A Yukoner sees hope amid the rice and cattle

For little girls in this tiny village in the south of Nepal, school wasn't an option - until 10 months ago. It was at least an hour walk to the closest school. It was at least an hour walk to the closest school. And although the walk was possible, the two or more hours away from farm work was not.

For little girls in this tiny village in the south of Nepal, school wasn’t an option – until 10 months ago.

It was at least an hour walk to the closest school.

And although the walk was possible, the two or more hours away from farm work was not.

Then a small school opened in the midst of farmland in an unused community building.

And for these little girls, the world opened up.

When the new principal first saw the village, the farms and the children, he remembered how it was for him. So, he decided to give back.

He found some young people, mostly untrained but eager to teach, who all believed in the importance of literacy and the choices and opportunities it creates.

The principal volunteered his time. His food, clothing and shelter were donated. The teachers are paid, the equivalent of $30 a month. That is bare subsistence, even there among the rice fields and cattle. But these teachers and the principal have a vision: to help educate the children.

With a notebook, a pencil, and shared tattered texts, the school started. One blackboard served all 200 students from Grades 1 through 4. Teachers and principal come by bicycle or on foot along trails between fields. Children walk. Some ford a river. Everyone is joyful and excited.

Enrollment brings with it a uniform, and a uniform is status. They go to school.

But some kids down the road have to work to support their family. School is still not an option for them.

Villagers were skeptical, initially. Will the girls study? Should our daughters go to school, they asked? When they are 13, they must get married. At age five, it’s time to start learning to care for babies, and for the house.

A school committee was formed. Parents came to the meetings and asked questions. The school committee, most of its members illiterate, learned the value of educating both boys and girls. Their chair, a leader in the community, and a man of importance who he can read and write, talked to them about the value of knowledge. He said it was time for mothers to learn about learning.

Parents got excited. They started to support education and stop at the school to see how their children are doing. Last October, after a Yukon non-profit called Hands of Hope assisted them financially to set up a small library – thanks to funds donated by Yukoners – the teachers asked if a teaching workshop would be possible. So one afternoon, after school, my time was dedicated to teaching reading and writing skills. We take reading for granted. But if there are no libraries, and no books, except for the textbooks, how can you introduce a child to this magical world? When would you have read to your little boy or girl? Would you have pointed to the pictures and asked questions? The workshop became a community event for teachers, the school committee, some of the students, several parents and a few itinerant goats that wandered by.

In the past year, Hands of Hope set up five new libraries – three in India and two in Nepal. As well as providing support to those five school libraries and two prior to 2009, we will continue to establish libraries and help with the basics to support children. This year, one Yukon teacher, on sabbatical, will help us by giving some teaching workshops. She is travelling independently, on her own money, as we do. All our donated funds go to the project. We pay our own expenses, including plane fares.

Our present goals are to obtain more money to:

* Build two new libraries

* Provide furniture for one school

* Continue to support present libraries

* Continue to support children’s basic needs.

* Fund annual sponsorship for orphans’ post secondary education (this is new as the orphans are reaching the age of 18 and it’s either the street or finding a sponsor or sponsors. We will need sponsors for three to four children within six months)

As well we will:

* Continue teacher in-services

Since 2007 we have done the following:

* Provided thousands of library books

* Bought metal book shelving

* Purchased paint, windows, flooring, furniture for libraries

* Established small textbook libraries for poor students

* Located teacher resources and resource books

* Bought learning games, videos, tapes, CDs, VCDs (DVDs)

* Given a one-year teacher-salary boost for underpaid rural teachers

* Set up teacher in-services

* Provided money for food, clothing, and blankets for 22 orphans

* Hired a carpenter to put windows in the orphanage bedrooms

At present, life in the villages in northern India and southern Nepal is trying to return to normal. This has been an extraordinary season of heat, then monsoon rain. Building projects have been delayed, washed away and put on hold. Fields, roads, earthen-floor homes or classrooms and classes under trees and tarps have been soggy. A school in the mountains of northern India that is under construction, and for which we have been fundraising to help buy school desks, is at least one month behind schedule due to the long monsoon this year. Another mainly out-of-doors school sent children home during the heat. With the heat came a dry, strong wind making it very difficult to study. Children were already arriving at class between 6 and 6:30 a.m. Now comes the season of relatively good weather, not too cold and not too hot. It is a time for study and work.

And the little girls continue to grow in knowledge. They love learning and they love being able to read a book other than their textbook.

You can reach Hands of Hope at Box 10278, Whitehorse, Yukon. Y1A 7A1.

And Hands of Hope Coffee, a specially brewed brand from Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters is also available. For further information e-mail briggs@yukonforestcabins.com or

phone 668-7082.

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