Yukoner spearheads effort to build classrooms in West Bengal

Liam Campbell discovered Hinduism at Vanier Catholic Secondary School, of all places, during a Grade 11 class on world religions.

Liam Campbell discovered Hinduism at Vanier Catholic Secondary School, of all places, during a Grade 11 class on world religions.

The 20-year-old Whitehorse resident says he fell in love with its philosophies and practices right away.

He didn’t want to waste any time before exploring the various facets of the religion, and the country where most of its adherents live, India.

So last year, Campbell spent five months volunteering for a Welsh charity at a school in a small village in the northeastern part of the country, which borders Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.

The conditions at the Gyan Jyoti School in Echhey Busti were cramped, at best. There are about 90 students spread across eight different classes, but the school only has six classrooms, he said.

“It makes teaching difficult when you have a Grade 1 class and a Grade 4 class but you only have 30 minutes to teach both of them,” Campbell said.

A chalkboard was his only teaching tool, and the school just recently got electricity.

Upon his return to Whitehorse, Campbell decided he had an opportunity to “do some good” for the village.

He founded the Gyan Jyoti School Building Society and is trying to raise $20,000 – approximately $1 million rupees – to hire a local construction company and build two additional classrooms next to the existing school.

“There are huge amounts of unemployment there and the only opportunities are through education,” he said.

It’s a private school, because the public school system is so inadequate, he said.

The area of the country, known as Gorkhaland, is a proposed state and semi-autonomous region whose mostly Nepali population has been asking for full autonomy for over 100 years.

During the 1980s, protests in favour of statehood took a violent turn and roughly 1,200 people were killed.

Campbell said there is a heightened military presence in the area today, with soldiers stationed in nearby hills, but it hasn’t affected the morale of the students he taught.

“The West Bengal government really takes advantage of them but I’ve never seen anyone so enthused to learn,” he said.

“I’d come to school and they’d be so thankful that they’d give me handfuls of flowers. I’ve lived such an incredibly privileged life, I figure I can afford to give a bit of time back to people who need it.”

He hired a local engineer to draw up the plans for the classrooms, which will be built in a way that they can be expanded in the future, he said.

Last weekend, a fundraiser concert at the Gr8ful Spud raised just over $1,300 for the cause.

Campbell said he has about $5,000 so far and is aiming to complete his fundraising drive by December.

At that point, he’ll travel back to India and start administering the project. He also hopes to teach in Nepal in the near future and uses his downtime in Echhey Busti to explore the markets and practise his Nepali conversation skills.

Despite having lived in India during its monsoon season – Campbell said it rains about 20 hours a day – he enjoyed the experience and is looking forward to going back in a few months.

“You don’t have to shovel rain,” he said with a laugh.

“I also fell in love with the people, the culture, the food. It’s a simpler existence there and that’s something I’ve always been looking for.”

Campbell said he’s planning on organizing a few more fundraisers between now and December, including a bottle drive, a dinner and silent auction, and potentially a Bollywood evening.

He said he wanted to thank the Gr8ful Spud for hosting the concert, the band, Griswold, as well as Music Yukon for the use of its sound system.

Donations can be made at http://www.gofundme.com/wj29js27.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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