Jessica first learnt about UWS at secondary school, when she discovered her friend had biked more than 1,000km to raise money for us. Two years later, a UWS team member spoke at her school and explained our mission. In the same year Jessica shaved her head to raise money to support our work. After finishing secondary school, Jessica travelled to Nepal to volunteer in one of our community schools. Jessica shared a story from her time there.

Valentines day, vilen day, velentns day: the day of love, sweets and appreciation for the beauty of life around you. Ever since I was a kid, growing up in America, it’s been one of my favourite holidays. Each year I would go to the local pharmacy and buy a pack of cheap valentines cards ridden with cheesy puns and animal pictures, tape, and chocolates. I would spend hours writing notes to my friends. At school, we would fill each others’ shoppings bags with messages of appreciation and chocolates, in rooms decorated with pink hearts and ribbons.

To the best of my ability, I wanted to recreate this day for the students and teachers at UWS Majuwa School. As February 14th this year fell on a Friday, I planned for a day of love and appreciation… and chocolate! I spent the better part of the week leading up to it cutting out hearts on different colours of paper; I bought a box of 250 chocolates for an equivalent of 2 US dollars to distribute among the students; I researched and made some sample valentines for the teachers and students to follow. By the time I get to school on Friday, I am ready.

After I get all of the teachers together and understanding the plan, the day goes well. Teachers go into rooms to write and display sample messages on whiteboards. We distribute the coloured markers that UWS provides monthly, keep some for ourselves, and the whole school sets to work making cards and delivering.

The school is awash with colours and laughter. The Class 4 boys run around making and giving out origami tulips, the class 6 and 7s (the eldest in the school) ask for extra paper to make proper cards, and once I distribute the chocolates too, there is a sugar-supported buzz of excitement in the air. The teacher’s office is full, with teachers making and receiving cards for each other and students using extra materials. Some teachers buy their own chocolates to distribute among classes. The nursery kids are overwhelmed and excited - the teachers wrote the cards for them so all they had to do was fill in the appropriate names and find their friends. The 3rd graders were thrilled. But the kids who most enjoyed it were the classes 5, 6 and 7. These are the older kids for whom it is usually presumed no longer need to be entertained by drawing and singing; I’ve found, however, that this is far from the truth. They participate in their dance classes with glee, they love to sing whenever they are given the chance, and now they are begging for more kinds of paper to make 3D cards for their friends and teachers.

At the end of the day, we collect up all the colouring materials and have each class clean their room. As the kids go home, the energy remains in the school while the teachers arrange all of the cards they’ve received and take pictures; pictures that later decorate my facebook stories with heart emojis and smiley faces. We all take photos together and split the remaining chocolates, have our teacher debriefing, and then go home.

I go to the tap to wash my clothes - a task that I have discovered requires much more strength than I have - and get ready. I am halfway through when there is a commotion behind me, and I turn around to find a goat in distress. I know many of the goats have been pregnant for some time, and Santoshi has warned me frequently that it is not cute when it happens, so this makes me nervous. I scream. Alina, my host sister, runs to see what the commotion is about, gasps, and runs to the edge of the farm to shout for Santoshi. She comes back and we flap over the goat until Santoshi arrives - “goat baby” is the phrase on everyone’s lips. Santoshi strokes the goat’s back and helps her onto her side. The water bag breaks, and after a great deal of pushing a face appears, and then hoofs, and then a baby goat lies on the leaves, utterly beautiful and adorable. We cut the cord and watched the mother muzzle up to its new child as it nestled into her side. The next few hours were spent watching the baby goat take its first steps, wobble around and bleat. We had a very satiating dinner and went to bed.

Thus ends the most memorable valentine’s day I will ever have (and I did manage to finish washing my clothes in case anyone was wondering!)

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