Facebook IconInstagram IconSpotify

Transformation through education in Nepal

By Sister Barbara Soete
SSND in Nepal

When four Japanese School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) journeyed to the Hindu Kingdom of Nepal in 1983, they had a simple plan, to help educate the poor. They studied the language, the culture of the country and began instructing children in existing schools and teaching adult literacy in Kathmandu. Only after receiving a direct invitation to start a school in an almost deserted village in the hills of Western Nepal did the sisters begin their own village school. The mission in Nepal took on a new identity: education for transformation and development of people according to the charism of SSND.

In Bandipur, the sisters met a few local leaders and some eager children but not much more. The early days were filled with dirt, rock, empty streets, falling village houses and hunger. Hunger had to be addressed immediately and constantly. Sisters Evangela Imamura and Miriam Kanaya used their backgrounds in Japanese education and their remarkable abilities to form relationships to build a school from almost nothing. The school, initially 50 kindergarten children in a storage area of a house, was wretchedly poor, dark, dusty and crowded. However, the school grew each year as one village space after another was added to the collection of rooms as children came to fill them. Notre Dame Bandipur became known in ever-widening circles as the school that did not tolerate discrimination against students based on gender, caste or wealth.

The signs of the times were evaluated by the sisters in Bandipur and those back home in Japan, and in 1990, they decided to build a school building that could withstand the force of earthquakes. In time, four additional instructional buildings with offices, science and computer laboratories, libraries; staff rooms; and many large, well-lighted classrooms were built along with separate toilet buildings. A preschool for children from 18 months to 4 years along with girls’ and boys’ hostels for older students were also developed. The remarkable growth of Notre Dame School persisted month by month, year by year, until a highly recognized and respected institution flourished. This work over almost 40 years was done in spite of political turmoil, adverse bureaucracies, an earthquake, a Maoist insurrection and annual monsoons.

Notre Dame Bandipur is an English-medium school, i.e., a school in which all lessons are taught, and students respond in English. This type of school, requested by the Bandipur villagers and demanded by the Nepali government, required strong English speakers. Many Nepali and Indian teachers were capable English speakers, but there was also a need for native English speakers. Thus, American sisters joined the Japanese sisters as teachers; some for a short time, others for many years. The growth and advancement of the school in the capable hands of many SSND became, in retrospect, Phase I of the mission.

Teachers at Notre Dame Bandipur

After the Maoist revolution, the assassination of the royal family and a national drive toward a democratic republic, the new government restricted and then eliminated the ability of foreign nationals to work in Nepal, even as volunteers. The denial of work permits and the reality that there would not be any new sisters from Japan or America to serve in Nepal compelled the sisters to consider the future of Notre Dame Bandipur. School Sisters of Notre Dame had invested considerable resources, human and financial, to create and sustain the mission in Nepal. The sisters considered alternative solutions to a school without SSND presence but could not foresee a path to continue the school without SSND. Instead, the answer emerged out of the seeds that had been planted and cultivated for almost four decades.

During the COVID pandemic, teachers, many of whom were considered “low caste” by traditional norms, came forward to offer ideas, services and coordination of plans to continue classes, sometimes online other times in classrooms. Encouraged by the sisters, these teachers organized the rest of the faculty to deal with the pandemic and continue teaching. The teachers also used available time to learn the tasks needed to manage a school: scheduling, word processing in English and Nepali, test design, record keeping and data analysis.

As sisters watched this phenomenon occur, they realized that the mission, grounded in their charism, had been drawn into the future by the very process that had created the mission, the development of people to their potential. Transformation through education had in fact succeeded. Notre Dame School was ready for Phase II: continuing without School Sisters being physically present. The guidance, the example, the instruction, the ongoing advancement of individuals had produced people ready to go forward with the educational system that had formed them. In a village ceremony in May 2022, the founding sisters, Evangela and Miriam, officially passed administrative authority to a Nepali priest.

In January 2023, the two Japanese and two American sisters who had spent from 2006 to 2020 working together in Bandipur returned to Nepal. This was an opportunity to bring closure to the sisters’ formal involvement in the school. The sharing, questioning and expressing of feelings seemed to bring a peaceful conclusion to the long-term relationships.

There was also a gathering of over 100 alumni, the return of former teachers, and student performances. Each sister addressed the audience and focused on important themes: the difficulties and the joys of the early days without sufficient food or water, no electricity, no phone and extremely difficult transportation; the wisdom of the village parents to seek good education for their children; the help of the Nepal Church; the mutual respect among sisters and Nepali villagers; the joyful memories of educating eager children in Nepal. The sisters asserted the dual message that, despite struggles, Notre Dame Bandipur had accomplished incredible results in the form of a thriving village, countless successful students and a school that could continue with the cooperative efforts of all.

One of the most significant results of the return visit to Nepal was the realization that the SSND mission in Nepal can be seen as lived witness to “universal communion.” As visitors inserted into the vastly different world of village life in a least-developed country in South Asia, the sisters held few characteristics in common with Nepali people. Language, tradition, religion, culture, custom, food and economic reality could hardly have been more different. Yet sisters and Nepali people separated from each other as friends and colleagues who had grown in mutual respect and genuine caring. They had learned from each other and had met common goals. Incidental differences became immaterial in the communion of living interdependently for their shared purpose: bringing well-being, educational development and achievement to the children of Nepal.

From Bandipur, an isolated outpost in South Asia surrounded and dwarfed by giants India and China, emerged an educated population that is spreading talents, skills, knowledge, and hope across Asia and the world. That work will continue in the hands of Nepali people.

Learn more about the SSND mission in Nepal by reading "Sister furthers SSND mission in Nepal."


Want to learn more?


School Sisters of Notre Dame

320 East Ripa Avenue

St. Louis, MO 63125

Phone: 314-561-4100



© 2022 School Sisters of Notre Dame