Newsletter 2009 (No. 7)

Lake Phewa, Pokhara
A very hazy Lake Phewa, Pokhara

NEWSLETTER No. 7

Welcome to our 7th annual newsletter. It seems like only yesterday that I sent out the very first of these newsletters. I’m glad to report that HELP continues to thrive!

The year in a nutshell

This has been a year of consolidation, with just two new projects added to our portfolio. HELP has, in my opinion, reached its optimum size, and I have no plans to expand its scope any further. Further growth would mean taking on staff and finding office premises, turning HELP into a different kind of beast. Indeed, the sponsorship programme has probably grown larger than is practical, and from now on our support will focus on a small number of college-age students in place of the existing long-term programme for young children, which will be allowed to run down over the coming years.

Somewhat surprisingly, the economic recession did not seem to have an impact on the numbers of people applying to volunteer. An interesting phenomenon this year was the number of volunteers wanting to work in Nepal as opposed to the Indian Himalayas. Until this year, it has been difficult to get enough volunteers for the Nepalese schools. This year, there were not enough volunteers wanting to go to India. This may be something to do with the improved security situation in Nepal and the more unsettled situation in West Bengal. In fact, the situation in Nepal is now worsening again, while the Gorkhaland agitation in Darjeeling and Kalimpong has calmed down. Events are outpacing people’s awareness of them.

Inspection visit

Yami, my wife, and I visited Nepal and Dharamsala in March, and, as always, visited as many of the schools we support as we could, and we managed to see one of our volunteers at his school (see below for the full story of the can of worms our visit opened up). We also made a point of meeting as many of the sponsored children in Pokhara and Kathmandu as we could, and took photographs to send on to their sponsors on our return to the UK.

Incidentally, we met an amazing character there called Colonel Cross, an elderly ex-Gurkha officer, who had not been back to the UK since 1946, and had spent 16 years in the Malaysian jungles fighting communists, and even, at one point, commanded a group of Japanese soldiers after they had surrendered! He spoke fluent Nepali and, as a special privilege, was allowed by the Nepalese government to live permanently with his adopted Nepalese son, and his family, in Pokhara. A true relic of the old British Empire

The political situation in Kathmandu and Pokhara was generally quiet during our visit, so we were untroubled by demonstrations and strikes there, but we had to abandon our attempt to visit a school in Chitwan, south of Pokhara, because of disturbances there.

We spent a few days in Pokhara, which, with its beautiful lake, is a lot more relaxing than Kathmandu. Unfortunately, smoke from forest fires created a permanent haze over the town which meant we could not see the iconic ‘fish-tail’ mountain, called Machapuchere in Nepali, that stands over Pokhara.

McleodGanj, Dharamsala
McleodGanj, Dharamsala

We also visited Dharamsala, which is where the Dalai Lama has his Indian headquarters. My son, Alan, had visited the area three years ago, and identified the schools that we currently advertise on our website. It was good to have a chance of seeing part of India we had not seen before, and to visit the schools for the first time. The picture is of the curiously named McleodGanj (those Scots get everywhere!) which is located just above Dharamsala and just below the village of Bhag Sunag, where we support a school.

New Projects

Chetana Women Skill Development Project Workshop
The Chetana Women Skill Development
project workshop

During our visit to Pokhara we met a formidable Tamang woman in Kathmandu who runs a training and resource centre in Patan (one of the three ancient cities of the Kathmandu valley) for the benefit of unemployed housewives, who return to their villages to run pre-primary activities for children in marginalised communities in various parts of Nepal. A HELP volunteer will have joined this project by the time you read this newsletter.

We also came across a women’s cooperative run by an impressive Brahmin woman. The women make woven articles such as bags and pencil cases for the tourist trade. I promised to try to help them by looking for volunteers with small business or handicraft skills. More details can be found on the HELP website, and they also have a website of their own.

On-going projects

The following HELP-nominated projects receive financial help from both HELP’s general funds, and donations from HELP’s friends:

St. Paul Primary School

As reported in the last newsletter, the school is built, and provides a much better environment for the children than the dilapidated rented building they were in when we first visited the school. However, as with almost everything in Sikkim, it is built on the side of a mountain, and so faces the hazard of landslides during the monsoon. I have agreed to fund the building of a landslide wall to safeguard our very substantial investment in the school, and have already sent nearly £2,000. I will be sending up to another £2,000 in due course.

The Community of the Presentation in Canterbury kindly donated £500 this year for this project. My special thanks to Alicia Pentin for supporting our application for a grant. This is the second time in three years that this charity has given our programme financial support.

JN Memorial Public English School

The first storey of the new concrete building was completed last year. Anne Tallentire, step-mother of Rebecca Scott who volunteered at the JN Memorial School school in 2006, and Alison Stephens, have so far raised a total of £5,995 for the school over the last two financial years. In this they were helped by the staff and pupils of Hilmarton primary school in Wiltshire, which Alison’s son attends, the regulars of The Victoria pub in Easleach, Richard Scott (Anne’s son), and Rebecca herself. So thanks to all and sundry.

Anne and Alison visited the school earlier this year and were treated as royalty. Yami and I had the pleasure of meeting them in London shortly after their visit and were regaled with their experiences.

I have recently sent the school £1, 950 so work on the second storey can now commence.

ICT Telecentre in Changu Narayan

We have donated £1,000 to help the Nyacho Pauwa primary school establish an ICT centre in the village. The computers will be used by the school children during school hours, and by the village as a whole after hours.

Gyan Jhoti Primary School

Anne McGivern and the staff and children of Highfields school in Newark have raised almost £1,000 over the past two financial years, in support of the Gyan Jhoti school and its children. Two new classrooms are being built with their financial help. Anne is the mother of Mairi, who was a volunteer at the school a couple of years ago.

Teacher Training
Seminar participantsThe Scottish project!
Seminar participants hard at workBarbara Porter and ‘the Scottish project’

Following on from her successful seminars in Kalimpong and Gangtok in 2007, Barbara Porter (Senior Administrator at the Institute of Applied Language Studies, Moray House, Edinburgh and one of our ex-volunteers) went to Ladakh this September to run two seminars for primary and then secondary school teachers. These also went extremely well, and you can read extracts from her report on the HELP blog, including the participants’ evaluations.

It’s always good when we get positive feedback from the people we are helping. Here is what the principal of the Lamdon Senior Secondary School (who hosted Barbara’s seminar) had to say:

“Barbara Porter has left after the two weeks very successful workshop. She is a wonderful trainer who really makes the training very interesting, enjoyable and lively by using all kind of techniques. Myself and all my teachers are highly impressed with her devotion and love with her profession. Our teachers are highly benefited and learnt a lot of new teaching technique from her. I am sure that after the training all the teachers shall make complete new approach in dealing the students and teaching the taught in a very different way. I am personally very grateful for arranging the workshop with such a wonderful teacher.

All my teachers approached me with the request to have similar training in future for a longer period if possible. I can only convey their feelings and request to you for consideration in future also….Thank you very very much for your support to us and looking forward to have more volunteers and trainers from your organisation.”

Barbara is returning to Kalimpong and Gangtok in January/February 2010 to run more seminars. I am interested in using our money to provide services of this kind, and want to give greater priority to helping untrained local teachers to raise the standard of their teaching It’s less glamorous than building schools, but it has far greater long-term benefits.

Untied donations

In addition to the donors already mentioned in the previous section, we get donations not tied to the above-mentioned projects. Many thanks to all these donors, including:

  • Deloitte LLP for their £410 which has doubled the money donated by their staff by way of sponsorship for the heroic trek that my son Alan and I undertook in Sikkim in October 2008.
  • My ever generous brother Andy, and sister-in-law, Margaret, for having donated over £1,000 since I set up HELP in 2003.
  • Our volunteers who, in addition to the fees that they dutifully pay (in effect, a compulsory donation), often continue to raise money for their schools after they have returned home. For example, Ann and Bob Summers, who have volunteered for us twice now, once in Ladakh two years ago and this year in Nepal, sent about 400 books to St. Pauls in Sikkim earlier this year. Melissa Aaron and Kevin Trainer have constructed a library at the Algarah primary school and are now devising fund-raising events to purchase books for it.
  • The children of Newlaithes Junior School in Carlisle, where Ann Summers works, who raised the money to cover the postage for the books Ann donated to St. Paul’s. What’s more, they have sent us a donation of £238 to be used as we think fit.
  • Last but not least, The Inland Revenue! You didn’t expect that did you? But they have sent me £4,500 under the GiftAid scheme for the last two financial years. This represents 28p for every £1 donated by those of you who are British tax-payers. So, well done you British taxpayers, who are, of course, the real heroes!

Volunteers

We recruited 18 volunteers this year (compared with 19 last year), three of whom are still on their assignments at the time of writing. And we already have three lined up for next year.

Unfortunately, this is not to say that 18 volunteers actually undertook their assignments. If last year was the year of visa problems and political unrest, this year was one of second thoughts! One of our recruits cancelled or at least postponed, and another disappeared without a word before going out to her assignment. Both were fully paid up. Home-sickness and love-sickness led to the premature abandonment of two more assignments.

Of those that actually made it to the end of their assignments, I am happy to say that the great majority had a wonderful experience, and HELP got some very flattering testimonials, which you can see in the blog. They not only thought well of us, but also had great personal experiences:

  • Brilliant. Would do it again but hopefully for longer next time.
  • We gained a real insight into how people in the area live, we made many new friends and learnt so many new things. Some parts were challenging, some upsetting and some truly amazing, but we wouldn’t change any of them for anything and we couldn’t recommend a placement at Lily Garden enough!
  • Every moment is a challenge, but the experience is amazing!
  • I had just a beautiful experience. Every which way you look at it!

Fortunately, the political agitation for an autonomous Gorkhaland that I reported on last year did not affect our volunteers this year. It still rumbles on though, and so we can expect more strikes and demonstrations.

It’s always good to hear about volunteers staying in touch with their schools, and even making return visits. Gill Williams is returning to the Lily Garden school this coming February, to do some more some more teaching. And after finishing her teacher training duties in Kalimpong and Gangtok in February, Barbara Porter will go to St. Paul’s at her own expense, and run an informal teacher training seminar for the teachers there.

The HELP sponsorship programme

Sponsored child
Milan Tamang, Kathmandu

The sponsorship programme has reached a turning point this year. Until now we have been adding children of all ages to our list and finding sponsors for them. This year, for the first time, some of the children are leaving, or have left, the programme, either because they have reached the end of their schooling, or because they have left the district. In one case, a young girl has run away to get married. In a couple of cases, the children have passed their school leaving certificate, and want to go on to college. I am hoping to persuade their sponsors to extend their support to cover their higher education.

It is not just children that are dropping out. Occasionally sponsors do too, either for economic reasons, or because they have simply disappeared. In both cases, you, the readership of this newsletter, have responded quickly and generously, so that none of the children who have lost a sponsor have been abandoned. Many thanks to those of you who picked up the dropped batons.

Two sponsors met their sponsored children while in the region. If any other sponsor would like to visit the Himalayas and meet the child they are sponsoring, I will be pleased to help you make contact with the child’s guardian.

As you know, I have, with the concurrence of my fellow directors, decided to stop sponsoring pre-school leaving certificate children from now on. I feel the programme is big enough now, and that it would be more manageable if we limited our support to students in their last two post-SLC years of school (Grades 11 and 12), and at college. It also makes a lot of operational sense to focus on this group. While most primary children achieve basic literacy in India and Nepal, very few are able to go on to higher education.

The problem with this approach is that college level sponsorships are much more expensive than primary school sponsorships. I sent a circular to all of you to see how feasible it would be to find sponsors willing to pay £55 per month for three years to support Chandraman Tamang through his radiography course. I must confess I didn’t hold out much hope, but amazingly, an existing sponsor, Lesley Fulde, agreed to take him on. So, many thanks to her.

So where are we now? At the time of writing, we have thirty-six sponsors sponsoring fifty students. Five students dropped out of the programme during the year.

Volunteer initiated sponsorships

The Paneru FamilyWe had the honour of having tea in the home of two of our sponsored children in Pokhara. The whole family, mother and three girls, sleep on one bed, and when their brother returns from Kathmandu, he also sleeps there.
The Paneru family

The total amount of money sent to India and Nepal in support of these sponsorship programmes amounted to £7,253 in our last financial year.

Odd jobs

Whenever I hear that any of you, whether you are volunteers, sponsors or donors, are going out to the region, I almost always ask you to undertake tasks for me, such as taking photos of sponsored children, passing on messages, updating information on the schools, or, in one case, checking up on a hospitalized volunteer. Many thanks to those of you who agreed to take these tasks on.

Fund-raising

My two attempts to raise money by arranging treks for people have come to naught. The trek advertised for this October elicited just one enquiry, but no takers at all. I won’t try again.

However, there is no reason why a personal charity challenge shouldn’t work if initiated by you. If you are thinking of doing something that challenges you, whether it’s a marathon, or parachute jump, or, indeed, a trek, then why not use it to raise funds for HELP? Alan and I raised a healthy sum in October 2008 by approaching friends and colleagues to sponsor us on our trek in Sikkim. All you need to do is to refer your friends and colleagues to the ‘donations’ page of our website (www.help-education.org/donations) to make their payment.

Everyclick.com

Every time you use Everyclick.com as your search engine, you can raise money for your favourite charity – like HELP for example! I calculated that if everyone on the mailing list used Everyclick instead of their current search engine, you would, between you, raise more than £1,000 for HELP. In fact, we have raised £40 by this method over the past two years! Thanks to the gallant band who helped us get there (including me!), but we could do so much better if many more of you got clicking. My experience suggests that 90% of my search needs can be met using Everyclick.com. I use Google for the rest. So why not make Everyclick your default search engine and help raise funds without any cost to you?

This is where to start: www.everyclick.com/himalayaneducationlifelineprogramme

The Blog

If you would like to keep up-to-date with what is going on throughout the year, feel free to go to our blog!

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!

Jim Coleman
Director
Himalayan Education Lifeline Programme

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By becoming a HELP volunteer in India or Nepal you will be able to make a direct, personal contribution to the education of young Himalayan people. In so doing, you will be having an unforgettable experience in a new and fascinating world.
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