Visiting the school

Almost exactly three years since the earthquake and I have had the privilege to return.
On April 20th 2018 I was able to visit the school. Here’s what happened…

About four hours into the drive on the morning of the visit, we turned a corner into a new valley and stopped. They pointed across to the other side and said “That’s where the school is”, second zig-zig up apparently. It looked close, but there was a huge valley to cross first.

And it’s a beautiful valley. So different to all the others we’d been through, very lush and green, with banana palm fronds growing naturally. 🍌🌴

And the river at the bottom is a beautiful blue; I found myself hoping that the children that go to the school sometimes get to go down to the river to play.

The road, inevitably, did get much worse and it took us two more hours to get across the valley!

I’m not sure how long they’d been waiting to welcome us, it was one of those “they’ll arrive when they arrive” kind of situations. But after gobbling some food at a neighbours house we finally made it.

They let me lead the way up to the entrance which had been decorated especially and the children were lined up carrying flowers, scarves and tikka (the red powder to put on your forehead) to adorn me as I walked through.Our group were ushered into the guest of honour seats with all our gifts. The ceremony began with a long list of introductions of absolutely everyone present, which included the local mayor. John, from The Gurkha Welfare Trust, and I were asked to light candles to declare it open and then I had the honour of pulling back the curtain to reveal the plaques for The Country That Shook classroom block and the second one too as well as an opening ceremony board.Some of the children performed, with a group singing while three of the younger girls danced 😍Then I was asked to stand up and speak 😳😂

I’m sure nobody had any idea what I said but I just emphasised how happy I was to be there and to be able to support the rebuild of the school. I showed the books, posters and T-shirts that I had bought as gifts, in his speech John, from the GWT, reiterated in Nepali about the book and how it had helped to create their building.

In return I was presented with a plaque to take home with me, called the ‘Token of Love’ ❤ so cuteOnce all the official business seemed to be over I requested a photo with the children in front of the school. It was so good to say namaste to some of them and give them books to hold after being sat in the ‘grown-up’ area, separate from them.
I’d brought letters and drawings from children in a school in Hampshire so I took them to the english teacher, and the crowd that immediately formed was amazing. The children were so intrigued and wanted to see every page. (I’m hoping that the english teacher might send me some replies to give to the children back home)

Elsewhere children and parents were looking at the books, and it was clear that some of them had never held a book before, they weren’t sure what to do with it but they were so curious. I pointed out the bit of nepali writing in the illustrations and the flag so I think they understood it’s about their country.

After that there was just time for a quick look round the classrooms, and a huge round of goodbyes and we were off again! Literally a whirlwind visit! The classrooms are very bare and simple, they have new desks and chairs which will be in there soon, and maybe the A2 prints of The Country That Shook that i gave them might end up on the walls too… who knows!

SUCH a beautiful experience
The school is so grateful for what The Country That Shook has achieved, the English teacher went out of his way to keep telling me 🙂 and of course, again, HUGE thanks to The Gurkha Welfare Trust for connecting me with the school and for making the trip possible 

The Country That Shook and The Gurkha Welfare Trust

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I am happy to announce that the charity I am partnering with is The Gurkha Welfare Trust (registered Charity number 1103669).

As I mentioned previously it has been a tough journey to get to this decision, but, having done so much research, it is now one that I am very happy with.

Through the Trust I have chosen to support one school, which I have picked from a range of profiles.

Shree Rastiya Primary School is in Saamari, Nuwakot in the Bagmati area, not far from the epicentre. During the earthquake it sustained serious damage and classes are now taking place under a temporary shelter. 20160313_154434

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It is incredible to think that this has been a school for so many children for well over a year now.

The Trust is going to build a school with 8 classrooms and a separate gender toilet block with work due to start this autumn. The school will also receive supplies such as desks, chairs, whiteboards and storage units to ensure it can function smoothly.

It is a huge job which will be built to a high standard, making it earthquake resistant. Features such as separate gender toilets are unusual for the country, but are invaluable in providing much needed privacy, especially for young, vulnerable girls. On top of that a designated, fenced play area is planned which also improves children’s safety.

The total cost for the build is estimated at around £54,666. Each classroom will cost around £6,000 so The Country That Shook has already raised enough to fund one, plus some supplies for the school. The classroom will have a plaque to commemorate TCTS’s support.

However we don’t really want to stop there and there is more money to be raised from sales.

Over the coming weeks I will be giving an idea of what else The Country That Shook’s money can buy if we reach certain goals. I will also be working with The Gurkha Welfare Trust to get the book and the project in front of a much wider audience. Watch this space.

There will also be an insight into The Gurkha Welfare Trust over the next couple of days…

School Talks!

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The latter end of this last week has been spent visiting six village schools in the Alton area in Hampshire, UK. It was such an incredible experience to finally share the story with lots of children and the response was incredible!

At the first school of the day we set up a table to showcase all the products and greet parents and children as they arrived.

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Both mornings I had queues of excited and supportive families coming to receive their signed copy.

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At each school we ran an assembly and talked about Nepal as a country, what an earthquake is and what it felt like to be in one. We talked about what inspired me to illustrate and write the book and what my plans are for the money that I raise. Then we read the book, discussing the illustration styles and the Nepalese traditions and legends that are brought up in the story.

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Then we got to pose for pictures and get on with some more book signing.

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It was an adrenaline fuelled couple of days but we loved every moment.

The schools, families and children were so generous that we ended up raising over £700 across those two days, which is absolutely fantastic!

Sharing the book in Wales

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We have been in South Wales this week, making contacts and visiting shops that are already stocking the book. The support and kindness we received was amazing!

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There are exciting plans for an upcoming window display…

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And we had lots of fun chatting to people and signing books, especially at Cover to Cover in The Mumbles.

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 The book can be bought in Cover to Cover in The Mumbles, The Pen and Paper in the Cardiff Royal arcade and Ganesha Handicrafts, also in the Royal Arcade.

Maybe more to come!

Thanks for the support Wales! See you soon!

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Donating to the project

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The Country That Shook has had so many kind messages and emails from people who are impressed with what we’re trying to do. However some of them say that they have no one to buy any of the gifts for. I can relate to that; I never like to buy things just for the sake of it.

So there is now a Donate To Nepal option, which allows you to show your support to the Nepali people. As always every single penny will go to Nepal, there are no overheads to pay.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE

And what’s even better is that
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That’s a pretty good incentive.

Giving away the book

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On my last evening in Bagan, Myanmar, there was a sunset to remember!P1060873What made the evening even more special was that I decided to give my copy of The Country That Shook as a present. (I’ve been carrying the sample book with me since we collected it in August in Shenzhen, China.)
P1060758Ei Ei and her family have made my time in Bagan even more incredible than expected. I met them on my second morning, when Pete was feeling a bit under the weather so I went out for sunrise by myself. I was aiming for Buledi, a temple I’d read was good for sunrise views, but I turned off the road too early and ended up at Temple 1174. Ei Ei’s father is the key holder to this temple and her family live in a small shack just outside. Her five siblings range in age from one and a half to twenty.

It wasn’t like most of the other temples where you get hounded to buy something from the people who live and work around it, they just smiled and welcomed me in. After the sun had come up that first time Ei Ei and her sister climbed up to the top with me and talked for ages in the early morning warmth.
P1060529Ei Ei is only eleven but she’s already left school and earns a bit of money by selling souvenirs at the temples. Eventually she’d like to be a tour guide and perhaps even design her own clothes to sell around Bagan, but these kind of things require money to start. Her English is amazing and she’s pretty confident too.
P1060863We went back to their beautiful 11th century temple at least six times. Her mum put traditional thanaka make-up on me, then they helped me buy my own. They’ve given me locally crafted presents, invited us to eat green tea salad with them, a traditional Myanmar dish, and explained loads to me about their lives in Bagan in their incredible English. All this amazing hospitality when they live in a small shack with no running water and a bit of electricity really blew me away.P1060742I wanted to show them how grateful I was and realised that The Country That Shook was the most personal gift I could give right now. I think it feels even more apt because this is an area that often suffers from earthquakes; their last big one in 1975 did a huge amount of damage.
P1060883P1060756As soon as we got it out of the bag Ei Ei was like ‘What is that? Can I see?’ And when I explained that it was for her, her face lit up and she started flicking through it. Immediately she asked for a pen and started writing on one of the pages in Burmese, it turned out she was writing our names and the date so she’d remember whenever she looked.
P1060892 I don’t think I ever expected to be so touched to see someone doodling on my hard work!
P1060894For the next 15 minutes we flicked through it in torchlight, held by Ei Ei’s little sister, stopping to write notes and for us to practice writing our names in Burmese too. Her mum and big sister came over too, laughing and chatting with us.
P1060900It was such a special moment and I felt so glad to have made the decision to give away the book and to see it bring even a few minutes of happiness.