Local lends a helping hand in India and Nepal

Liesel Briggs held on tight as the scooter she was riding swung off the monsoon-drenched road and into the ditch. A truck had pulled out to pass another vehicle and had run Briggs and her friend off the road.

Liesel Briggs held on tight as the scooter she was riding swung off the monsoon-drenched road and into the ditch.

A truck had pulled out to pass another vehicle and had run Briggs and her friend off the road.

This friend was the principal of a small school in a nearby village and he and Briggs had braved the muddy, puddle-filled roads (and homicidal truck drivers) for a very important reason.

They were buying library books.

The books were bought by Hands of Hope, a humanitarian group started by Briggs and her daughter Rosemarie.

The mother-daughter team raises money to buy books and basics for school children in India and Nepal, and also provides support for Tibetan refugees living in India.

To deliver this money, Briggs has had to make multiple crossings of the Indian/Nepal border.

These crossings usually take place by rickshaw, past guards wielding AK47s or sticks.

She spoke about detouring around intersections filled with burning tires.

And watching a caravan of Maoists drive by on their way to a neighbouring village to depose the local government and appoint a new one.

All this from a woman that looks less like a globe-trotting adventurer and more like … well, a librarian.

“I love it, despite all this political stuff. I love the people,” she said, safe and sound at home in the Yukon with a steaming cup of tea in her hand.

“It’s a wonderful country.”

Briggs returned from her two-month trip in November.

A spring fundraiser in Whitehorse saw close to $10,000 roll in for Hands of Hope’s book program.

Briggs was impressed by the generosity of Yukoners.

But she was equally impressed with the enthusiasm that she found while working abroad.

“Without the support, love of books and belief in education and literacy by community people and helpers in India and Nepal this could not have happened,” said Briggs.

“Everyone gave us discounts, helped with the transactions and generally got into the spirit of books for libraries.”

The money raised in Whitehorse was used to start three new school libraries in India and two in Nepal.

Briggs and her daughter also checked in on the two schools they had established libraries in on previous visits.

They tried to use the bulk of the money for books, but the libraries often need bookshelves, tables, chairs and mats, as well as maps and charts.

All travel expenses were paid out of pocket.

Briggs, who used to work for Yukon Learn and has since retired, also taught teaching workshops on reading, writing and even math.

Briggs also took over some money raised by the Kids Helping Kids Club at Mayo School.

This money was given to the Linh Son Children’s Home, an orphanage near Lumbini, Nepal, that cares for 22 children ages five to 17.

Children and adults alike were very surprised to learn that a village smaller than most of their local schools would be able to be so generous.

Each school was a new experience, said Briggs.

They had different situations and required endless discussions and cups of tea to decide how best to help.

Some schools were publicly funded and large, with up to 600 students.

One of these schools in India had a beautiful music room filled with sitars and drums.

Yet it didn’t have a library.

Another school in Nepal already had a room designated for a library – it even had a sign above the door labeling it as such.

The whole community was thrilled to be able to buy the books to put this room to good use.

Other schools were considerably more modest.

The Lumbini Gyan Prabha Primary School receives most of its funding through donations and teaches close to 200 children.

Some parents are too poor to buy books or even uniforms for their children.

The school building itself is very small and most classes are held outside on the ground with the children sitting on rice sacks.

Teachers there are paid around $13 to $42 a month, while a government teacher in Nepal usually takes home $70 to $140 a month.

The principal volunteers his time.

Hands of Hope buys the schools a few English books, but tries to focus on first language literature, said Briggs.

“How do you teach reading – how do you learn – without story books in your own language, without folk tales, mythology and current history.”

The trip was definitely not a vacation, she added.

“Most days we were up at five – if I slept past six it felt like I was sleeping in.”

Briggs did manage to go on a couple of hikes, but other than that it was all sitting down for tea with school officials and recklessly racing around on bikes and scooters.

Contact Chris Oke at

chriso@yukon-news.com

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