December 2013 – November 2014
This year marks a transition for HELP. After 12 years at the helm, Jim is handing over some key responsibilities to Barbara Porter (our new Director, Volunteer Programme) and Ben Coleman (Director, Sponsorship Programme). Jim will retain an advisory role, and handle Projects and Accounts for the time being. Jim’s wife, Yami, remains as HELP secretary. Everyone on the HELP team is a volunteer, which means none of your money goes on salaries!
INSPECTION VISIT (October – November 2014)
Barbara undertook last year’s inspection visit, so it was my turn this year. It’s always great to be back in India and Nepal, my second home! I managed to meet the great majority of the sponsored children in Nepal and Kalimpong, and those of you who are sponsors will have received a photo or two. They have grown so big since I last saw them! Inevitably I received some new requests and Ben is assessing which ones to respond to.
Naturally, I visited the schools in our portfolio, including a new one an hour’s drive from Kalimpong, and also an orphanage in Kalimpong, and the women’s empowerment centre in the eastern Terai region of Nepal (see below).
The only trouble with these visits is that they generate so much work when you get back home! But it is gratifying that I managed to achieve a lot in the time I had.
Women’s Empowerment Centre (Eastern Nepal)
Earlier this year Tony Fisher, a friend of HELP, kindly visited the Centre on our behalf. As a result, we sent £2,500 to enable them to purchase sewing machines for the women in their care, as well as the salaries of trainers.
I was able to see these machines, as well as the women who had been gathered together for a long ceremony for my benefit with lots of speeches!
I was introduced to a young woman, abused by her father, who has secured a place on a nursing course, and for whom I was able, thanks to the generosity of our sponsors, to send £1090 to help her finance her first year at the college.
Vidya Sagar Gyanpeeth school (Sikkim)
Although the main fabric of the building is finished with doors and windows in place, a number of jobs still needed doing this year. By a stroke of luck, a new Australian NGO called Build-a-School, gallantly run by college students, contacted me out of the blue, and raised £485 as a contribution towards the £600 needed to connect the school to the electricity supply. So many thanks to Build-a-School for that boost!
Sikkim is an amazingly mountainous place, and most buildings, including this one, are built on the side of steep slopes which are prone to release their rocks, especially during the monsoon. The school urgently needs to build a barrier between it and the rock face immediately behind it. We have just sent £800 for this work, and to have drains dug around the school, and security bars placed over the windows.
In total, since October 2013, we have sent the school £2400 for on-going building works.
JN Memorial school (West Bengal)
Last year we sent this school £845 for an outside toilet, and for internal partitions
This year we have been asked for financial help for a boundary wall to protect the children from falling down the hill, and railings for the staircase. This is expected to amount to around £700.
The request for these works was formulated with help from Annie Taylor who is returning to the school yet again (the fourth year running!) in February. In last year’s newsletter she explained why she keeps returning!
Gyan Jyoti (West Bengal)
Like the JN memorial school we, and the Highfields school in the UK, have had a long association with this school. This year they have sent us £426. We are going to save and add this and future donations to money that this year’s volunteer, Liam Campbell from Canada, is planning to raise for two new classrooms. Liam was very helpful in monitoring how past donations have been spent. This is why we normally restrict our hand-outs to schools we send volunteers to. Our volunteers are our eyes and ears at the school!
Hope Family Trust (West Bengal)
It was good to visit this orphanage again. We have made a point of steering clear of orphanages in Nepal because of the difficulty in identifying well-run ones. However, the children in this orphanage are well-dressed and fed, and look happy. Two of these girls are being sponsored under our programme, and we have been sending money for clothes and shoes for the past three years, and have done so again this year with a £600 grant.
Medical Clinic (Western Region, Nepal)
In the western region of Nepal, we collaborate with a Belgian NGO which has set up schools and a medical clinic in the hills north and south of Pokhara. This year we sent a nurse to the clinic and a teacher to the nearby school. The teaching assignments work well, but there was insufficient demand for the services of the nurse, which was disappointing. We will continue to look for doctors and dentists for the clinic.
I met the director of Himalayan Projects in Pokhara and handed over £300 for an ECG machine, as recommended by our medical volunteer, Simon Wydall, last year. This was needed urgently because of the high incidence of undetected heart failures in the area.
We recruited ten volunteers this year, from various parts of the developed world. I have made reference to some of these above, but many thanks to all of you for your efforts.
Volunteering can change lives. This is what Abhijeet Manay (Ladakh 2013) has written:
“Before I volunteered with HELP I was sure that I wanted to pursue a path in scientific research, but after that experience something within me awoke and I decided to change my career options. I applied to the Master of Child Study and Education (basically it’s a BEd for elementary teaching + Graduate Research – 2 year grad program) in December at the University of Toronto and found out yesterday that I was accepted! I am incredibly happy and excited about this new chapter of my life and a large part of the credit goes to HELP and (my school) for awakening my love of teaching! So, a big thank you to you and once I’m done my program I certainly would love to volunteer again! ”
Kerrie Anne Sullivan (Nepal 2014) has also changed course after her experiences in Nepal. See her blog entry: A Career Changing Experience.
And this is what Julie McKee (Nepal 2014) says about her assignment: The Joys of Volunteering.
Liam Campbell (Kalimpong 2014), a Canadian volunteer, has written a lyrical blog about his experiences. Liam plans to raise money to build extra classrooms for his school.
Applications for placement in 2015 are now coming with one volunteer ready for placement in March. Last November Barbara visited a number of new schools in Ladakh including one very remote monastery school close to the border with Tibet. In Nepal we plan to send volunteers to a school south of Pokhara which we have recently adopted. This is also a remote school, a long way from the usual tourist trails.
In the 12 years we have been running HELP, numerous organizations have arrived, in the regions where we are established, showering money and volunteers on schools and orphanages. Some are genuinely trying to make a difference to the projects they approach, but many are involved in ‘voluntourism’ in which the main focus is not on the project but on the tourists they are providing working holidays for.
Since their activities have an impact on what we do, I have been reflecting on how we should adapt in order to preserve the integrity of our programme. If you would like to see where my thoughts have taken me, read this blog entry
We have run teacher training seminars in each year from 2007 to 2012 (except 2008) in Leh, Kalimpong and Thimpu (Bhutan). These seminars are run by our ex-volunteers who have teacher training experience in addition to their direct experience of teaching in Indian and Nepalese classrooms. This means that we are using the experience gained by our volunteer teachers to benefit the local teachers. We hope to be able to revive this programme in 2015.
Our sponsorship programme has been running for 11 years now and so obviously some of the original sponsored children have now grown up, and moved on. Occasionally sponsors have had to withdraw from their commitment, but so far we have always been able to replace them.
At present, 30 sponsors are sponsoring 44 students, and one student is still benefiting from Tony Abrahams’s estate.
As the children grow older the costs of education increase and we have asked sponsors whether they are willing to bump up their sponsorship amounts, with most able to respond positively. One sponsor has forked out £700 for two years to help a student through college. Others have clubbed together to co-sponsor students. Many thanks to all our sponsors!
My special thanks also to our unsung heroes: Norong Namchyo, Senir Nair, Rabin Acharya, Sampada Dhakal, and Jayanti Bai Lama for taking care of our sponsorship programme on the ground. The children are scattered all over the place, and so it is no easy task to track them down, get them to write letters (an impossible task in a few cases), and disburse the sponsorship money.
Take up a charity challenge!
If any of you or your friends and relations are thinking of doing anything out of the ordinary, like Greg Mickelborough (see above), then please think of HELP! You can find us on the MyDonate website.
Readers of past newsletters will be aware that if they use Everyclick as their search engine, HELP receives a small payment, at no cost to them. You can also make donations through them and raise money by shopping via the HELP page of the Everyclick website. It all adds up.
Here’s where to start. It is run by Yahoo, and I find it works well as search engine (I hardly ever need to use Google) and my clicking has raised £20.22 so far! Two anonymous users have done a lot better than that!
Buy Master of the Moon!
Sales of my novel Master of the Moon, the publication of which I loudly trumpeted loudly last year, raised just over £40 for HELP over the last 12 months. Come on you laggards! Just go to the Amazon site (UK or US site) and buy one for Christmas right now! You will discover a lot about the Himalayas and the people who live there, their way of life and beliefs. And if you are interested in philosophy, there’s plenty of that too!
KEEPING IN TOUCH
Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter
The HELP blog
And don’t forget to visit our blog, where you can keep up-to-date with HELP news, and news about the communities we operate in.
Well, that’s it for this year. Many thanks for all your support and good wishes.
Merry Christmas to all of you, and a happy new year!