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 

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The Gurkha Welfare Trust

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The Gurkha Welfare Trust (registered charity number: 1103669) is one of the oldest charities in Nepal, originally established in 1969 to relieve poverty and distress amongst ex-Gurkha soldiers and their dependants in Nepal.

Since then they have expanded their mission to include Gurkha communities too, understanding that the wider community needs to be stable as well as the individual.

This work includes a medical programme, delivering community aid to rural villages in Nepal, installing clean water and sanitation systems, building and refurbishing schools and running mobile medical camps. It really is a huge task and incredible work to be doing in one of the poorest, most remote countries in the world, where communities can live 5 days walk from any reachable town.GetImage.ashx

Then the earthquake happened.

Thousands were killed and millions of people across Nepal were left homeless, including around 1,200 Gurkha veterans and widows.

The Gurkha Welfare Trust acted quickly, and was able to reach some of the most remote areas before other aid. This is a huge benefit of being such a longstanding, established charity in the country with many connections within communities. For the long term rehabilitation effort it sparked a need to expand the community-focussed part of the Trust.GetImage-1.ashx

There are now 50 staff on the ground in Nepal, solely assigned as an earthquake response team. They are all Nepalese, as are all staff in Nepal; the trust prefers to employ local people wherever possible.

Of these 50 staff over half are project engineers, who are sent to assess sites that have been badly damaged by the earthquakes. They decide what can be done, how necessary the building requests are and how the trust can help best. Any planning and building applications then have to be sent to the government for approval, endorsed by the research carried out by the engineers. After approval has been given building is allowed to start. Due to the monsoon rains, most big builds will start in the autumn after the rain has stopped, with a view to be completed in the spring. On a big build one of the structural engineers will be on site every day to ensure smooth and efficient development. For smaller projects they will visit on a regular basis.

This is a slow process, especially when there are people in need, but it is necessary to ensure that all buildings are legal and that the funds are spent in the most effective way. All building work is carried out by local people, teams from outside are not brought in, in an effort to keep revenue in the local area. Likewise all building materials are sourced as locally as possible.

I can’t tell you how impressed I am with everything I’ve learnt about the Trust so far, I am so excited to be partnering with them.

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Here are some more mind blowing facts to leave you with:

It is estimated that 15% of Nepal’s GDP comes through the Gurkhas (although this cannot be officially verified).

Over 50% of Nepal’s GDP comes from tourism (again this is an estimation), which is why the earthquakes and consequential lack of visitors is such a blow for the country.

The Gurkha Welfare Trust aims to build 12 new schools each year until 2020. It will provide repairs and extensions to hundreds more. The school I am supporting is one of the big projects of 2016/2017.

The M.O.D. provided £0.5 million to help with the earthquake response and continues to provide an annual grant-in-aid to support the Trust’s admin costs for welfare development.

D.F.I.D. (The Department for International Development) funds the majority of the Trust’s water projects. The Trust plans to develop 120 projects a year until 2020.

Please have a look at The Gurkha Welfare Trust website. There is a wealth of information on there… https://www.gwt.org.uk

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!

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.