The rats running rampant and damp penetrating cold helped us decide. How could a five-year old child sleep soundly?
The blankets were thin and ragged and the windows were glassless, letting in blasts of wind propelling mosquitoes, dust or rain. And then, there was the keenness for knowledge in a school without books.
That year we returned from India and Nepal, our minds whirling, but determined. We had immersed ourselves in the country, not viewed it from holiday tour. It was 2006, and we’d both done a volunteering stint in India and Nepal.
Then, we bought story books in Kathmandu, loaded them into public transport for Lumbini - a mere 12 hours by bumpy bus careening down hairpin slopes, dodging cattle, motorbikes and other impediments.
But it couldn’t stop there. Word was out. Sipping tea by candle and moonlight, I heard the steel door clank open into where we were staying. Then, a slender man wheeling a bicycle drew near. “Namaste,” he said, bowing his head, putting his hands together. Then he was silent, struggling for the right words.
Finally, they came. “Would you,” he asked, “have one book for my school?” Could you say no?
That was the beginning of Hands of Hope - Books and Basics for Kids in India and Nepal. It was also the beginning of the Kids Helping Kids Club in Mayo.
That year, and every year since, Mayo’s J.V. Clark School’s Kids Helping Kids Club has been holding spaghetti, pizza or lasagna dinners, bake sales, Christmas craft fairs, picking up garbage and collecting coins, cans and bottles. They have knocked on doors and checked out the back alleys and sides of the street of a town of 400, looking for treasures to turn into cash.
How much cash? More cash than you think.
Many of the 62 school students became totally engaged in fundraising for Nepali kids across the ocean. They became ambassadors of change, converting cookies into cash so kids could keep warm, read books and envision a future.
A future for the girls was to not marry by age 13 and have babies by age 15, instead remaining in school. And the boys dreamed of attaining a career, and studied hard for scholarships.
An orphan boy, Busha, said to me that first year, “Maybe if I work hard, someone will want me.” He’d had a difficult early life during the war in Nepal and together with his siblings became homeless. Now in an orphanage, the future he knew, only too well, was bleak.
Age 18 would mean leaving the precarious safety of the children’s home. A home for two dozen kids who had to face food shortages, cold, sexual predators, and future economic uncertainty was not a place of security.
Mayo school’s Kids Helping Kids Club cogitated on pictures, PowerPoint presentations and stories, then determined they could be of benefit. Together with three pivotal people in the school, they set to work and have continued to do so since that first year. Michael McGinnis, Maggie Leary and Rosemary Popadynec were and are the powers that be who have helped to guide and motivate the kids, plus cook spaghetti, drive the truck for garbage cleanup, and oversee bake sales and craft fairs. And the community of Mayo fell right in with the plans and donated items, showed up for dinners, and generally supported the initiative.
Between 2006 and 2013 the J.V. Clark Kids Helping Kids Club has raised just over $12,000. This last batch of raised money - $5,000 - will build two classrooms in Lumbini for the several-hundred-strong Gyan Prabha school. Hands of Hope has already built two classrooms there and more classroom space has been crucial as the kids have had classes in a rice field, sitting on sacks.
The little town of Mayo - seniors, elders, parents and kids, the school and the Kids Helping Kids Club - has made an enormous difference in the lives of two dozen kids and given them the gift of allowing them to dream of a future, plus giving other kids the “luxury” of attending school in a classroom away from the heat, bugs, wind and rain.
Presently, Busha and his two brothers are attending post-secondary education in Nepal. Busha is completing his bachelor of science, while one brother, Rohit, has a scholarship to study medicine and Santosh is completing Grade 12. Four other orphans are also studying. Of the two girls, Nipa is a singer and studies office administration and Meena is enrolled in a nursing program.
This would not have happened without the people of Mayo’s optimism, hard work and belief that the kids in Nepal should have a future.
For more information on Hands of Hope projects, please go to www.hands-of-hope.ca. At this time, Rosemarie Briggs is in Nepal. She has just completed setting up a new library in India and approved the second classroom construction project.