A Yukon built school at the top of the world

Set amidst the rice fields, farms and scattered livestock of southern Nepal lies a school built by Yukoners.

Set amidst the rice fields, farms and scattered livestock of southern Nepal lies a school built by Yukoners.

Liesel Briggs and her daughter Rosemarie, through their non-profit organization Hands of Hope, recently sent a $3,000 cheque to cover the remaining costs to complete the Lumbini Gyan Prabha School.

The two-storey concrete building has four large classrooms, big enough to hold 400 to 500 students, a far cry from what it once was five years ago.

Liesel and Rosemarie originally traveled to Lumbini, a small farming community about 12 hours from the capital of Kathmandu, with the intention of building a library there.

But they quickly discovered that a lot more needed to be accomplished.

“When we got to the ‘school’ it was a tiny building with three small rooms, two of them for storage and one for the principal’s desk,” Liesel said.

“It wasn’t a place where students could be taught. It had a steel roof, no insulation and when monsoon season hits no one can hear you in there, it’s like being inside a drum.

“When I looked around I saw kids sitting around in rice fields, and we both thought that a lot more work needed to be done.”

So, over the years since, the pair raised money to expand the school. They even embarrassed the local government into chipping in.

“I was at some gathering with a local government education minister and he was taken aback at the work we’d done, so he looked into it and figured out he could find the money to help the community build two more classrooms,” she said.

And as of October last year the school features a library with over 1,000 books, most of them available in the local Nepali language.

It was the tenth library the pair has set up in Nepal and India since 2006.

The students may have access to school books but they don’t have any storybooks, Liesel said, which presents an interesting problem if you suddenly provide them.

“Setting up a library has a lot of trials and tribulations. We had to train the teachers how to use the books with their classes,” Liesel said.

“Because there is a lot of oral teaching there, we had to teach them how to hold the books and read them, where to put their fingers and how to manipulate the pages.”

Reading can be a novelty to many children in the area, particularly those in orphanages.

When the pair brought books to the area for the first time, a young boy excitedly picked up a half dozen of them and said he was going to read them all that very evening.

“One of them was Harry Potter – they don’t have any concept of how long it takes to read a book,” Liesel said.

With the completion of the school, Liesel and Rosemarie will continue to set up libraries and raise funds for other projects, but are now focused on raising money to send a 20-year-old orphan to medical school.

It’s estimated they will need to raise about $20,000 initially, and approximately $50,000 over five years to help the young man named Rohit.

“It’s a lot of money, but he’s worth it,” Liesel said.

“We really want to see him do well. He received a scholarship for pre-med studies in Kathmandu but the problem is he’s tried applying for the scholarship entrance exam. About 12,000 people write the exam and only about 40 scholarships are given out.

“We don’t want him to become one of the 20,000 kids on the street in Kathmandu.”

Another obstacle for Rohit is caste discrimination. Rohit belongs to a group called Dalit – or “untouchables” – who are often forcibly assigned to the most menial and hazardous jobs.

But in Rohit’s paperwork, he was mistakenly registered as a higher caste, making him ineligible to receive government assistance for exceptional lower caste students.

Liesel and Rosemarie have set up a college fund for Rohit at www.gofundme.com/rohit, with just over $800 raised so far.

Liesel said there is a possibility of organizing local events in March or April to help raise additional money.

In the end, she said, the most fulfilling part of all this is knowing that she can make a difference.

“It shows when you do this, how much you can do with very little,” she said.

“We spend our own money on travel, shelter and food. We do this for the love of other human beings.

“We are all connected in this world and we feel that by doing this charity work, maybe we can lighten the burden for someone, make a difference in their life.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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