Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Festive Gifts for school children

New stationery, festive gifts, and checking on the progress of sponsored children have been the most recent focal points for the team at the My Small Help office in Nepal. Two youngsters living near the tourist hotspot Thamel were bought new winter clothes, sponsored pupils at Sanjiwani Boarding (English medium school) School were given toys and stationery by their UK sponsor, and around 150 pupils at Shree Balprakash Secondary School were issued with new school jotters, pencils, erasers and pencil sharpeners.

Watching the faces of the children at Shree Balprakash Secondary School (Kalanti Buumidanda VDC - 1, Kavre), aged between 5 and 12, when they received their new stationery was a privilege. Who would have guessed that six school jotters and some pencils could create such joy? As Pramila (My Small Help Accountant) and I (Jo Young, MSH volunteer) toured from class to class any onlooker would be forgiven for believing that we were celebrities. We were pursued by youngsters eager to maximise the time that they could see or hear us. As we visited each classroom a small entourage peeped through the bars (to allow ventilation, not imprisonment) on the windows, popped their heads round doors and a couple of the more mischievous ones managed to assume a position in the class before being spotted by the teacher.

The classrooms at this remote village school (45 kilometres outside Kathmandu valley) are a far cry from what we would like to imagine as an educational hub; spartan is too generous a description, whilst bare, empty, basic, and soul-less only go a tiny way towards painting a vivid picture. For many of the rooms the concrete walls are the blackboards, the stone floor becomes a table and a chair. The only thing giving these rooms any warmth or feeling at all is the teacher, the smiling faces of the children, and the donations that enable My Small Help to make a difference. The playground is ground, not a toy or goalpost in sight.

In the colder months, such as now, many classes are taught outside because the winter sun is the main source of heat. Stationery, it would seem, is also a source of heat because it planted a little seed of warmth and delight in the hearts of these children, and that heat radiates far more than any state of the art heating system. Thank you to all of the My Small Help sponsors who have made this contribution possible. Anyone who wishes to donate can click onto www.justgiving.com/childreninnepal or access the sponsorship page on the My Small Help website by clicking here; your compassion and kindness cross more than rugged terrain. Is there something you’d like to know more about in the lives of the children that My Small Help supports? If so please write a comment below and we’ll do our best to grant your festive wish…

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Children in Nepal gain superhuman powers!

If a place existed where new jackets and trousers made children believe that they had superhuman powers then that place would be Marybert School and Orphanage, Nepal. With winter temperatures setting in the hours of darkness are currently around four degrees Celsius. If we’re nesting at home with central heating, double glazing and a wealth of cashmere then this temperature is not harsh, it’s a lot colder when you’re without basics such as heating and hot water. My Small Help has been shopping for wind and waterproof outerwear to ensure that the children at Marybert are warm and comfortable. The 18 children obediently queued up to receive their new clothing; each one beamed as they found the perfect fit, whilst some of the younger ones tested out the flexibility of the clothing with wildly entertaining arm and leg movements. For a moment I had a flashback of the many clothing stores I’ve visited around the world where we see youngsters pulling faces, wriggling in the outfit they’re trying on, and protesting to a harassed parent that it doesn’t fit, before asking for (occasionally demanding) a designer label. At Marybert these children beamed because the clothing, regardless of colour or style, fitted them and made them warm. Afterwards some of the younger ones (notably Prince and Kamal) spent a great deal of time folding their jackets and trousers neatly back into the original packaging and patting it down, as if to say ‘thank you for being mine and I’ll wear you tomorrow.’

Some of the young people supported by My Small Help are at secondary school and live at home (or with another support family) so we visited them to ensure that they were progressing well, and to check that MSH funds are being used in the best way possible. These visits also allow us to send updates to their sponsors, and enable more personal communication. Two of the young girls we met, Anjali and Alisha, had just returned from school to a dark stone built home (the
power outages strike again). Their mum was sitting astride a large wooden bench weaving a rug by hand. She told Raju (MSH President) that the rug will take her approximately eight weeks to complete at which point she will be paid around 6,000 Rupees (approximately £53 or $83). If she is late in finishing the rug she will be paid around 5,000 Rupees. I’m struggling to imagine anyone in the world (as I know it) carrying out such detailed, intricate and creative work for eight weeks for the sum of £53 or $83. Think back to the last time you spent £50-60 on an item (a sweater, pair of jeans, DVD box set, aftershave gift set) and then consider if you would still have bought it if you’d had to work eight weeks to fund it. For Anjali and Alisha’s mum this payment is their food and rent money. There are a lot of stark contrasts to consider here. For me it’s not about feeling guilty or curbing my spending habits, it’s about understanding and helping to make small but significant steps to a better future for the underprivileged families in Nepal (and work is on-going in Peru).

My Small Help sponsors are making this difference through their dedicated pledges; whilst I’m on the ground in Nepal I am their eyes and ears. The money is making a difference, and I can see that it is very much appreciated. The work that MSH carries out helps to empower these families by alleviating the financial pressure so that the children can be educated and create a better future for themselves. It’s about academic learning, and learning from the harsh experiences of their parents and elder siblings.
If you would like to help by donating a few pounds please click here http://www.justgiving.com/childreninnepal

Monday, December 6, 2010

New Volunteer Jo Young meets children of My Small Help...

It’s with a high degree of trepidation that I begin the bumpy and hazardous 40 minute tuk tuk journey to the My Small Help Office in Gwarko in Lalitpur, Nepal; the practical aspects of what I will do when I am here don’t concern me, but I can’t help but wonder how much of a difference I can actually make, and how I will feel when I burst the bubble of the Western world.

It’s one thing giving money to charity or tithing 10% of your income as those working towards ‘greater good’ so readily suggest, but time and vis a vis efforts might prove to be a bigger challenge for me. I expect smiles and tears, but it’s the unexpected smiles and tears that really meet your heart.

The smiles came quickly as I met the dedicated My Small Help team to discuss how best we could maintain and build on their current success. The small but functional office is just a few minutes walk from the Marybert School and Orphanage, where almost half of the pupils are financially supported by the charity.

As we approach the school I can already hear peals of laughter and giggling which, although I didn’t have any real expectations of how it would be, aren’t what I expected to hear at an orphanage (if that makes any sense!). The youngsters are cavorting around on the chute and climbing frame, lined up like chattering sparrows on a telephone wire, or gently tugging each other’s pigtails in good humour. It’s a beautiful sight. At least three of them rush towards me to say ‘namaste’ whilst earnestly pressing their palms together. ‘What is your name’ and for some reason the name ‘Joanna’ is suddenly the funniest name they’ve ever heard and they clutch their tummies whilst giggling. From this point onwards I decide to use my spiritually given name of ‘Jyoti’, which has more meaning to them, and this part of the world.

There are no tears here, only happiness from the children and I’m already forced to reconsider my self-built images fuelled by Oliver Twist. The children are thrilled to see Raju (My Small Help President) and gather around our feet like ants to a jam pot. As we ask the children questions so that I can write up colourful profiles for the website I’m struck by the beauty of each of these children. They have little or nothing of material consequence but they each have spirit, hope and love and rapidly pull out letters and photographs of people who have helped sponsor them. They gleefully report ambition to be doctors and vets and teachers; listing a desire to help as the reason for their choice.

Help is the keyword for the next few months that I will spend in Nepal. I am fortunate to be able to dedicate time and attention by physically being here, which I know isn’t possible for many. So, if you would like to help by writing to the children, donating a few pounds or taking up a more regular sponsorship of a child please click here: Christmas is coming and your donation would enable the My Small Help volunteers to create a memorable day for the children by buying them necessities and treats.