiist to give us an opportunity to talk about this trip and our efforts. Please check out www.gearsforchange.com, give us a like, or better yet a donation!