Namaste… It’s always a pleasure to be back in Nepal. Sometimes a few days can feel like weeks, and that’s not because it’s slow and boring, but the opposite, it’s fun, there is so much happening, it’s as if one day is filled with activities of 3 days. But who’s complaining? We are privileged to have the opportunity to see and do so much, visit this beautiful country and get to meet so many lovely people. This time 3 other volunteers joined me and we wanted to squeeze in as much as possible while they were there. But despite being busy from the alarm going off at 6am or even earlier sometimes, there would’ve been so much more to experience, and of course, you always wish you could spend more time with the kids at the different schools we visited. It would be a dream to spend at least a month teaching. These children are so enthusiastic, desperate to learn and grateful for school.
Last year we bought 4 sewing machines and set up a sewing school, where 4 girls got the opportunity to learn a new skill. We paid for a professional tailor to come and teach them, and was a pleasure to learn how talented they all turned out to be. They’ve sewn loads of school bags, pencil cases, purses and other bags, as well as sanitary pads. Nothing to do with the sewing of course, but all 4 turned out to get pregnant in the past year and one has already had her baby, while the others are not far off, so currently they are all at home. The machines are not just standing there idle though, but are being used by some of the older girls from the children’s home nearby, who have also been learning during their school holidays. They’re now being taught by Bimala, and are already able to sew much needed sanitary pads, purses and pencil cases. So we ‘bought’ about 23 of the school backpacks and around 100 pencil cases that we handed out at the various schools we visited. This is well earned pocket money for the girls. Moving forward, and while the 4 older girls are looking after their babies, the other younger girls will continue to learn with the idea that this would be a useful skill for them in the future, perhaps their profession, when they leave the children’s home and start their lives as little adults. Speaking of the children’s home, set up by the Nestling Trust, this is just such a wonderful place for the 14 residing girls (plus one of the mami’s daughter and son). They have been there for a few years now and grown to become like siblings, all one big family looked after by the mamis Nirmala and Tiki Maya. What a treat for us to spend a few days before the new school year started with the girls at their home and really see what their daily lives are like. Everyone helps out and there is never any quibble about who’s doing what or not wanting to do something; they wash their plates, they make their beds, they feed and clean out the animals, they help out in the ginger, turmeric and vegetable fields, they cook dinner. And they have fun, which we were able to join in with; we played football, we danced, helped with homework, talked about what they want to be when they grow up, did yoga and watched a film. It was an emotional goodbye, with the added ‘see you soon’. Later that night Ishita wrote this beautiful poem:
Sixteen young girls in a distant place,
Without family, no blood to embrace,
Each kind, smart, and beautifully unique,
Their stories revealing the pain they seek.
Orphaned, abandoned, or rescued from hell,
Their pasts, a life they never chose to dwell,
Yet they hold on to hope, and strive to find,
A future filled with love, happiness and peace of mind.
There is no place for sympathy, but for action,
Create a world that offers love and compassion,
Count our blessings, and make a stand,
To uplift, empower, give them a helping hand.
For these young girls, and many more..
Until next time….
The first day back at school was probably a pleasant surprise for the 29 girls and boys at Balmandira secondary school in Sarangkot, where we turned up with Belmaya for the first of many local screenings of her film ‘I am Belmaya’. A few were touched to tears when trying to share how they felt afterwards, but as always Belmaya offered reassurance and later had individual chats with smaller groups. Ishita also showed a short film on the important topic of human trafficking and Belmaya shared her personal story of when she was scammed by someone out of the blue pretending to be her friend on whatsapp. All in all, it felt like a successful day and we believe we left a bunch of teenagers feeling inspired and motivated to study, be themselves, trust their instinct, and to share what they had learnt with their friends. Later on that afternoon we spent a bit of time at a nearby small primary school, hoping we would see the Annapurna mountains, but instead the weather took a turn for the worse, with howling winds and rain and we almost ended up stranded on the mountain.
One morning, after a foggy sunrise visit to the Shiva temple and a breakfast stop, we reached Majhagau village at 1500m. This was as far at the car could go. A long trek uphill took us to Baljyoti basic school where we were greeted by the teachers, 22 kids and several mothers, and even some fathers and grandfathers. Many of them had left their work in the fields to come and meet us. The kids got new school bags, pencils, copy books and new clothes. And a football for the school. They desperately needed new uniforms and these have now been ordered and should be ready next week. We did some arts and crafts with the children while the mothers watched the ‘I am Belmaya’ film. Unfortunately Belmaya was unable to attend. Afterwards the women all agreed, that even though they weren’t educated their biggest wish is that their children will be, and that it’s especially important not to forget the girls.
We then spent a couple of days in Jogimori; teaching, playing and doing arts and crafts at the primary school. There are 31 children there now, which is not quite filling the space in the new large school building, and in fact, class 4 and 5, and 2 and 3 often have their classes together, which is a bit of a challenge when it comes to holding a lesson as the text books they follow are not the same. Never mind, we improvised and played word games instead, and helped individuals with homework exercises. They all got new ‘donated’ clothes, many of them got new shoes. About 3 years ago we had a health and dental camp at this school, but one couldn’t help but notice how bad some of the kids’ teeth are, so we thought it would be a good idea to have a reminder session on health and hygiene, and coming back the following week, we went though the ins and outs of brushing your teeth and everyone got a new toothbrush and toothpaste, and those with siblings not at school got some extra. It was also impossible to ignore how worn or outgrown their uniforms were. With such generous hearts Maria and Ishita offered to pay for all these themselves. The tailor came out to measure each child the following week, and they will all have their new uniforms ready next week.
The Astam school sits at an altitude of 1600m. and is only reachable by foot or jeep. With a lot of school supplies and fruit (watermelons and papayas are heavy!) we opted for a jeep. As always, we got such a warm welcome by the enthusiastic teachers. We were taken around the village before the school day started, always lined up doing some morning exercises and all the students singing their national anthem loud, and proud and clear. They all got pencil cases with pencils, erasers and sharpeners. After being shown around, playing a bit of football with their new ball, talking about the concept of Fair trade, as well as practicing English in class, the older ones, anyone over the age of 11 got to watch ‘I am Belmaya’, while the younger ones did yoga with Maria followed by arts and crafts. Belmaya wasn’t present this time either, but Ishita and Freya, together with the teachers, had that important post-screening chat, and the message of how important education is, not to discriminate due to caste and to live your dream came across clearly. Four of the girls gave us feedback afterwards in a video recording (see Iambelmaya on Instagram). In the words of one of them: “I liked your film a lot, the film you’ve made tells us that women shouldn’t be discriminated. There are many uneducated people in our village. I felt truly happy after seeing your film.” It’s always a joy to hear what an impact this film has. Since we haven’t visited this school for a few years, when we bought them furniture, and we’ve never given them uniforms, we decided that from our pot of money we will also provide new uniforms for all the 40 kids.
Finally we returned to Pame, the school we’ve been supporting for a few years and where Diane and Susan have spent quite a lot of time teaching. This primary school is reached by following Lake Fewa around the side until the fields of the valley take over. It’s only about 1.5 hours to walk from Pokhara Lakeside. But a more convenient way is of course the hourly bus. As always we were warmly welcomed by both the children and the teachers. The headmaster here is the most dedicated and caring man. They were of course hugely grateful for the pencil cases, copy books, etc. but he explained the roof of the building was leaking and there were lots of new students, both in nursery and in the higher classes, since this is an area where many migrant families end up having come to Pokhara for work. These new children obviously don’t have a uniform (the others got new ones last November), which is so important for fitting in, feeling part of, and committing to school. How can we deny them that? So, again the tailor is on the case, uniforms will be ready next week. Speaking of the Tailor, he has generously and kindly offered to sew them at $15 each, making very little profit for himself. We also bought a couple uniforms for the new kids at Krishna’s school. This means that every child in these 5 schools we are involved with will have a uniform as of next week, that’s nearly 100 uniforms. And they all have pencil cases, pencils and copy books, some most of them have school bags. This would not be possible if it wasn’t for all our friends who have donated money or come to our events, concerts and markets. That is, YOU, reading this now, has made this possible. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. P.S. We don’t take from our pot for the fruit, biscuits, and snacks we bring for the kids or transportation costs to/from the schools, and obviously not for our own travel and upkeep. The money donated is all for the needs of the children.
Each day it rains a little bit more, one day there was almost a hurricane, the winds can be incredibly strong, and now that we’re heading towards the annual monsoon, it will be hot and humid and very wet. It is always unpredictable what time of the day the weather will turn, but it’s usually in the afternoons. What is almost guaranteed over the coming months is that it will rain daily at some point and that will mean a lot flooding, gushing, mud, mush and splashing. And the risk of landslides. After leaving, Maria and Ishita, knowing what the monsoon is like in India, came up with the great idea get raincoats and rain shoes for all the girls at the children’s home. We walked the path alongside the mountain with them to school, and had it rained that morning we would have been soaked to the bone by the time we arrived. Next time it rains, the girls will now arrive at school (or home) dry, looking cool in their pink capes, and not having ruined their school shoes and uniforms. Again, they did this out of their own pockets. Thank you thank you thank you.
Excluding what Maria and Ishita personally bought, from our collected money, we spent £1280 in total (on everything mentioned above). As you can see, the money goes a long way in Nepal. That’s why, even if you donate just a few $ /£ / euros, it means a lot. You can also support by buying something; e.g. purses, make up bags, small zip up cases, that they’ve made by hand, they’re between £4-5 each. Please see pictures on Instagram and get in touch if you’re interested. We’ve also still got ceramics, vases and bowls, spread knives in wood and other things for sale. Just get in touch if you want to purchase something.
Finally a massive thank you to Krishna and Bimala, our hosts and collaborators in Nepal. We always feel part of the family in their house, and we couldn’t do what we do without them. Krishna, being a teacher himself has all the contacts, and government schools often get in touch with him asking if there is any outside support (like us), and of course we wish we could do so much more. He also helps with all the arrangements for buying uniforms, copy books, transport, and a lot more. So does Bimala, and she is also a talented seamstress herself, and apart from looking after their own kids, the home and cooking, she dedicates a lot of her free time both teaching the girls and sewing herself.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this long post, and to help you visualise it all, please go to the gallery and have a look at the photos from April – May 2023. As always, updates will first be on Instagram, so please follow if you’re not doing that already. A million thanks again!