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.

All Change

Devi Prasad sends regular emails to keep LEARN informed and updated about Shree Gyanjyoti School and life in Nepal generally.  It has been interesting to follow these over recent weeks but frightening to see the rate of change there. 

We reported at Christmas that Covid-19 rates in Nepal were low and that schools were open again following certain conditions.  The school invested in 44 new desk sets in order to meet the conditions.   Devi Prasad has been delighted to report that all has been going well at the school, students and staff are really happy to be back to ‘proper study’ and parents are pleased to see their children receiving such a good education once more. 

January saw them sit their first exams and Devi Prasad was able to proudly report that all students performed really well and, once again, gained outstanding results. 

The school year in Nepal usually runs from April to April but in February of this year, the government there decided to extend it by two months meaning that the final exams would be sat in May and the new school year would begin in June.  The climate was improving and Covid-19 rates were so low that life was more or less back to normal.  Life was looking good and the school organised a cricket tournament which they thoroughly enjoyed. 

In March, Devi Prasad was pleased to be able to report that Nepal’s coronavirus vaccination programme was underway – available to all key workers and the over 70’s (although no plans at that stage for vaccination of the general public).  The climate change in Nepal led to the government having to close schools for four weeks due to high levels of pollution in the cities but our school, being in a village, was unaffected, lessons and exams continued and the 53 taekwondo pupils all managed to upgrade their belts. 

During April, they were able to celebrate good results in March’s mid-term exams, lessons continued and 11 pupils took part in the taekwondo section of the 3 day district sports tournament – 3 of them winning gold, 5 silver and 3 bronze medals.  However, Covid-19 rates were rising rapidly in Nepal and their future was beginning to look much less predictable.  On 23rd April, Devi Prasad emailed to say that it was looking more and more likely that schools would have to shut so they were going to start the final exams of the year the following week in order to get them done.  Unfortunately, just four days later, he emailed again to say that all schools in Nepal had been closed and end of year exams postponed. 

We’ve all seen regular desperately sad reports from India on the news.  Nepal is obviously its close neighbour with many people travelling regularly between the two countries for work, etc.   On 5th May, he emailed with the sadly inevitable news that infection rates and consequently death rates were rising rapidly in Nepal and that they now had cases of Covid-19 in their village.  So far, he has been able to report that it hasn’t directly affected anybody connected with the school but the village is in total lockdown, the local market is shut and getting hold of daily essentials for general living is becoming very difficult.  He remains very positive and optimistic, advising teachers to attempt to keep in touch with and guide the students as the students attempt to home educate with their limited resources but, clearly, life there is currently very difficult. 

As trustees of LEARN, we are totally committed to ensuring that the children of Pokharathok receive the best possible education.  However, we also feel a commitment to ensuring that extra help is given to the village where needed and where possible using funds that we raise independently of the LEARN accounts.  We are currently in the process of communicating with Devi Prasad to find out whether they have any needs that require our help.  Please watch this space for further details which we will post if it becomes necessary. 

We (the trustees, Devi Prasad, all at the school and the families) do thank all of you for your continued support and remain immensely grateful for your thoughts, prayers and financial support.  

THANK YOU

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. 

The Work Continues!

We received an update from Devi Prasad last week.  He informed us that the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 is starting to rise relatively quickly now across Nepal with over 20 deaths being reported.  It has now reached their district but there are still no cases in their village, which is great news and we pray that it continues that way.

Access to technology is clearly not very easy in the village so there is no chance of internet/zoom lessons.  However, lockdown there has eased and so the teachers are very busy teaching the children in safe groups.  The juniors are not attending, they are staying at home with their parents  but there are 100 boys and 82 girls participating in the learning activities.  All of the staff are involved in the teaching and the children are being taught in 10 groups.  

It’s fantastic to see that even in these difficult circumstances our staff are determined to do their best for the students and the students are still so keen on learning.  Even more important than making sure that quality education is given, they are still giving priority to the safety of the students and all staff, students and parents are happy with the arrangements.  Well done and thank you to the staff and students for their efforts and commitment!

Thank you all for your continued support and please continue to hold our school and the village in your thoughts and prayers.

A blog during these strange times!

I thought this would be a good opportunity to update everyone on our school and also how Coronavirus is affecting Nepal.

We last received an update email from Devi Prasad on 16th March.  He told us that the students were in the midst of their annual examinations and that they were doing well.  Once the exams were complete, the end of year school holidays would begin and they would all be off until the start of the new academic year.  During the school holidays, the teachers would be doing preparation and a door to door visiting programme to admit children to the school.  He said that he was hoping and praying that God would aid the parents to make the decision to admit their children to the school. 

He went on to say that they had all seen the photos from the 150th Anniversary at St. Mary’s School, Hawkshaw and they made them very happy.  He said he thanks God for the relationship between the two schools and hopes it will continue forever. 

On that note, I had the privilege of seeing some of the letters from the Nepal students to the Hawkshaw students this week.  I was stunned at the quality of the handwriting and content of these letters.  Most were written by 9 and 10 year olds and were often accompanied by colour and pictures.  It appears that they mostly come from farming or carpentry families and many of them have pets.  One delightful letter said “I have a pet dog, cat, many hens and a buffalo” – anybody else fancy having a pet buffalo? 

Unfortunately, Devi Prasad had just spent a few days in hospital due to a problem with his left amputated leg.  He had been unable to walk but he had just been discharged and the pain was becoming more tolerable.  We pray for him and his continued recovery.  He asked that we pass on their thoughts and Namaste to all family, friends, trustees and supporters. 

We haven’t had any direct update from the school itself about the effect that Coronavirus is having but today we received an update from UMN (United Mission to Nepal).  Their update said that Nepal had just had it’s second confirmed COVID case (whether that is due to actual low numbers or lack of opportunity to test, we do not know) and that the whole of Nepal was beginning a week of total home quarantine and lockdown from 6am today.  The hospitals were staying open and trying to prepare as best as possible for an outbreak – converting TB wards into isolation wards, etc. 

So, we ask that you remember in your thoughts and prayers all associated with our school and the wider community in Nepal as they also face the horrors of this awful pandemic.  What we are witnessing here is not something that any of us would ever want to have to face but Nepal simply does not have the infrastructure/social care system to cope with a largescale outbreak. 

Thank you for your continued support. 

Take care and stay safe! 

LEARN

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.

Nepal Visit Update 2

Fabulous to hear from our ‘Nepal Trippers’ yesterday as they completed their visit to our school. One described it as “one of the best days of my life”, another spoke of the “impressive school”, “gentleness of the teachers, children and relatives” and the “underlying self-discipline”. She also talked of the “amazing, inspirational, yet modest mentor” that they have in Devi Prasad and the “determined, committed and far sighted” head teacher – so it seems that the school is in safe hands!

It was great for us to see the new science room that has just been added to the school. It is a wonderful addition but is still very short on equipment at this stage.  That will be one of LEARN’s next priorities – to provide the equipment that they will need but it is wonderful that, thanks to our supporters in Bamford, these children are able to learn the subject in a scientific environment.

Our ‘trippers’ were treated to some entertainment by the children and it was lovely to see the photos that the school had posted themselves on their Facebook page (some of which are included in this blog) along with the message “thank you to all helping hands”.


We look forward to our next trustees meeting when the ‘trippers’ have returned home.  To know and understand first hand what will be best for our school and to work towards providing that will be a real honour.

Our ‘trippers’ took with them a small plaque for the school.  We, at LEARN, can’t thank our supporters enough for providing the means by which these children are able to gain their “wings to fly”.  THANK YOU!

Nepal Visit Update 1!

A couple of our trustees are currently visiting Nepal along with a couple of our other supporters. We were delighted to hear that they had arrived safely in Kathmandu and that the weather is pleasant.  On Tuesday, they visited the UNCLE orphanages (in their role as UNCLE trustees) and it looks like they were all enjoying the party!

They have been doing lots of shopping to buy items to sell when they present their talks about the school and have now safely (although it was a very bumpy 8 hour bus ride!) transferred from Kathmandu to Pokhara where even more shopping awaits! 

Tomorrow they travel to Tansen from where they will visit the school. We, at home, are really looking forward to their update on the school – it’s the first visit there since completion of the science room. It’s also wonderful to see first hand how the school, staff and students are progressing thanks to all of LEARN’s fantastic supporters. 

Thanks for all the support you give and look out for the next blog sometime after the school visit! 

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!