NEWSLETTER No. 19: December 2020 – November 2021

NEWSLETTER No. 19
December 2020 – November 2021

At the time of writing the last newsletter, I had high hopes that we would be able to resume all our activities this year. Like last year, however, the Covid pandemic has continued to restrict what we can do.  For a second year we have been unable to visit our projects, or run our volunteer programme. Schools have been closed for over half the year, but have opened recently, and we hope that they will now be able to remain open. 

Coping during the lockdown has been a challenge for the schools we support. This is what the dedicated couple who run the Vidya Sagar Gyanpeeth school in Sikkim report:

“For the last 12 months our school was opened for five and half months ( starting from mid November 2020 – 10th of April 2021) Right from the very next day of the lockdown we had started doing online classes through Whatsapp and Google meet. We feel the outcome of the class was effective as the participation of the students was 99 percent. Parents of our school were happy as compared with the other government schools where although the teachers were getting handsome salary for doing nothing for more than a year. In our school we both conducted the online classes daily from 9 in the morning till 1.30 in the afternoon except on Sunday but the other teachers used to come school in alternative days for writing home- work for the junior classes.”

We have sent them, and others, money to help them pay teachers’ salaries, and keep going through this difficult time.

What have we achieved this year with your help?
PROJECTS

Vidya Sagar Gyanpeeth primary school (West Sikkim, India)

This small school in Western Sikkim is one of our favourites. It’s a favourite of the villagers too. A nearby school closed down this year, and Rajib and Anuradha Thapa agreed to take on the children provided they were able to accommodate them. The Parvati Foundation, based in Scotland, generously stepped in with the £3,000 to build a classroom made of wood, bamboo and tin on the top of the existing concrete structure (which, in its turn, was funded by HELP).


Covid Relief

With the schools closed for much of the year because of the pandemic, we have been sending unsolicited financial assistance to various schools to help to keep them running. Last year, in December 2020 we did something similar sending £200 to each of three adopted schools in Sikkim and West Bengal.

This year, you kindly donated £3578, and this time we sent the money, and some extra, to local charities and trusted individuals to spend on their priorities.

  • £600 to Shailender David of the Serve and Share Association (SASA) to purchase and supply oximeters, vaccines and thermometers for seven villages in Uttarakhand (India)


  • £500 to our trusted contact in eastern Nepal, Ghana Koirala, to spend on school fees, stationery and books for four children in Damak
No description available.No description available.

 

  • £1000 to our Belgian partner in Western Nepal (‘Himalayan Projects’) to purchase masks, visors, thermometers, disinfectants for several schools , and sanitary pads for the girls.

 

  • £600 to our trusted contact in Ladakh (India), Mr  Eshey Tondup, to purchase and distribute school stationery to selected schools.

 

  • £400 in response to a plea by ex-Peace Corps employee Jeevan Nepal, for money to purchase zinc sheets to make temporary homes  for villagers in the Helambu region of Nepal, whose houses had been swept away in a flood on 15th June. At least 24 lives were lost.
“Many thanks for your valuable contribution to the ‘Melamchi-Helambu Flood Disaster’ support campaign where we had tried to manage some instant relief packages to the victims. We did a very small campaign as per our resources due to the short time and circle of our group. Now authorities are working for permanent settlement for those victims.”


  • £880 to Kiran Chettri of the Hope Family Trust in Kalimpong (India) to purchase and distribute food, masks and sanitizers for elderly and ‘neglected’ citizens.

This is what Kiran Chettri of the Hope Family Trust writes:

“We were able to conduct the Covid Relief once again and it took place at the leprosy colony where we were able to help the really needy ones. Due to the pandemic, they were running short on the daily supplies like sugar, salt, soap, tea leaves and so on. It was a great pleasure to be able to help them once again and seeing their delightful faces once again bought great joy to me as well as the girls. We were able to provide the relief to 50-60 people in the leprosy colony, one from each family and this time we reached to the really needy ones instead of giving to those who already have at least enough for their family…

….The relief contained a twelve kg bag of rice, potatoes, onions, oil, soap and other basic necessity that are required every day. This relief would never would have been possible without your financial aid and support; therefore, I am really grateful towards your help. I am sure that this relief gave great help to the ones in need, although the commodities will not last forever but the people were really happy that they at least got their one-time meal.” 

For video clips and more photos of this operation, please click on this link.


Partners

Our preference has always been to identify, with our own eyes, schools that need help and which we can trust, and to work directly with them. In India this has worked well, and all our project work is done directly with schools and local NGOs.

In Nepal, however, trust has been an issue (we have withdrawn our support for the Women’s Empowerment Centre in Damak for this reason) and without an office and paid staff to monitor how our money is spent, we have felt the need to collaborate with other reputable charities that have that kind of in-country infrastructure.

We have worked with Himalayan Projects, a Belgian NGO, for several years in Western Nepal, and have recently made tentative moves to link up with two British charities, Pipal Tree and Our Sansar that run the kind of projects that match our objectives. For example, Philip Holmes of Pipal Tree has set up a social enterprise called Lily’s Leaves in Kathmandu. This provides training and employment to vulnerable and disabled young women, including women from the poorest communities in rural southeast Nepal.

Making a school rucksack at Lily’s Leaves.
These children, at a little school for children inside a leper colony in southeast Nepal, have just received rucksacks made by the women at Lily’s Leaves. This is an excellent example of linking projects, with one project supporting another. 

VOLUNTEERS

Schools are now reopening and we are hoping to start sending volunteers again in early spring next year. Meanwhile, despite the Covid-19 situation, a steady stream of people has been applying to volunteer with HELP, mainly from the UK but also from the U.S., Canada, India, South Africa and Germany. These include two very experienced doctors who have now been waiting two years to be able to join Himalayan Projects mobile medical units that  every autumn spend 6 weeks taking medical and dental help to remote villages in Western Nepal. At this point we have eleven volunteers still committed and planning to travel to the Himalayas in 2022 if at all possible.

Mr and Mrs Bihari Lal on the left, in the company of SASA Director, Shailender David, and Barbara Porter, Director of HELP’s Volunteer programme.

We were sad to learn of the death this year of Mr Bihari Lal, the inspirational founder of the Lok Jeevan Vikas Bharti School for girls in Uttarakhand.  Mr Bihari Lal was a lifelong environmental activist, educationalist and philosopher, campaigning, amongst other things, against deforestation and the building of the vast Tehri dam. He was completely committed to the education of girls. At the school, his family shares accommodation and a very simple family life with 70 girls from remote villages and situations of extreme poverty who would not otherwise receive any education. HELP has sent two volunteers to this school one of whom, Christian Maclean, has commented ‘it was an absolute privilege to meet him and to work at the school.’ We wish the school all the very best in this difficult time as it takes forward the vision of Mr Bihari Lal for a more just and equal society.


SPONSORSHIPS

We have managed to keep our usual sponsorship programme on the road but it has proved difficult to manage during the pandemic when a number of our sponsored children have been difficult to contact.

This year we tested out a more flexible sponsorship scheme, which we are calling a Scholarship Fund, to reach more students in need. This fund allows supporters to donate one-off or regular payments of any amount which is then pooled and sent to one of the schools we support for them to distribute to the students with the greatest need that year.

Although the schools will make the decision on which children receive the scholarship for that year, in the interests of equity, we have requested that they do not select students on the basis of academic ability, but on financial need.

You have generously donated £600 towards this Scholarship Fund which we will be sending to the Vidya Sagar Gyanpeeth School (photos above) to support seven children with school fees, hostel fees and stationery. Thank you!

Here is Palmu Sherpa with a new mobile phone paid for out of a grant from HELP to the Hope Family Trust, a local NGO which acts as her guardian. She needed it to participate in her school’s distance learning programme.Palmu Sherpa with her new mobile
Palmu’s brother, Pasang Sherpa, whose education has also been supported by HELP for years, successfully completed a hotel management course and is now interning at one of the biggest hotels in a major Indian city!Palmu Sherpa with her new mobile
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, so we have endured another year when we received no income from this programme. We were, therefore, delighted to receive the Parvati Foundation’s generous donation of £3000 for the school classroom, and the £3578 from the rest of you (not forgetting the £3327 you sent us in 2020)

Here are two ways you can continue to 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

Although I have promoted this scheme for several years in each newsletter, only five of us are using it to raise money for HELP, which is disappointing.  These five have raised just under £1000 since we promoted the scheme. Just think what we could raise if more of you joined in!

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

We are also signed up to Amazon Smile, so you can shop here too with the same happy result! Just go to Amazon Smile instead of Amazon and make HELP your chosen charity. You can buy the same things through Amazon Smile as through the standard Amazon site.



 

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! (These are the exact same words I used to end last year’s newsletter! Let’s hope my wish is granted this year.)

Jim Coleman
Executive Director

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I want to let you know that I have looked at a lot of volunteer organizations since I did your program and you have (as far as I can tell) one of the best. I really like how much you personally care about each volunteer and each school.
Anne GillilandDenjong Pema Choling Academy