NEWSLETTER No. 18: December 2019 – November 2020

We all need children’s laughter to cheer us up at this difficult time!

Children's smiles

As you might have guessed, this has definitely not been a vintage year for our programme! Travel to and from Nepal and India has been restricted, so we haven’t been able to visit our projects, or run our volunteer programme. On the bright side, our sponsorship programme has continued, and, with your generous support, we have been helping our adopted schools survive during the lockdown.

What have we achieved this year with your help?
PROJECTS

Vidya Sagar Gyanpeeth primary school (West Sikkim) and others in Sikkim and West Bengal

The lockdown has meant that the school has had to close, and closure has meant there has been no income from fees, which, in turn, has meant that the teachers have not received their salaries since March.

We have sent them £850, together with next year’s sponsorship money, to help them keep the show on the road. This was made possible by our friends and supporters who responded so generously to our recent appeal for funds. In fact, it was so successful that we have been able to help out another six of our adopted schools all of which are facing similar problems.

The Serve and Share Association (Dehra Dun, Uttarakhand)

The director of SASA recently asked for HELP to support two projects:

  1. Remote learning

    “Despite lack of good communication methods, our teachers are trying to send children work through WhatsApp etc. we are unable to pay the desired remuneration. We need an urgent Wi Fi set up at the school and need a training for the teachers to handle it like the teachers in the city schools are doing.”

  2. Farming training for the villagers

    “With no work, our village children moved to the cities for better future, but when things did not work in cities, they came back to the villages. Unfortunately staying in cities taught them various things but took them away from the farming techniques.”

We have sent SASA £1400 this year to help them meet these objectives and generally mitigate the impact that the pandemic has had on the village community.

School links
Kevin Grout, a retired British primary school headmaster, and a close neighbour of mine, has kindly agreed to join the board of HELP as one of our directors. He is interested in developing links between UK schools and the schools we support in the Himalayas, a region he first visited on a trek he did with Barbara Porter and me in November 2019.

VOLUNTEERS

In February we had seven volunteers lined up to go out on their assignments, with two more in the pipeline. With the arrival of the pandemic, all but two had to withdraw, including a couple of highly experienced and qualified doctors set to join a mobile medical team in the Western region of Nepal.

The two who started their assignments before March found themselves caught up in the lockdown, but remained positive and active in these challenging circumstances.

Vidushi Sandhir, ended up being trapped in her school (St. Paul’s in Namthang) for much longer than she intended, and Amit Lau was unable to return to his assignment at the VSG school in Sikkim, after a short break in Mumbai, but was able to report on some of his achievements up to that point:

In addition to his school work, he installed two bio urinals, three new sinks and a new water heating coil, as well as purchasing stationery, books and a Bluetooth PA system to use in the school yard. These would be significant contributions to school life on their own, but Amit says:

“The one thing I was most proud of out of all the projects was prepping the kids for COVID-19 and teaching them the science and vocabulary about it. The students made pamphlets and posters, set up a Vidya Sagar Health Committee and elected President, VP, Secretary, and Treasurer. We assigned roles for journalists and scientists. And we did a mock press conference… We also had a handwashing clinic which culminated in the purchasing of …sinks – I wish I had taken photos of that foamy day!

When the actual government employees came out to the school to address the virus, and also teach handwashing, our students already knew everything. It was brilliant, and more brilliant still because the day after the press conference, the schools were shut down, and we had taught them how to teach their parents and their neighbors about the virus. I plan to stop by in December to deliver two laptops to the school and I am still teaching the 6 and 8th graders via WhatsApp.”

Find out what else Amit did during his curtailed assignment on our blog.

It is uncertain when we will be able to send volunteers once again. We are still processing volunteer applications and hope that once lockdown finishes and travel restrictions are lifted some of the volunteers whose applications are on hold will still be available for placement in addition to the new applicants coming forward now. Certainly the need will be greater than ever.


SPONSORSHIPS

At present 25 sponsors are sponsoring 32 students. Last year the value of the sponsorships amounted to almost £6000. As schools in Nepal and India were forced to suspend classes, as elsewhere in the world, classes switched to online lessons. With unreliable internet and restricted access to devices, this has been a challenging endeavour. Thanks to all our sponsors for continuing to support the children, during what is undoubtedly the toughest year of their education.

Our sponsorship programme is a direct way to support money-strapped families by allowing them to send their children to small private schools that can provide their children with the English-medium education they need to succeed at the secondary level. Not all sponsored children go on to academic success and high-flying careers, because in the interests of equity we do not shortlist on the basis of academic ability.

These days, many of the youngsters are on Facebook and use Messenger and WhatsApp to communicate, and Ben will give you the links as he gets them so that you have the chance to establish direct contact with your sponsees, if you so wish. This makes communications so much easier for both sides, although lack of a common language will limit the scope of such communications in some cases!

This is Mina Jogi from Damak in south-east Nepal. Disabled since birth, and unable to walk without crutches, she needed a wheelchair. Here she is in her first wheelchair purchased with a grant we sent her recently.
My special thanks to Norong Namchyo, Rabin Acharya, Shailender David, Rajib and Radhika Thapa, Kiran Chettri and Ghana Koirala for helping with the difficult task of running the sponsorship programme on the ground.
FUND-RAISING

Normally the volunteer programme provides us with the bulk of our income, but not this year! We were, therefore, delighted to receive an unsolicited donation of £1000 in March from a local (Canterbury-based) charity, the Community of the Presentation, which has given us very generous backing over several years.

The schools we support continue to struggle valiantly to provide some kind of education to their pupils using the very limited online resources available to such remote rural schools, and we are giving what support we can to help them in their efforts. In October, we appealed to you all for donations to specifically help The Vidya Sagar Gyanpeeth (VSG) school get through the crisis, and you responded with amazing generosity sending us in total £3427, when we were wondering whether we could raise the £850 we wanted to send!. This will enable us to provide financial support to as many as six other schools.

One of the great benefits of our volunteer programme is that it creates a community of friends for the schools we send them to. Here’s an example:

Apart from the impact of Covid on the school’s ability to keep going, the VSG is facing the loss of the building that houses the school hostel (‘the heart and soul of the school’) and two classrooms. The house is being sold by the owner, and the school has been told to vacate the building.

Without help, there is no way the school could afford to buy the house, but the family of one of our past volunteers, Sophie Hudson, has very generously offered them almost half the funds needed (a substantial sum), and so the school is now in with a chance of being able to own the house outright.

Here are two ways you can help us raise more money:
Charity challenge

Do something to impress your friends and relations! Run a marathon!! Skydive!!! Walk miles with a massive bundle of firewood on your back, like these women in Uttarakhand!!!! (N.B. JustGiving.com makes it easy for people to sponsor you.)

Shop via Easyfundraising or Amazon Smile

British friends who are not into challenges, can raise money for HELP without any effort at all! Easyfundraising is proving to be a valuable way of raising money by internet shopping. Just seven Easyfundraising supporters have raised £930 since 2017, simply by shopping online. I have personally raised £190 in the last 30 days just by switching my utility company to secure a lower price, and ordering a few Christmas presents.

But, as usual, the award for Easyfundraisers of the year goes to the mother and daughter team: Anne Tallentire and Rebecca Scott. Thank you ladies!

An Easyfundraising app pops up every time you do an online search for a product to show you which companies participate in the scheme. Please join us and do your online Christmas shopping via Easyfundraising!

We have recently signed up to Amazon.co.uk Smile, so you can shop here too with the same happy result! Click here to contribute to HELP everytime you buy on Amazon.co.uk (or turn AmazonSmile on in the Amazon Shopping app).


HELP has joined the Britain-Nepal Non-Governmental Organisations Network (BRANNGO). BRANNGO’s goals are to promote best practice, avoid duplication and otherwise help NGOs to better serve, work with, and learn from the people of Nepal.

We see this as a useful way for us to network with other NGOs in Nepal.


 

KEEPING IN TOUCH
Facebook

HELP has an active Facebook page. This is an easy way for you to check up on what we are doing throughout the year, and to share thoughts with other friends of HELP. Do please befriend HELP and help to raise our profile!

The HELP blog
For more in-depth information visit our blog, where you can find all our volunteer testimonials, and reports on our inspection visits, as well as geo-political news affecting our work.


Well, that’s it for this year. Many thanks for all your support and good wishes.

Let’s hope we can all have a Merry Christmas, in spite of Covid-19, and a new year in which we can happily resume our old lives!

Jim Coleman
Executive Director

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Volunteering with HELP offers all the good things of working with a small, personal organisation: in-depth local knowledge from the HELP organisers, and the feeling that one is doing something for the first time.
Daniel CookAlgarah School