Maya Universe Academy

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Maya Universe Academy

Udhin Dhunga, Chisapani, and Jaipate, NepalUdhin Dhunga, Chisapani, and Jaipate, Nepal
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
Project Stage:
$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Maya Universe Academy is the first completely free education institution in Nepal. It currently operates in three different rural districts of Nepal. Our model is unique amongst schools in Nepal: parents volunteer two days per month on the school’s farm in exchange for their children’s education.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

every kid was raised, nurtured, and educated with empathy, love, care, freedom, and playfulness. We at MUA are redefining education
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Though child labor is illegal in Nepal, an estimated 1.6 million children between 5-17 are in the workforce. Of the remaining only seven out of ten Nepali children enrolled in first grade reach the fifth grade, and more than half of them quit school before reaching the lower secondary level. At an average, there are 480,990 youth leaving Nepal for foreign employment in the Gulf, Malaysia and Middle East. The present public education is failing.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

The current status of education and economy suggests that a new community centered approach is required. In 2011 Maya Universe Academy was established to keep kids in school with a curriculum designed to meet the needs of every student. The curriculum is taught through multiple, learner-focused approaches, and creativity and expressive freedom are central to ensuring our students develop their innate curiosity and imagination. Our primary school curriculum emphasizes the importance of community, allows for creativity, independence, and critical thinking. Art, sports, music, and drama activities develop a student’s creativity and confidence; Maya Universe Academy places an emphasis on increasing student’s imagination and creative passion.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

In my village Chisapani we have a family with one child named Pushbin who craves an education. This family only earns $30 a month and the overall cost of sending their son to school would cost $325 per year. This means Pushbin will have to grow up without ever having a formal education. But at Maya Universe Pushbin can go to our school in exchange for his father who provides our farms with 2 days of labor a month. This labor is put into organic agriculture production where the produce is sold in the cities. At Maya, Pushbin is taught a unique customized curriculum that starts with interaction, games, art, drama, field visits, along with core subjects and the expertise skills (playing with dirt) of that particularly community.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

In the first year we started with 45 students. Three years into operation, Maya Universe Academy is providing free education to more than 230 children aged 4-14 who otherwise would have been overlooked covering three districts. Empathy in child rearing was introduced as part of the curriculum and put at core of its mission for the first time in Nepal by MUA. More than 1,200 farmers have benefited from Maya Farm vocational training program. 253 farmers currently benefit from the small scale loans provided by MUA. Our female teachers (17) are trained every year on empathy by Dr. Bonnie Tai,education department director at the College of the Atlantic. Our innovative ways (naming grades as desired by students, eg. at present Simba class is actually grade 3, morning circle instead of an assembly, circular classes in place of a rectangular, among others) have been praised by national media

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

Maya Universe Academy has a vision for one school one Maya farm in each of the 75 districts in Nepal by 2020. While we will be increase our student body by 15 per year per school, we also have an aim to facilitate vocational training to at least 400 farmers every year. We will provide small scale loans to 120 farmers every year from 2013. We hope to influence the national curriculum to include empathy at the front of child rearing in schools. We want to do it first to show that it works to bring kids into the education they are receiving through empathy, expression, and play.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Community,parents and fertile land are our resources. We have 240 parents working 2 days a month, which is 480 a month. In 2013 we acquired 15 acres of land in Udayapur, and 4 acres for a goat farm in Tanahun in 2014. Our investment in acres:11 of Cardamom,4 of organic coffee,2 of oranges,1 of banana & pineapple,450 indigenous chickens,17 pigs,MUA Bracelet & briquette production unit. In 2012 we generated $12000 & we expect to increase in 2013.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Several Non-Governmental Organizations are involved in helping deprived communities in Nepal apart from Maya Universe Academy. There are public schools where we currently operate who are our competitors. But the very elements of empathy, art, drama, sports, agriculture, practical work, creativeness, and field visits for free puts us in a better position. We do it differently than NGOs, and public schools by living, working hand in hand, and including the communities in proposed solutions. The success of our model can be seen in the recent proposals by 35 communities to operate our models.

Founding Story

People across the world have responded to unfair and oppressive regimes, either by picking up arms to rebel against the regime or by putting up a slogan on a piece of paper and walking down the road to seek change. We tend to move past these choices and bring an alternative on the table.You can only change the things that you perceive are wrong by stepping on the ground and doing a better job of being the change that you want to see. We resolved to challenge the government by showing that the quality of education provided to children, especially in rural areas of Nepal, is abysmal and that we can do better with little or no resources. It was then in 2011 we established our first classes and farms literally from inside a tent.


Dr. Bonnie Tai, Harvard Phd in education, ed. studies director at College of the Atlantic is adviser on the design of our curriculum. Surya Karki has a degree in agriculture and is currently pursuing another degree in community development and sustainable business. Asish Adhikary,MA in social work from St.Xaviers is leading the East MUA school. Manjil Rana,a sociologist is the current team leader at MUA. Subhash Rana,is heading the farm dept.
About You
Maya Universe Academy, UNESCO and College of the Atlantic
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Project
Organization Name

Maya Universe Academy, UNESCO and College of the Atlantic

How long has your organization been operating?

Organization Country

, Udhin Dhunga, Chisapani, and Jaipate

Country where this project is creating social impact

, Udhin Dhunga, Chisapani, and Jaipate

What awards or honors has the project received?
Funding: How is your project financial supported?



Nepal Social Development Award 2013
One of 7 UNILEVER Young Sustainable Living Entrepreneur Finalist 2013
25 Most Promising Projects in the world by Start Something that Matters 2013

Primary Target Age Group

3 - 5, 6 - 12, 13 - 17.

Your role in Education

Administrator, Coach, Resource Officer, Social Worker.

Please specify which of the following best applies:

I am applying on behalf of a school(s).

The type of school(s) your solution is affiliated with (if applicable)


Intervention Focus

Childcare, Curricular, Extracurricular, Professional Development, Community, Financing.

Does your project utilize any of the innovative design principles below?

Putting Children in Charge: Giving children a voice and cultivating agency via experiential learning, project-based learning, and civic engagement.

Is your project targeted at solving any of the following key barriers?

Lack of structures to facilitate meaningful community ownership in learning process: It is challenging to ensure parents and the broader community are involved as full co-owners in the learning process.

What key learning outcomes does your work seek to improve?

We hope to improve lives of people in rural Nepal by bartering education for work. Though the poor are low in cash, they have much to offer and this is what we are harnessing. We are delivering a curriculum designed to meet the needs of each student. Our curriculum is taught through multiple, learner-focused approaches, and creativity and expressive freedom are central to ensuring our students develop their innate curiosity and imagination. The children involve in various projects dealing with planting bananas, raising chicks, book reports, songs and dances, student shops, and story writing.

Secondary Form
PROGRAM DESIGN CLARITY: We are hungry to know more about what exactly your model consists of. Please succinctly list a) what main activities are you doing with your beneficiaries, b) where you carry out the activities? c) how often? d) for how many hours? e) who delivers the services? and f) any other brief details

Creating Youth as Change Agents:
Recent college graduates lead the operation of MUA. Currently there are three school directors and 12 other board members between the age of 18 and 25. We are all passionate youth that have come together from several backgrounds to put frustration into production. We believe in doing more and speaking less.

220 Children from the operation districts and neighboring districts attend MUA on a daily basis to receive education, give us feedback on our progress through their learning experience, and keep us engaged in doing our job to make education a force to change the face of Nepal and the world.

MUA student parents and the community:
220 MUA students’ parents volunteer two days per month, which is 16 hours of farm work, on the school’s farm in exchange for their children’s education in order to help us generate income for the organization. Parent volunteer is one of the core elements of our model. Also in our farms we have trained more than 1600 farmers since 2011

International and National Volunteers:
Volunteers are core to MUA model. While they help us in operations and teaching, they also provide us with financial help. Every volunteer that comes to MUA on a travel and volunteer experience usually pays for his stay at MUA. The money received from their contribution helps us pay our teachers and fund MUA scholarships. These very volunteers help us build a strong network for our organization, helping us to build on a constant flow of manpower and support to continue our work on the field in the three districts we are currently based in.

A typical start to a day at Maya Universe Academy is "Maya Soup".

“Maya Soup” is a playful interaction that sets the tone for the day privileging the child’s perspective. It is a complicated version of dodge ball in which there are three balls in play, and students playing against teachers. Because there are so many more students, the game begins with a group of students serving as allies to teachers. Once the game has thinned out to a more even number of teachers and students, the game becomes a contest between students and teachers. The rules are simple once you learn them: 1) You must pass the ball rather than run with it, although taking a few steps is permissible; 2) If the person you are targeting catches the ball, you are out; 3) If the person you target does not catch the ball and it touches her/him, s/he is out; Teachers would run from students with delighted screams. Younger children were often the faster and nimbler players, both difficult to target and fast with the ball. Girls and boys cooperated, passing to each other as well as working equally hard to win against the teachers. Women and men also cooperate, with some of the women teachers using very successful strategies of playing wily defense early in the game only to change tactics when the competition thinned. There is both playful competition and cultivated cooperation. Careful observation and attention are valuable skills, as are assertiveness, cooperation, and risk-taking—when the opportunity presents itself. Anyone can participate, contribute, have fun, learn, improve, and win. However, winning is not the best part or the ultimate goal. It’s the playing that matters.

INSPIRATION: What do you consider the most important trends or evidence that inspire you to believe the world is ready to Re-imagine Learning? Please elaborate.

People across the world have responded to unfair and oppressive regimes, either by picking up arms to rebel against the regime or by putting up a slogan on a piece of paper and walking down the road to seek change. We tend to move past these choices and bring an alternative on the table. You can only change the things that you perceive are wrong by stepping on the ground and doing a better job of being the change that you want to see.

The current dire educational situation requires an alternative mode of schooling. This is where the ‘Maya Model’ hopes to provide the rural communities of Nepal with a viable and holistic approach to education. We resolved to challenge the government by showing that the quality of education provided to children, especially in rural areas of Nepal, is abysmal and that we can do better with little or no resources. It was then in 2011 we established our first classes literally from inside a tent.

LEARNING THROUGH PLAY: What does “learning through play” mean to you and why it is a must-have, instead of a nice to have?

Learning through play means an education model that includes every student, every member of the family, and all of the community in education and community development. It lets students persue their interests without hindrence. It is a model where the teachers are simply the guides and the students have the freedom to design their future and interest through play. It isa model that is designed to meet the needs of each student Learning through play emphasizes on increasing student’s imagination and creative passion.

SUSTAINABILITY: Please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating the percentage that comes from each source.

The community, parents and fertile land are our resources. We currently have enough parent labor to work in the fields with every parent contributing 2 days each month to the school.

Maya Universe Academy has school farms in all of its campuses that are used as classrooms for agriculture courses and trainings, and also income for the operation of our model. We currently have 15 acres of land in cash crop production, 11 acres of Cardamom, 4 acres of organic coffee, 2 acres of oranges, 1 acre of banana and pineapple production, 250 indigenous chickens, 17 pigs, and a briquette production unit.

In 2012 alone we were able to generate $12,000 in revenue from our farms.
In 2013 we generated an income of $13500 from our farms.

This year, 2014, from the Prince Charles Sustainable Living Entrepreneur award we started a goat farm with 60 goats and added more pigs.

MODEL: How does your mission relate to your business model (i.e. Non-profit, for-profit or hybrid)?

We want the children of Nepal to stand shoulder to shoulder with other children of the world. We cannot help this country with an armed revolution. We have already seen that during the civil war. We cannot bring changes through “bandas” strikes. Maya Universe knows a better way: education. "Maya" means “love” in Nepali and this sentiment of love for the community and a passion for problem solving is part of the core beliefs of the organization.

All private school and many public schools in Nepal are run on fees that are often difficult for the family to pay. Our model is unique amongst schools in Nepal: parents volunteer two days per month on the school’s farm in exchange for their children’s education. Local village communities, domestic and international donors, and international and Nepali volunteers support the school. As a result, classrooms are built, fields are tended to, volunteers are housed and fed, and most importantly, children are taught.

FUNDING PRIORITIES: If your organization were given $20K in unrestricted funding today, how would you use it? Why?

We have a plan to integrate disabled students into our model as normal students. And for this we are planning to build a safe space that would bring abled and disabled students together in a learn by playing environment. This would mean completion of our model in terms of catering for students of all kinds.

PARTNERSHIPS: Tell us about your partnerships that enhance your approach.

Little Sisters Foundation:
In 2011, inspired by our dedication to working in rural Nepal, little sisters foundation based in Kathmandu partnered with MUA vowing to provide a MUA scholarship throughout their schooling to 24 female students studying at our campuses.

A/Bareness Norway:
A business based in Norway and MUA, in 2012, formed a partnership to work together. The agreed outcome brought briquette production equipment for income generation at the central school. A/Bareness will also be donating $2.5 in every sale it makes, thus helping fund MUA scholarships.

College of the Atlantic:
College of the Atlantic has approved its students to do final projects, residencies and internships at MUA. Currently MUA and education department at COA are working on an agreement to form a partnership for a yearly internship opportunity for students at COA. The education department at COA has been producing one of the finest teachers who are true believers of creating better learning opportunitites, and MUA will benefit greatly from them.

Kehi Garau:
An NGO based in Kathmandu partnered with MUA to start a weekly “walkabouts” for students in the cities. This partnership aims to bring in financial as well as human resources to Maya by involving youth from various backgrounds to work for a better Nepal.

Ecoteer Volunteer Services:
Ecoteer sends volunteers to Maya on a regular basis providing us manpower as well as financial resources.

COLLABORATIONS: Have you considered or initiated partnerships with any of the other Challenge Pacesetters? If so, please share.
VISION: If you had unlimited funding, and you could fast forward 15 years to when your program has been able to achieve wild success - what will it have achieved?

Maya Universe Academy has a vision for one school in each of the 75 districts in Nepal by 2020. Almost all of the districts have rural villages without access to quality, burden-free education, and MUA in its 2011 board meeting decided to set a milestone to establish one MUA campus in each district to serve the needs there. To cater to each student need we have experiement classrooms where no student is allocated a grade but rather is given the opportunity to choose for himself/herself depending on the starndard. We have started on a pilot program where a fellow student teachers other fellow student.

IMPACT - KEY METRICS: Please list the key data points that you would cite as evidence that you are able to achieve lasting learning outcomes. Please also share one data point for which you most hope to see better results over time

"What MUA has done, primarily, is revive the communities in the area, given families a sense of much-needed hope with regards to their children’s – and in turn their own –futures. Nishan Rimtel, for instance, is in the Simba Class, equivalent to the third grade. His father had left home five years ago, and his mother has had to since pick up the reins and earn to support their family of five. “I never thought I’d get to see the day Nishan would speak in English and act in a theatre,” Goma, his mother, says. “And to not be burdened by school fees is a big relief for us.” In return, she helps out at the school for two days a month, cutting paddy, collecting firewood, working in the farm and construction, as it turns out most parents do here, creating a give-and-take model where parents are able to contribute to their children’s education as per their capacities." Anup Ojha, The Kathmandu Post, June 18 2013.

Our hopes are that we reach the 500,000 students in Nepal who are victims of the traditional education system of Nepal. In January of 2015 we are partnering with United World Schools to start constructing more schools to take our kid centered learning to every corner of Nepal. By 2017 we will be catering more than 12000 students.

IMPACT - REPORTING SAMPLE: Please attach any examples of your impact reporting. [optional]:
RESEARCH AND EVIDENCE: Please link or attach any research or evidence resource you are open to sharing more widely [optional]. Building research and evidence is a key aim of this initiative, and the resources you share may be chosen for listing in the Center for Education Innovations library:
SOURCE: If applicable - who created the research or evidence you are choosing to share? :
IMPACT - REACH: How many people did your project directly engage in programmatic activities in the last year?

Not Applicable - yet! (we are at the idea stage or start-up)

STUDY: Has an external evaluation or study been conducted of your organization?


Other (please specify)
Number of Employees:


Number of Volunteers:


APPROACHES: Given the complexity of play, it is not surprising that there have been numerous research attempts to categorize the different types and approaches! Please indicate which of the following your project focuses on.

Physical Play, Play with Objects, Symbolic Play, Pretence/ Socio-Dramatic Play, Games with Rules, Creating a Supportive Socio-Emotional Environment, Providing a Range of Opportunities (providing the equipment and materials needed for various types of play), Educational Structuring (developing playful projects within educational contexts), Adults Participating (Ensuring adults are able to play alongside children), Challenging Play (play that disrupts - where rules are disregarded and levels of imagination are high), Other (please specify).

Other (please specify)
AFFILIATION: Please specify if your organization has any existing affiliations with the LEGO Group.