Sansar Nepal Newsletter #3

Number 3, April 2016

Dear friends and sponsors,

Unbelievably it is almost one full year since the first devastating earthquake struck on 25th April last year and definitely time to do some stock taking! Please bear with me as I try to summarise all that has happened at The Garden since February 2015…

Before the Earthquake

All was well at The Garden when I arrived at the house in February of last year with Mike on his third visit from the UK, accompanied by rock climbing friend Micky on his first. Poor Micky got sick almost immediately and was confined to his room with severe bronchitis, but managed to recover to join Mike, Roshan and I on a wonderful 6 day trek in the Annapurna region. Towards the end of February, Soma arrived and used his engineering expertise to install internet throughout the house and upgrade our electricity and water systems, even getting the waterfall in the garden functioning!

At the end of March, I travelled back to Kathmandu to meet Jill and Jacson Lowe Hyatt, international school teachers working in Kuala Lumpur, and their two sons Ethan and Jarrod, who flew out for a 10 day Nepal experience. They turned out to be just about the last tourists to see the temples of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan in all their glory. We were all thrilled to welcome them at The Garden for three days and to see their children bond with ours – nationality, race and language proving to be no barrier whatsoever. We then headed back to Kathmandu with Manju as assistant tour guide, via Bandipur and Chitwan, where we were joined by my daughters Lucy and Charlotte, Lucy’s partner, and my grandson Leo. Although we weren’t fortunate enough to see a Bengal tiger this time, we did see rhinos, elephants, deer and abundant bird life.

The Earthquakes

I was at the Garden with Roshan and the children when the first earthquake struck. It took a few seconds for us all to realise what was happening, but when we did, everyone rushed to the garden and stood on the shaking earth for two long minutes, wondering what would come next…

We found out subsequently that it was 7.8 magnitude, and that there had been much damage radiating from the epicentre north of Gorkha, midway between Pokhara and Kathmandu. We also knew that my daughter, Lucy, on her way back to Kathmandu by bus, would have been just about due south of the epicentre right at the time it occurred. It was 12 hours before we finally heard that she was safe as well as her partner, Jesse, who was waiting for her in Kathmandu. They ended up in an emergency camp for four days before being flown out to Delhi. The after shocks continued daily, and two weeks later another 7.3 quake struck, creating yet more devastation and loss of life (more than 9,000 people died). I was in Kathmandu at this time, about to return to Malaysia. Surrounded by old, swaying buildings this time, I was given a taste of the terror felt by the victims in the city and outlying villages.

Sansar Nepal’s Response

lila_ktm_hospitalWithin two days of the first earthquake, Roshan had left for Kathmandu with a friend to deliver tents to some of the victims in the worst hit areas, after which he spent several days volunteering as a porter and translator at an Israeli field hospital in Kathmandu. Unfortunately another large earthquake followed the first one two weeks later, wreaking more havoc, and the after shocks continued for several months. During this harrowing time, the Sansar Nepal team worked with local groups and individuals to bring relief supplies of food, clothing and shelter to some of the worst hit villages. Thanks to donations that came in from all over the world, we were able to assist more than 7,000 people in 26 villages. Our children and young people at The Garden all played a part in the relief effort, packing supplies and joining the grueling expeditions up to remote villages to distribute them. Later we supplied mosquito nets and zinc roofing sheets for temporary shelters and school rooms to help villages to prepare for the onset of the monsoon months. As winter approached, we launched a Warmth for Winter appeal and again, thanks to the overwhelming response, were able to provide warm clothing, shoes and blankets for 500+ children, old and sick people in 10 different communities. We were lucky enough to have Soma, one of our team, in Nepal at the time of the earthquakes and were grateful for his organisational skills and dedication. He came out again in November and, with Mandy and the Garden kids, continued the work of distributing relief aid in the villages.

More Challenges

During the months following the earthquakes, we met many impressive young Nepalese people who responded quickly and effectively to the crisis, not waiting for the government and international aid to reach the villages. They were the ones who managed to get essential aid through to the victims when it was most needed in the weeks immediately following the earthquake. It was with these proactive young people that Sansar Nepal joined forces.

If the earthquakes were not enough, the signing of the new Nepalese constitution on 20th September 2015 led to civil unrest in the South, and the main Indian border was virtually closed for the next six months, leading to widespread shortages of petrol, cooking gas, food, medical supplies and other essentials. The fuel shortages severely hampered the earthquake relief efforts and, as is usually the case, the poorest of the poor were the ones who suffered the most.

Outreach: Amrita Foundation and Psychbigyaan

amrita_vistorsIn October, Mandy, our Sansar team member from the UK, who is a newly-qualified occupational therapist, came out to Nepal for almost three months with another OT, Carla. Together they volunteered at a mental health facility in Kathmandu, called Amrita Foundation, initiating new therapy programmes and training young volunteers to continue the work after they left. Sansar Nepal is continuing to support Amrita by finding sponsorship for materials and resources to enhance the lives of the residents. Lakshmi, a friend from Malaysia, and her sister and brother visited in March, and bought guitars, flutes and tambourines for the facility. We subsequently enjoyed a song and dance session with the residents and staff, followed by an afternoon tea also provided by the visitors.

Through Amrita we met three inspirational young Nepalese psychology graduates, Kripa, Sujan and Ashish, who have set up an NGO called Psychbigyaan. Its mission is to raise awareness of mental health issues, especially in young people. In February of this year we invited them to The Garden for 5 days and arranged workshops for them at two local schools with high school students and teachers. The workshops were very successful; the students greatly appreciated the opportunity to discuss their issues in a safe environment. For most it was the first time they had been really listened to. We hope to arrange some full day workshops in October, as the need is clearly great.

Visitors

mike_binodIn October we were lucky enough to have Dawnell Albers, and interior designer from the US, come to stay at The Garden. Initially here for only a month, she stayed on at The Garden for 3 months in all, spending Christmas at the house. She was joined by Katia, an art teacher currently living in KL and Ania, an English teacher living in Kuwait, and who also spent Christmas at The Garden. Dawnell finished off the furnishing and decoration of our lounge, and was invaluable in receiving guests and assisting the children after I left Nepal towards the end of November. She has since found a small apartment not far from the house and continues to work with and for us until her visa expires at the end of May, making many valuable connections and supporting our projects in numerous ways.

When I returned to Nepal in February of this year, I was joined by Brenda, a teacher trainer from the UK living in KL who taught some primary classes at Himanchal School. A few days later we were joined by Mike for the forth time! The kids love having him around and again got to go rock climbing with him during his visit. We are trying to persuade him to stay for longer next year.

GIN Conference, Bali

In March, Roshan and I attended the 2016 GIN (Global Issues Network) conference for international schools in S.E. Asia, hosted by Bali Island School, and we presented workshops to teachers and students about the work of Sansar Nepal. We made some valuable contacts and it was all in all a wonderful opportunity for both of us. We were also lucky enough to be in Ubud for Nyepi, the Balinese New Year festival, which was a very special experience. Following the conference, Roshan spent two weeks in Kuala Lumpur before returning to Nepal. He was hosted and entertained by various friends and former visitors to the Garden who made sure he left with some exceptional memories. He also shared the Sansar Nepal story with primary and secondary school students at two international schools in KL, and was apparently a huge success!

More Visitors!

poon_hillSince returning from Bali, we have had many visitors at the house; it is wonderful that tourists and volunteers are now returning and Lakeside is almost back to it’s former lively self; let’s hope that the bad times are now at an end and Nepal can move forward in positive ways!

Rene Voss of Maya Foundation has been a regular house guest in between assignments over the past 3 months, and it has been pleasure to have him as part of our family. We have also had several other Dutch visitors come to stay, though our connection with Rene. Sheldon from Wales, who built our deluxe chicken house last year, made a surprise return to The Garden a few weeks ago, and we have also had short visits from John, (New Zealand), Toni (USA), Kelly (Australia), and another short return visit from Katia  We now have Amit (Canada) staying for the next few weeks, who plans to do art and crafts with the children. Each of our visitors contributes something unique by their presence at The Garden, and our children remember each of them fondly.

Post-Earthquake Projects

Many NGO’s and groups are now involved in the rebuilding of schools and public buildings in the villages. Although there is much need in terms of rebuilding, the amounts of capital required for such projects are beyond the means of a small NGO such as ours, and our efforts and our resources will be put to use elsewhere. We are however open to supporting a rebuilding project should it be initiated and led by a group of committed young Nepalese, in keeping with our mission.

Full Circle Project

In the meantime, we are embarking on a new outreach project to renovate the house where Roshan and his siblings were born, and convert it to a trekking lodge and campsite. For more information, see the separate article. For this project we are working with some of the young Nepalese change agents who we have met since the earthquake. We have a mixed team of Nepalese and international volunteers, all sharing our skills and passions to create something of lasting value for Roshan and his family, the village community and the visitors it will serve in the future.

The Garden Family

studiesOur resident children are all doing well. The six youngest finished their end of year exams a week ago and are now enjoying a well deserved rest. Manju is nearing the end of her 2 year management course and has to make decisions about the future. She is interested in accountancy. Prakash is finishing his second year of a three year civil engineering course, working hard and doing well. Roshan’s new passion is paragliding; we are happy he has found something he loves to do when he is not looking after the house, the kids and the NGO! Binod is now off on a trekking adventure with Lila and two of our guests, whilst Sarita is visiting our team member, Nisha, in Kathmandu for a few days. Dilmaya and her children have returned to their village for a week to rebuild a family home destroyed in the earthquake. Since November everyone has been having art and music lessons at the house every Saturday with Sabu, an inspiring young local teacher, who is passionate about recycling and protecting the environment. His art projects and music reflect this, and he is a great role model for our kids.

They are all growing up, finding new interests, developing new skills, and spreading their wings; it’s a joy to watch!

Giving Back

Although our children at The Garden do realise how fortunate they are and fully appreciate the wonderful opportunities they receive, we feel that it is very important that they share what they have learned with others who are less fortunate. Next week, before they return to school, we plan to visit a daycare centre for mentally handicapped children, play games and do activities with the children there. This will also be a good experience for my 7 year old grandson, Leo, here on a learning holiday for the next 4 weeks.

New Additions

sparkyOur Garden family is growing. Last year we welcomed Santoshi, a young engineering student, who lives close by, and Sanjay, who has joined class 7 at Himanchal School, into our extended family. We were able to find sponsors to help them with their education, as we have done for Shishir and Shristhi, whose parents run a small bakery in Lakeside. Their education has been sponsored though us for the past 5 years. Shishir has just finished class 9, and his sister is currently taking her final SLC exams at the end of class 10.

Baldo, a Belgian/Israeli retiree who lives next door to us, has joined the team, documenting our activities and acting as an invaluable computer technician and IT trouble shooter for us.

Our newest family member is Sparky the dog – he was abandoned, injured, in Kathmandu and nursed back to health by a kind volunteer. Another volunteer brought Sparky on the bus to Pokhara. In spite of the chewed slippers, we love him to bits!!

More Outreach: Supporting Teachers

Through the workshops we organised at Himanchal School for the Psychbigyaan team, we have got to know Prakash, the head English teacher there. He is keen to further improve his English and also to explore new ways of teaching. He is frustrated by the lack of resources and support at his school. He wants to explore new ways of doing things and see change in the current education system, which is typically teacher-centred, text-book-based and geared to passing exams through rote learning. He has visited The Garden several times to use our resources, and recently brought five like-minded colleagues with him to meet with me and to discuss how we might support them at The Garden. It was agreed that they will come to The Garden whenever they wish to use our WiFi and borrow materials from the library. As teachers of different subjects never get the opportunity to meet other teachers of the same subjects and levels from other schools, we plan to host periodic meetings at The Garden for teachers of the same subject from the six English medium schools in the neighbourhood. We will also try to find a teaching partner from the same subject area in an international school for any Nepalese teacher interested, so that they can exchange ideas, share lesson plans, and perhaps provide some materials

How You Can Help

Our guests at The Garden provide a source of funding to supplement the running of the house and our projects, along with the individual sponsorship and regular small monthly contributions we receive. However, this is only for a few short months of the year, in spring and autumn, when people typically like to visit Nepal, and when I am at The Garden to receive them. During the other months of the year, we are struggling to cover our running costs; the initial sponsorship for half of the monthly house rent which was provided by a friend for the first two years of Sansar Nepal, expired about 6 months ago. Neither do we have a budget as yet for our outreach activities; Mandy and Carla covered the costs of their expenses at Amrita Foundation themselves, and Mandy personally funded the Psychbigyaan visit to The Garden.

Although we still have some funds from the earthquake appeals, we are holding on to these until a suitable earthquake-related project materialises.

We therefore need some extra funding to help us to cover our running costs, sustain our present projects and extend our outreach efforts to provide education for children in need and support young Nepalese change makers.

This is how you can help:

  1. Make a regular monthly donation towards our running costs. We are looking for about USD 300 extra per month to cover our basic running costs: a pledge of just USD 20 (the price of a glass of wine a week!), USD 30, USD 40 or USD 50 per month would help us enormously.
  2. Make a regular monthly donation towards one of our outreach projects. eg. Amrita, Psychbigyaan, Local Teacher Support.
  3. Sponsor one of our children: we are still looking for care sponsors for Binod, Bikash and Bandana, and an educational sponsorship for one of the children above. Care sponsorship costs USD 830 per year per child, and education costs USD 820. This can be paid for in installments, or can be a partial sponsorship for a fraction of the total. There are many other needy children we would like to help locally once we have covered our own expenses.
  4. Sponsor Sparky! We estimate it will cost us approximately USD 30 per month for his food and vet’s bills as necessary. He really is a great addition to our family, he needed a good home, and we feel it is important to teach our children the responsibility of taking care of a pet.
  5. Organise a fundraiser for us; a sponsored walk, a quiz night etc.
  6. Spread the word about what we are doing and direct people to our website at www.sansarnepal.org.
  7. Invite Michelle, Lila, Mandy or Dave to speak about Sansar Nepal and The Garden. Since the Bali conference, we have a ready-made presentation we can share!

Please donate through our website stating which area you would like to sponsor, or contact Michelle, Mandy or Dave, for more information on sponsoring a child.

Thank You

Nothing that we have created or accomplished could have been done without all the sponsorship and generous donations that we have received since the beginning of this dream almost three years ago. Your ongoing support has enabled us to:

  • provide an education and a stable and loving home for our eight resident children;
  • provide an education and home base for other children and young people in need of support and guidance;
  • bring relief to numerous victims of the earthquakes;
  • support young Nepalese change agents in their efforts to improve not only themselves, but their society and the world we all live in.

With your help, we can do even more.

A huge THANK YOU from Michelle, the Garden Family, and the whole Sansar Nepal team!

Namaste!