3rd May 2015…
I was stood in the queue to buy a fleece in an outdoor store in Manchester. I'd given several of my clothes away to our guides. We'd had no news from Nepal since the earthquake. A text flipped onto my phone.
'Namaste Helen and Rafik, we have earthquake, lots of property damage but we are fine... our priority is the school and the children who are frightened, thank you for remembering us!'
Three weeks earlier...
We'd been walking for over four hours and ascending for some time. The sun was hot and the jet lag still had the better of me.
Kamal Bikram came out to greet us, held his hands together and bowed, “Namaste”. We replied, “Namaste”, in traditional greeting. Kamal pulled over two rush mats and indicated for us to sit in front of his house. He introduced his wife, Bimila, who brought us sweet, black, masala tea and we began to talk. We had read about this head-teacher and his school in a remote village, and had said to our guides we'd like to meet. “Kamal is in the village, you can meet him,” they assured us.
We sat, drank tea and listened, curious and intrigued. This gentle man talked about growing up in the village, his own higher education in Kathmandu, and how in 1997 he had come to know he could do more back in his home village. It was here he decided to return to his roots. The school’s current provision was for 11 - 16 education only, Kamal's plans included classrooms and teachers for '+2s' (A level equivalent) so that these children had the option of going to college and studying for professions. Eventually, we had to part company, and left thoughtful and moved by the commitment and authenticity of Kamal. We'd encountered grace and courage, hardship and hospitality at close proximity.
Several days later, on our way back from our summit climb, we asked to meet Kamal again.
“Yes, yes he knows”, our guides said. Kamal came running to greet us in shorts and flip flops, apologising for the damage from the storm the night before.
“We have coffee!” he announced, and we cheered, having missed this western pleasure for well over a week. We'd seen the school; the bare classrooms, no books, no IT, only stone floors and walls, no toilets, no science or art equipment. Such sparse provision, so much to do!
But, we had met Kamal and knew we were in the presence of a school, village and community leader. Our guides had been educated at the school, we had seen the impact of his work.
“We will help,” we said.
Initially we are aiming to raise £3500 to buy stationary, books and water bottles as the recent earthquake damaged the school’s water supply. Re-incentivising attendance to the temporary learning centre is the priority; only two classrooms survived the earthquake. Next year we begin the hard task of fundraising for rebuilding eight classrooms, as well as new toilets, library, science, IT provision and teacher development.
We'll look forward to seeing you at the conference, if you'd like to know more, come and talk to Judy Cheung, Rafik Iddin or myself. We will be delighted to share more about the project with you.
Rebuilding Schools Nepal