The constraints that have been placed on the programme by Covid over the past two years have been lifted, and not only were we able to start up our volunteer programme once more, but this October, Barbara Porter and I were finally able to visit India and the schools we support there.
This is our 20th Newsletter, which means that HELP has been running for 20 years. It seems a long time, and yet it has passed so quickly. I was 55 when we started, and am now 75—still alive and kicking but feeling that the time has come to step down from my role as CEO. 20 years is longer than I have done anything, including the British Council!
The plan was to close HELP down at the end of this year, but our very first volunteer, Simon Forwood from Australia, got wind of this, and has offered to take over—with a reduced programme in the first instance given his family and work commitments. This is very good news, meaning that the schools we have stuck with over many years will be able to continue to rely on us to give them a hand to serve their communities as best they can.
|What have we achieved this year with your help?|
Because of the pandemic, we were unable to visit our projects and contacts for over two years, which meant that our programme had run out of steam. So it was high time that we renewed our connections.
Barbara Porter went to India for 6 weeks from mid-September until the end of October, and visited the HELP supported schools in Uttarakhand, Kalimpong, Sikkim and Ladakh. Yami and I met her at the teacher training seminar in Dehradun, and then went our own way saying farewell to our HELP contacts.
|Here Barbara is with Mr Eshey Tondup (far left), the ex-principal of the Lamdon Senior school, and HELP representative in Ladakh. And in the monk’s robes, Geshey Lobzang Rinchen, the director of the Spituk monastery school.|
Unfortunately we were unable to visit Nepal this year, and there’s no doubt that our involvement there needs to be refreshed. A task for the next management team!
The pandemic has presented the schools we support with serious challenges, not least the loss of students and income to pay the teachers. As reported in our past newsletters, we have, with your support, tried to keep the schools ticking over, and all but one have managed to stay afloat. They are now having to take on inexperienced teachers willing to accept low pay, so we decided that the best thing we could do with the modest resources at our disposal would be to hold teacher training seminars.
My colleague, Barbara Porter has gained considerable experience of running teacher training seminars appropriate to the context of these schools, and was able to run some more on her recent visits to Uttarakhand, Ladakh, West Bengal and Sikkim. Here she is winding up a seminar hosted by the Serve and Share Association (SASA) based in Dehradun, this October.
These seminars are probably the most valuable thing in our armoury. My thanks to Barbara for the incredibly conscientious way she goes about this work. In addition to enabling Barbara to visit Dehradun, we donated £1800 to SASA to cover the travel, board and accommodation of the local participants.
I would like to highlight the three primary schools with which we have had the most involvement over the past twenty years. Each one, formerly located in run down and flimsy structures, is now housed in its own sturdy building funded under HELP’s auspices.
Vidya Sagar Gyanpeeth primary school (West Sikkim, India)
This small school in Western Sikkim is one of our favourites, and we are pleased that HELP has made a very significant contribution to the viability, of what was a struggling school.
Here are Radhika and Rajib Thapa whom we have known for around 17 years, and who have worked their socks off to make a go of the school. I am very pleased that we have been able to support their efforts with classrooms, and a playground, and sponsorships, for so many years. Our greatest respect to them both.
|Below: Here’s the school and its playground with Barbara amusing the children during her visit, and a class in the recently erected second storey bamboo classroom.|
St. Paul’s primary school (South Sikkim, India)
This is where our very first volunteer, Simon Forwood, was assigned in 2003 and who raised the funds needed to construct this school building. It seems very fitting that he should be the one to take HELP forward into the next twenty years!
|Here is the indefatigable (there’s no other word for her!) Barbara working with the children of St. Paul’s.|
|Here are Samuel and Daniel who founded and run the school. We have been working with them since the very beginning, twenty years ago.|
J.N. Memorial school (near Kalimpong, West Bengal, India)
Once housed in a flimsy bamboo structure that was beginning to slide down the hill (!), the school has managed to get through the pandemic intact. For several years, one of our volunteers, Annie Taylor, returned to the school to augment their teaching programme.
Jim and Yami Coleman at the J.N. Memorial primary school this October
We were able to revive the pandemic hit volunteer programme this year, after two years of inactivity, and a small number, four in total, made their way out to the Himalayas. (We have placed 194 volunteers in our 20 years. In 2006 we placed 20 volunteers, so we do need to work out why the number of applications has declined over the years.)
Fortunately, their arrivals, which overlapped by a week, coincided with Barbara’s visit, so she was able to help them settle in. Marti Solina from Spain is at the Lamdon school Khalse, Ladakh, and Ken Haigh went to the Vidya Sagar Gyanpeeth school in Sikkim.
|Here are Simon Pierse and Susan Corrigan at the SASA Academy in the wilds of Uttarakhand.|
|Marti Solina with children at the Khalse school in Ladakh||Ken Haigh who taught at the Vidya Sagar Gyanpeeth school, Sikkim|
Some 120 youngsters have been sponsored by HELP sponsors in the 20 years of our operation, some for the whole period of their education.
|This is Khusbu Harijan on the left, daughter of Jyoti Harijan who was dreadfully burned by her husband a few years ago. Khusbu is being sponsored through school by Judy Davison, and this year HELP donated £300 to Jyoti so she could get some hospital treatment for her burns. Both live in the town of Damak, in the south-east of Nepal.|
We don’t always hear what happens to our sponsored students after school. Norong Namchyo, who has handled 22 sponsorships in Kalimpong since 2003, reports that Renuka Thapa is a teacher in Sitong, Manisha Tamang is a dental nurse in Delhi, Roshan Chettri has joined the army, and Paul Lepcha is doing a BSc. Priti Negi from the SASA Academy is now training to be a nurse in Dehradun. These are just a few of the youngsters who have been given a boost by HELP and its generous sponsors over the past 20 years. Thank you for your support!
|This is my own sponsored student, Neeraj Timsina who is in his second year at Siliguri City College. After college, he intends to apply to the prestigious Indian Administration Service.|
To make my successor’s task less burdensome, the sponsorship programme, as one of our three activity streams (the others being volunteering and projects), is being removed from HELP‘s portfolio.
Naturally, however, we do not want to abandon the youngsters who are currently being sponsored. Arrangements have been put in place to enable all those that want to (pretty well everyone) to continue their sponsorships until the youngsters finish their education.
|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. Also, my very sincere thanks to my son Ben, who relieved me of the sponsorship programme when I was feeling overwhelmed. I couldn’t have kept it going without his intervention.|
|Susan Corrigan and Simon Pierse being greeted at the SASA Academy|
Because of the uncertainty surrounding the future of HELP, we did not undertake any fundraising exercise until recently. Thanks to those of you who responded. The total raised was £990. This money will go towards supplementing teachers’ salaries, new whiteboards and other items our key schools need after two years of lockdown and no income.
|It’s still not too late to add to this total. £990 is a decent sum, but doesn’t go very far! Make a donation here.|
Here are two other ways you can continue to help us raise more money:
Please join in and do your online Christmas shopping via Easyfundraising! You 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.
Spituk Monastery school
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.
Read Jim’s autobographical novel!
1968-1970 was when Jim’s journey to the Himalayas began and the seeds of HELP were planted. This is just the moment to read his shockingly risqué and revealing novel! Profits go to HELP.
Well, that’s it for this year, and it’s goodbye from me in my current role. I will, however, remain on the charity’s board in a non-executive, advisory role, as will my sons: Ben and Alan. My thanks to Simon for taking HELP on so that its work can continue for… another 20 years?!
Merry Christmas to you all and a happy and prosperous New Year!