The Unpredictable Life

So, life here in the UK has changed dramatically yet again over recent weeks.  Boris Johnson’s promised ‘freedom’ day happened and, consequently, life has new joys and new challenges!

Similarly, in Nepal, life continues to be unpredictable.  Recent emails from Devi Prasad have fluctuated between Covid-19 rates going down with some level of normal life and schooling returning and Covid-19 rates rising and lockdowns being the main lifestyle. 

He did report that two of our school teachers had contracted the virus but fortunately they have now made a full recovery.  Sadly though, one of his latest emails informed us that three members of the village had died from the virus. So, our thoughts and prayers are very much with them in these difficult times. 

Our last blog reported that the school had hoped to just squeeze in the final year examinations before the predicted lockdown but unfortunately, the lockdown just beat them to it. Consequently, Nepal like the UK has had to adapt its examination methods. They also opted for a system of grading that utilised the students’ past test/examination performance combined with teacher assessment. Devi Prasad has sent us the school’s examination results which, once again, are outstanding in all ages. He was also delighted to report that (as has now become the norm!) Shree Gyanjyoti School was ranked 1st in their municipality for the eldest year examination results. What a wonderful achievement particularly in the circumstances and a real testament to the dedication and care of all involved with the school (teachers, students, families, LEARN supporters, etc). So thank you to all of you!

The school did reopen again as rates fell due to the lockdown but Devi Prasad’s email late last week informed us that it had just been forced to close again as rates were once again rising in the area.  So unpredictable from one week to the next but one thing that we can be absolutely certain of is that, whether the school is physically open or closed, the staff are continuing to ensure that the students are receiving the best possible care and education that circumstances allow. They are also currently in the process of recruiting for the new school year. 

The weather there is currently a bit mixed but no really heavy rains and planting and farming is the main necessity at the moment.  Although many in the village have lost their jobs and life is so hard for so many, they continue to remain upbeat and optimistic that they, like the rest of the world, will eventually conquer the virus and life (though it may never be quite the same again) will return to some level of normality and predictability.

You may recall that our latest blog included a plea for non-LEARN donations that we could send to help Devi Prasad to supply essential, life-saving supplies to needy people (not necessarily directly connected to the school) in the village. He estimated that the cost of this would be about £1800 and due to the kind donations received from so many of our supporters, we were able to send almost exactly that sum! Thank you! The people receiving those food packages have been so grateful and as trustees of LEARN it has been an absolute blessing to know that, not only have we been able to ensure the continued top class life changing education for all in rural Nepal but we have been able to provide life-giving care to the most needy in the village.  The photos show a few of the people that have been helped by receiving the food packages.

On behalf of the trustees of LEARN, the staff, the families and all of those that we have been able to help through the food programme- THANK YOU! 😊 Please continue to think of, pray for and support our friends in Nepal. (As a quick aside, my youngest daughter turned 18 last week and Balkrishna Gaire (our school’s headmaster) wished her a very happy birthday via Facebook- what a small world it has become and what a blessing that we can be so close to our relatively distant neighbours. It certainly brought home to me the Biblical question “who is my neighbour?”)

What A Time To Live In Bolton!

Bolton currently has the highest new Covid-19 infection rate in the whole country and there is much speculation that we Boltonians may all be put under local restrictions yet again whilst most of the rest of the country isrevelling in being able to regain most of its freedom.  (The story of Bolton’s life for much of the last 14 months!) 

Last weekend though, my children were able to receive their first Covid-19 vaccine because of where we live.  This means that every member of my family (and much of my extended family) has now received at least one vaccination – what a blessing and what a privilege.  After their vaccinations, we had a little treat visit to a local ice-cream parlour, before coming home to get food out of the freezer to eat after we got home from work/school the following day. 

We may be fed up of the restrictions and missing our family and friends but we have never been in the situation of wondering how we could possibly get enough food and other supplies to survive or whether we would be able to afford life-saving treatment if we could actually find a hospital with enough resources/space left to treat us. The following makes me really appreciate just how lucky I am to live and work where I do – yes, even Bolton 😉!! 

On Monday, we received an email from Devi Prasad.  Their village is in lockdown with markets (no popping to the fridge or freezer for more food for our Nepalese families), banks, schools, etc. shut.  Covid-19 cases are rising rapidly and they are beginning to experience some deaths.  Most of the community have lost their jobs and, unlike during the first Nepal lockdown, there is no support or supplies from the government nor NGOs, etc.  Only 7% of the population of Nepal has received a first vaccination and the programme has now been halted due to supplies of the vaccine drying up. 

Devi Prasad estimates that there are 100 families in the village who are in dire need of help and estimates the cost to be about NPR 3000 (£18) per month per family.  He has a plan to be able to distribute food to the families.  However, they will need financial help to be able to do this (and he is also delighted to report that our school community have made 2500 facemasks for the protection of others in the area). 

We are asking, therefore, that if you feel you want to send a donation, no matter how big or small (every penny helps), please send it to Maureen, the Chair of LEARN, as the charity was registered solely to support the school and this appeal falls outside that object.   Donations can be sent:

Directly into Maureen’s EC account:

Maureen Hawksworth 

Sort code: 60-60-06

Account number: 46256539

USING THE REFERENCE: C-19 HELP

or by post to:

Maureen Hawksworth, 9 Brockenhurst Drive, Bolton, BL2 4HP.

A HUGE THANK YOU IN ADVANCE FOR ALL YOUR SUPPORT FINANCIAL OR OTHERWISE. PLEASE KEEP THEIR COMMUNITY IN YOUR THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS.

Safe, Well and Back in School

There’s no doubting it, 2020 has been a strange year for most! We have all had to find ways of adapting to the ‘new normal’. I don’t think that there has been any aspect of daily life that has gone untouched by the effects of covid-19. One of the great concerns in the UK has been the impact on schools and education. Our schools closed for months, they had to invest heavily in IT systems that would allow home teaching and provide for those not financially capable of accessing this online tuition. Teachers have had to quickly learn to cope with having part of their class with them whilst concurrently teaching those who were isolating at home and students have had to deal with constant disruption of not knowing whether they’d be in school from one day to the next. All of this whilst everyone does their best to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus. 

So, how has Shree Gyanjyoti School in a small village in Nepal coped with all this? 

The early part of 2020 continued as normal for the school but, in Nepal, the school year begins in mid-April.  By this time, the virus had got into Nepal and the schools had to close for several months. It is also around this time that the Head (Balkrishna Gaire) and his staff would normally be visiting the families in the village to recruit the students for the school. Nepal was put under a tight lockdown so these visits were impossible. However, the wonderful dedicated and committed staff at the school continued to deliver a fantastic education to the children. The internet and devices to connect to it are very limited in the village so teachers delivered lessons directly to students and taught some classes by socially distancing outside. 

In mid-November, the government allowed schools to re-open but only on the condition that all students had their temperature taken everyday before entering the school and that all students and staff maintained a distance of 2m at all times. So, our school bought a thermometer and some extra benches and desks in order to meet these regulations and were, therefore, able to re-open. 

Upon re-opening last month, there were 193 students of which 136 were from low caste families, most requiring full or partial scholarships. We are so very proud that no caste system operates in the school and that no child is turned away whatever their background. Some classes are still having to take place outside in order to maintain the 2m distance but all of the children are continuing to receive a top quality education evidenced by the fact that the school, once again, were the top school in their municipality in the Grade 8 examinations.

So far, the virus has still not reached the village but it has reached neighbouring towns and villages. We just pray that they continue to stay safe and well. Many families have lost their income as a result of lockdown so providing food for themselves has had to take priority over paying their school fees. Obviously, this is absolutely right but it has put a higher burden on LEARN as the students will not be turned away for not being able to pay. 

We take this opportunity to thank you and all of our supporters for everything that you do for LEARN and, therefore, the children at the school. As we often quote “education is a right, not a privilege” and, thanks to you, this is the case for a small village in a remote part of Nepal. On a global scale, this seems almost insignificant but the reality is lifechanging for nearly 200 children and their families – THANK YOU!

Whilst we (the trustees of LEARN), the staff, students and families of the school, continue to be hugely grateful for the financial support given, fundraising has (for obvious reasons) been very difficult this year. There are a number of ways that you could help if you feel that you are able:

  1. Set up a standing order to give a regular donation to LEARN (contact us at enquiries@learnnepal.org.uk
  2. Make a donation on our JustGiving page, by bank transfer Account name: LEARN; account number: 65854712; sort code: 08-92-99, or directly via one of the trustees
  3. Purchasing one of our ‘gifts for life’ or other items
  4. Using us as your nominated charity with Amazon Smile
  5. Tell others about LEARN – it is an inspirational story. 

The beauty of being such a small charity is that there are no costs. Every single penny donated goes directly to the charity.

Along with our thanks, we also take this opportunity to wish you all a blessed Christmas and hopes and prayers that 2021 will see the beginnings of a worldwide recovery from the pandemic. 

SO, WHAT NEXT?

Well, Covid-19 might be making a nuisance of itself but there have been some good things that have arisen as a result.  When we asked Devi Prasad if he could email us a ‘business report’ on the school ready for our LEARN Trustee meeting that we would be holding on Zoom, he suggested to us that he just meet with us on Zoom so that he could present it to us ‘live’!  This is not something we would have even begun to consider 12 months ago (in fact, back then, I don’t think many of us had even heard of Zoom!).  As it happened, the time difference between here and Nepal meant that it wasn’t really feasible on this occasion.  However, it did lead us to provisionally arrange a Zoom meeting with some of the school staff and students for later this year (subject to the students being allowed in school!) – something that we are very excited about!  Amazing how technology allows the world to ‘shrink’!

So, it was with great delight that we received the business report email from Devi Prasad, some of which I share with you in this blog.  He began his report with a brief history of the school, pointing out that although it is a registered (and, therefore, official school), the Nepalese government merely provided authority for its establishment but provide no financial or administrative support.  Consequently, the school is entirely dependent upon funding via LEARN and the help from the local community to be able to run.  The school has two buildings comprising 16 rooms including a computer lab, science lab and a library (amazing resources for a school of its type!) and they continue to be very grateful to those supporters who have provided these facilities.

This year, the school has 193 students, 14 teaching staff, 1 volunteer teacher and 1 non-teaching staff.  Tuition fees are paid according to the financial background of the families (with about 80 of the students receiving scholarships from LEARN).  All materials essential to learning, such as text books, exercise books, pencils, etc. are provided free of charge to the students so that they all have the same educational experience regardless of financial background/status.

For the last 5 years, Shree Gyanjyoti School has secured first position in the Grade 8 (their eldest students) examinations in their municipality – no mean feat and testament to the excellent teaching delivered and the commitment of staff, students and families.  They are rightfully very proud of this record – it is a massive achievement.

Beyond educating the children of the village, they are also committed to providing non-formal education for parents and non-parents.  Around 200 women have participated in this program and have become literate as a result.  They have been able to get goats, pigs, hens, etc. so that they can generate income and they have been able to provide disabled people with tools to aid them.  They also provide a sewing program (using the school sewing machines) for parents and non-parents.  Around 100 women have achieved basic level training and around 40 have got advanced level training.  The school and the community are very happy and grateful for these opportunities and have all expressed their thanks to the supporters of the school for making this possible.

His report then went on to tell us about the effects of Covid-19, stating that there are over 65000 infected people in Nepal and that there have been 450 deaths to date.  However, there are still no infected people in their community.  The schools are shut but all of the teachers have been happy to take work to each of the students’ homes and through this, they have managed to carry out the teaching and learning activities.  Some things in Nepal are beginning to be allowed out of lockdown and follow strict rules but an opening date for schools returning has not yet been given.  In the meantime, they will continue their door to door teaching. Staff, students and families are clearly very dedicated to ensuring the best possible education in spite of the difficulties that they face.

He mentioned many times throughout his report how grateful they are to the Almighty Father, Michael and Maureen, LEARN, churches, friends, social groups, supporters, St. Mary’s School, Bamford Chapel, the late Dorothy Drake and all involved in supporting them in any way so that they can continue to deliver this incredible education to all in their community without restriction, bias, prejudice, etc.

So, what next?

We are well aware that Covid-19 is having a major effect globally and we have all been impacted in some way.  We are massively grateful to all who have been able to support LEARN in any way but particularly financially through these times.  For obvious reasons, fundraising has been very difficult this year.  The school has continued to do remarkable work in very difficult circumstances and has also been impacted by the fact that Covid-19 has made a number of their families out of work meaning that even those who were paying their own school fees have been unable to do so.  One way that you may be able to help without it costing you anything is to support us whilst doing your Amazon shopping.  When you make a purchase via Amazon, please consider logging into your account via smile.amazon.co.uk and choose the charity Learn (Lifechanging Education for All in Rural Nepal) before placing your order.  Amazon then donate a small amount of your purchase total to LEARN – ‘money for nothing’ as they say!  It’s only a small amount but every little helps and it makes no difference to your finances.  The beauty of being a small charity is that we have no overheads so every single penny donated goes directly to our wonderful school and the community that it is so wonderfully educating.  THANK YOU FOR YOUR CONTINUED SUPPORT!

School Exams and Covid-19 Update

Last week, we received an email update from Devi Prasad.  Our last blog mentions that the students were just completing their end of year exams.  The news is that the results are now through for the exams and once again, they are outstanding!  All of the students in all years passed the exams with good marks – one student in nursery even achieving a fantastic 99.3%

If I understand the Nepali education system correctly, they have taken ‘external exams’ and the eighth grade students (those in the final year at Shree Gyanjyoti before they move on to the next stage of education) have done really well.

3 of the 16 students scored 4.0 (the maximum achievable!) and they have achieved the first position in their rural municipality.  So, as LEARN Trustees, we send big congratulations to all of our students and their outstanding teachers and a massive thank you to you – all of our supporters, without whom this would not be possible!  The staff really are committed and constantly do a wonderful job of educating the children – offering them a future that many could only have dreamt of.

In terms of other news, there isn’t much to report as they are all in strict lock down as we are here.  Devi Prasad reports that the number of Covid-19 cases are increasing but as yet, Nepal has no deaths to report.  They have not had any confirmed cases in their village and, hopefully with continued lock down, it will remain that way!  Some of them in the village are struggling financially and for food, etc. but some aid is getting through to them.

The new academic year should now have started but they obviously cannot open the school until it is safe to do so.  However, the Head – Balkrishna, Devi Prasad and the staff are all working hard to ensure that they will be ready to start as soon as it becomes possible and are making whatever attempts are possible to ensure that all students are able to return along with other new starters.

So, thank you all for your efforts and support and please remember our students, their families and the staff in your thoughts and prayers.  THANK YOU

Quick Blog!

We recently received a brief email with a school update from Devi Prasad. He informed us that the weather in the village is good and the children are happy in school. They have just posted some letters to the children at St Mary’s School and are enjoying their communications. 

The school have just announced the results of the third terminal examinations and they have all done well. The parents are happy with their children and the school.

He was also excited to share the news that the primary level children have just competed in the Rural Municipality Level Dance Competition and secured 1st place.

Great to hear that they are having all these other opportunities alongside their high standard academic education.

Thank you all for your continued support! 

A Blog Of Hope – what an extraordinary man!

I was recently sent the following document to read.  It was written some time ago by Devi Prasad Neupane (Shree Gyanjyoti’s founder).  I was really touched by what I read.  Not only does it emphasise the importance of enabling children to go to school who wouldn’t otherwise get that opportunity, but it is also so filled with hope.

To suffer such a life changing accident, to then be ostracised and rejected – so many people could just have given up their dreams.  Devi Prasad didn’t and as a result of his hope and determination, so many children are now being given an amazing opportunity.

When Dr Pam Dodson provided the funding for Devi Prasad to attend school, she would never have dreamed of the impact that his education would end up having on so many other lives in the future. It is so easy to feel overwhelmed by the size of a task ahead and end up doing nothing but every little thing counts!  Thank you for your support of LEARN.

Let Us Gather Up Courage

In 1970 our village acquired a grain mill. The mill was such a novelty that as soon as it started its daily grinding work, the children would rush to watch it operate. I was one of these children. My name is Devi Prasad Neupane, and I was born into a family that could not afford to send me to school. One day, as I stood watching the mill at work, my scarf got caught in the machinery and instantly I was pulled in.  

When I woke up I was lying in Tansen Mission Hospital. To my horror, I saw that my left arm and right leg had been amputated, and my left leg was in plaster. Fifteen days later, my left leg developed gangrene and had to be amputated below the knee. I was devastated. My wounds took a long time to heal, but the hospital staff comforted and encouraged me. They cared for me as a mother nursing her infant. Furthermore, they arranged for me to attend a nearby primary school—my first experience in a classroom! I was carried to and from the school every day.

Six months later I was taken to Vellore, India, and fitted with artificial limbs. I could hardly believe it—I had new legs! Slowly and painfully I learned to walk again. When I finally returned home, two years after my accident, I desperately wanted to attend school.  Dr. Pam Dodson at Tansen Hospital provided funds for me to enrol in class four, and continue up to class ten.

I decided I wanted to be a teacher, and applied for various teaching positions. But I received rejection after rejection. Schools did not want to hire a handicapped person. I nearly gave up hope, but then a friend’s brother, a local official, recommended me for an appointment at the school in my own village. This time, I was given a chance. Not only did I become a teacher, but I have also received appreciation and awards.

Today I am a happy man with a wife and two daughters. My wife, lamed by polio, shares my experience of the hardship and ostracism suffered by so many disabled people in Nepal. The compassionate help I received from UMN enabled me to ‘gather up courage and move ahead’, a message I share with others with physical disabilities. Compassion and courage have given me a new life.

2018 – A Big Year For LEARN!

Wow, what a year! Shree Gyanjyoti school has already been in existence for some time with much financial support being raised by Michael and Maureen.  This year, the school celebrated its 10thanniversary (in its current building) and LEARN was formed, becoming a registered charity in May, thus ensuring a more secure future for the fundraising for the school.  We have developed a website and various other social media sites (also gaining some media coverage in The Methodist Recorder!) alongside the more traditional methods of letters and going out giving talks/sales at many places across the UK.

We are very grateful to Bamford Chapel in Rochdale who have raised the money required to add a brand new science room to the school.  The building work is now complete and will be a really useful addition to the school.

During 2018, the school has had 199 pupils, 80 of whom are on scholarships and we have been able to provide books and other essential school equipment.  Again, we have our supporters to thank for this.

In addition to LEARN’s activities, we have (not using LEARN money but connected with the school) been able to send £800 to Devi Prasad Neupane towards the building of a new home following the devastation of his home in the earthquake a few years ago and also been able to buy 22 goats (with money still coming in!) for some of the poorest families who attend the school so that they are able to generate their own income.

In March 2019, a small group of us will be visiting Nepal and will be stopping off at the school. We look forward to spending some time there, meeting with the students and staff and to having the opportunity to discuss with them, as well as seeing for ourselves, the next priorities for spending the money raised by LEARN.

We take this opportunity as one year finishes and another begins, to thank you all, whether you support us financially, by following us on social media, by attending or organising one of our talks or sales or just chatting to us and encouraging the work that we do. Your support has and is making a massive difference to these young people – never underestimate the opportunities that you are giving them!  Thank you on their behalf!  We firmly believe that education is one of the best ways to tackle poverty and with thanks to you, we are successfully achieving this for a small but important group of people.  THANK YOU!

Trips and Goats

We have received a lovely letter from Devi Prasad Neupane telling us about an educational school trip that students and staff from our school have been on.  During November, they visited Pokhara-Gorkha-Chitwan National Park-GC Temple-Lumbini.  They have sent us some photographs as included in this blog.  It’s fantastic to see a village school being able to provide this kind of experience for its students – something that we just take for granted in this country.

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Also, following a talk given by Michael and Maureen, someone offered to buy a goat to enable one of our more needy school families to start goat farming.  The school have met with the parents and a number of families could really benefit in this way.  Consequently, the ‘goat fund’ is increasing and people are continuing to donate to this fund.  Great news for the families that will benefit.  Each goat costs around £35 and ideally, it would be nice to provide a pair of goats for each of 20 families. 

Thank you as always to our supporters – it is your continued and valued support that makes all of this possible.

A Good Night Out

Just back from a sale/party at a friend’s house. She’d put on a few snacks and drinks and Maureen had set up her Emmanuel Crafts stall and her LEARN stall.

 


 

There was also another local artisan card maker selling her products.  The Emmanuel Crafts stall sold all kinds of bead work – predominantly jewellery but some surprising items such as coasters.  All come in attractive gift style packaging.

A range of genuine Nepali items were available on the LEARN stall including a range of bags, scarves, notebooks, blankets, etc.  The blankets deserve special mention – made from Yak’s wool, they are incredibly warm but very light, making them perfect for people who need the warmth but can’t tolerate the weight of a thick blanket.

It was lovely to catch up with other friends at the party and great to watch Maureen’s young granddaughter demonstrating her fabulous sales technique – she put The Apprentice candidates to shame!!