14 MARCH 2015 by Roger Owen & Hazel Grace
As we approached the tiny school at Pangboche, so generously supported by
St. James’s Place Foundation and only six miles from Everest, the first thing that became apparent was the major earth works undertaken by the community, and the massive retaining wall that supported the 50x50 metre playground cut into the side of the mountain. Not a single mechanical device was used, since there are no roads for 50 miles. No diggers, no hammer drills, nothing. Every clump of earth was moved by hand, every wall block chipped square by hand from rough rock. It’s an impressive feat of engineering.
The children greeted us, and rallied around for the ceremonial “cutting of the tape” to this new space for dance, sport, and play. We all then did a victory lap singing and cheering, delighted that this new space would add so much to school life. Half the village had turned out to watch the display of dancing, singing, and entertainment that was laid on for us by the children. Hazel’s painstakingly translated speech was greeted with cheers and applause.
All of the ceremonial costumes that the Foundation have provided, that keep Sherpa culture alive and thriving despite the invasion of 25,000 Trekkers each year heading for Base Camp, were worn for the dances, and celebrated. A PA system that wouldn’t have been out of place at a Metallica gig pumped out the music non-stop. We will be back in November – when the computers are up and running, and all the remaining
supplies provided by the Foundation will be in place. We might even wield a paint brush or two to make a nicer learning environment for the infants, the computer room, and the library.
The 3,000 children’s books provided by the St. James’s Place community from far and wide across the UK will fill the shelves in the new library. So – lots still to do. Thank you to the Foundation Committee who approved the proposal, and all who have supplied materials, kit, ideas, energy and even purchased a yak, to carry the books to the school. You have made a massive difference to the children of Pangboche who live in the shadow of Everest.
Roger Owen & Hazel Grace
Supporting Nepal's Children
30 April 2015 by Hazel Grace
“…. We didn’t make it to Saurapani today as it was deemed too dangerous. We may try tomorrow morning but the food and water has now been delivered to the distribution centre… we are currently sat in the middle of a devastated village called Balua. We have also been through lots of flattened villages and most heart-breaking has been a totally ruined school. I think we have just found our next project…..”
29 April 2015 by Hazel Grace
“…. Managed to get a pick-up and have noodles, biscuits, water, medical supplies, torches and a generator with us. We will also be scouting around villages reporting back to a guy in Pokhara where he is co-ordinating things….”
28 April 2015 by Hazel Grace
“I was half way through my latest blog about my Eastern adventures and then the earthquake hit. We were in the middle of a tiny village in the hills of Eastern Nepal, drinking chyaang (well, it was after 12.00!) when we literally felt the earth move. It all seemed so exciting watching our jeep swaying and moving and standing in the middle of the street with the locals. Simon said he thought it was a big one, but we were out of mobile range and had no idea how big……
We continued our adventure, laughing as our jeep got stuck in the mud and digging out rocks to throw into the holes to get us up the hill (and even laughing as I didn’t even break a nail in the process!!).
Then we arrived at our destination for the night and they had a radio saying that the quake had hit KTM and it was a big one. Still we didn’t know just how big and 24 hours later we were back in Simon’s village, with access to wifi and the devastating images and messages coming from our friends around the country.
To be honest I spent most of yesterday afternoon in tears…..of relief on receiving texts from friends saying they were safe, of just sheer gratefulness for the many messages I received asking if I was OK and then just sadness as I saw picture after picture emerge of the country that you all know I have grown to love and adore, in ruins.
Today Simon and I have decided to do something and are currently trying to arrange a couple of trucks full of fresh drinking water and supplies to take to KTM to distribute to the many children that are sleeping out under tents and rapidly running out of fresh drinking water, which will of course lead to further health problems. We have contacted the International Red Cross but they are unfortunately dealing with the recovery of bodies and not with the distribution of aid, so we are looking to partner up with UNICEF who are working tirelessly to get fresh water and sanitisation to the kids who have been made homeless.
For the short term, £10 will buy 15 cases of mineral water…….180 bottles…….180 children that will have 1 litre of fresh water.
Simon and I will take as many cases as we can in a truck to KTM and get them distributed to as many children as we can.”
9 March 2015 by Roger Owen
Whatever management guru smart-arse said “when life serves you lemons, make lemonade” clearly never had their sights set on a magical trip to Nepal and a visit to a school six miles from Everest, only to be delayed and then kept on hold for five days.
Rachel Mendelsohn of our Leeds office, Jenna Stimpson of Cirencester and “Gurkha Dave” Harman (from our 2011 Everest Recce team) were due to fly out on Wednesday night last week, when a Turkish A330 Boeing crash landed and nose dived at Kathmandu, blocking the main runway.
This has stopped all flights going in and out of this very primitive airport. A lack of cranes in Nepal, or any other lifting gear meant 230+ flights have backlogged. Thousands are stranded with no news. The airport finally opened on Saturday evening, with the authorities having come up with a cunning plan.
They shoved an articulated flatbed lorry under the stricken aircraft’s collapsed front wheel. Lots of pushing and shoving by airport crew and the aircraft was finally off the runway. Chaos still reigns, with still no confirmed seats on flights.
So our friends have finally bailed, but will come out in November instead to achieve their mission.
You can’t keep good men and women down!
8 March 2015 by Roger Owen
Eleven hours in a jeep, negotiating bumpy roads and tracks with huge drops on every corner, and we suddenly find ourselves in the Himalayan foothills. Unpacking 10 people from a seven seater jeep to start trekking was something of a relief. We set off on foot, having met Kame, our trusted porter of four expeditions in Salleri, and walked hour after hour through breathtaking scenery, thankful for the hastily purchased umbrellas to protect us from the continual downpour.
We were headed for Rocham, and a tiny school clinging to a mountain hillside not 20 miles from Everest. Two hundred and thirty nine children, many of whom had never left the area or visited even the local town two days walk away, with virtually no resources to speak of. Thirty children crammed into a classroom no bigger than a single garage, hoping to study.
A community that desperately needed an English teacher, and willing and ready to provide labour if we could provide materials to build a computer room and library, that would massively accelerate everyone’s learning.
We were probably only a handful of westerners who had passed this way, and as we approached Rocham school, we remembered Hazel was the first ever Westerner to visit in 2014. As we arrived at the school the welcome was extraordinary – the children, aged from 5-16 years, lined our path, thrusting flowers into our hands and submerging us in garlands and prayer scarves. We were invited onto a stage made of tables, bamboo and plastic sheeting, and treated to speeches, dancing, and celebration. “Humbling” wouldn’t even get close.
Bhim, Everest 2012’s base camp cook who had invited us to his village, sat with us and explained proceedings. The afternoon ended in everyone dancing, before we were ushered into local homes, fed copious quantities of Dhal Bhat and Chyaang (the locally brewed alcohol, pronounced “Chang”), before we retired for a spot of indoor camping as our tents has been erected in the Nursery classroom!
The following day continued the celebration, the explanations of what the school needed, and demonstrated the children’s prowess at singing, dancing, and drama. As did the Chyaang. Hazel did us proud with a speech in Nepali – painstakingly rehearsed for hours. The dancing and Chyaang continued well into the evening, though oscillated between traditional Nepali songs and “I’m a Barbie Girl” and Rhianna!
The following day we left after further dancing, Chyaang and speeches. It was a tearful, heartwrenching moment leaving, but we were soon on our way. We left a school that had made us so welcome, in a genuine supportive community that puts the West to shame. The following evening we confirmed our plans to Bhim – to deliver everything on the wish list. So we will be back in November, with a whole procession of equipment for the school, and a planned visit by a larger team of volunteers in the spring armed with paint brushes, shovels, hammers and nails, for some hard “grunt” work at the school. And all washed down with a little Chyaang, of course...
27 February 2015 by Roger Owen
It’s 7.15am and we are sat on the roof terrace overlooking Kathmandu as the hustle and bustle starts up for another day. Yesterday it was thunderstorms and lightning, today it’s a cool breeze, clean, fresh air and the sun lifting itself up above the rooftops. It promises a better day that won’t be spent darting in and out of shop doorways, dodging puddles and the endless deluge.
It’s been a full week:
• visiting schools in Kathmandu with Dorje Gelygen, 10 x Everest summiteer, to gauge why Sherpas will invest all their income and go into debt to help their children get a better education than they can receive in a remote mountain school;
• catching up with Raju Dhamala and Rajan Pandit over the progress of the Pangboche school we are currently helping to reequip six miles from Everest;
• sorting out travel and transport for the imminent trip to the mountains with our good friends Namgel Sherpa, and Bhim Rasaily who will accompany us to Pangboche and Rocham school, and potentially our next project;
• meeting with Kamel Bhandari and Rahul Shrestha, about a tiny school two days march from Lukla, (the most dangerous airport in the world,) and perhaps even our third project. Bit of a challenge this one.. over 200 children, with 8 tables, 20 chairs, and 9 blackboards...
...and fighting jet lag, upset tummies, endless traffic, and rock music blasting our hotel until well past midnight...
Welcome to Kathmandu...
25 May 2015 by Roger Owen
Its three years to the day since I summited Everest, and now we have a charity focussed on Nepal, and are dealing with the aftermath of an earthquake that has all but destroyed large areas of Nepal. So far 8,630 have lost their lives, 750,000 homes destroyed or damaged, 25,000 schools destroyed, and 870,000 children with nowhere to learn, and its their generation that need the skills and knowledge to rebuild Nepal in the future.
So far we have contributed significantly to £206,000 raised; money now being carefully spent by the Nepal Youth Foundation, who helped us rebuild Pangboche school. St. James’s Place have stepped in and come to Nepal’s aid too with sizeable donations. People have offered swimming pool christening parties, car washes, suppers with friends and all kinds of fundraising to help keep the donation number climbing upwards. Some have simply dug deep into their own pocket, and said “I’ll buy a tent”. Incredible generosity, when there are so many other worthy causes in the world.
Life seems “full” at the moment, with work, keeping the fundraising momentum going, and remembering those “on the front line” in Nepal. Whilst others move onto other life pressures, Nepal is consuming for many of us. Everyday a text, an email or a message from one of our Sherpa friends describing the latest scenes as they move about the mountains checking up on families, as yet unaccounted for. Everyday news of families and children that we know personally, sleeping in tents because their houses are destroyed. And the Monsoon, and three months of torrential rain, is a fortnight away. Nepal’s recovery, and our charity is going to be in this for the long haul….
17 June 2015 by Roger Owen
"Pitching".... what endless generations of sales people do - whether its vacuam cleaners, software programmes, a new BBC series, or reigniting the Space Shuttle programme - all need persuasion, passion, enthusiasm, and a reason. No one succeeded in "Dragons Den" by an unemotive and indifferent pitch that failed to ignite the engines of opportunity or suggest the possibility of a fast buck.
So there I was... the end of a busy Location meeting of business professionals where our community had experienced an afternoon of experts helping them develop their business. Everyone awash with ideas, dreams, and possibilities. Everyone knackered and all that stood between them and the Pimms on a hot afternoon in London was me. And there I was - anything but an expert, with a charity that has only been established for two years, trying to help rebuild Nepal.
The pitch was anything but professional and eloquent;
The words tumbled out in surges of enthusiasm mixed with panic;
The slides came and went and the lights were so bright I couldn't see the audience;
It was hot - so hot you could have boiled water on the stage...
But we nailed it. Commitment from one of our 21 St James's Place locations - Kingsway. Commitment to fund a classroom for $2600 in a place they will never know and probably never visit. A village flattened in the earthquake that will now at least have a classroom for its young students.
A result. The first of many.
36,106 classrooms to go - before Nepal gets back to normality.
No time to waste. Better crack on....
Classrooms confirmed - 29th July 2015 by Roger Owen & Hazel Grace
Classrooms confirmed - 29th July 2015
It's the first and probably only time we will visit a Triple Partner at St. James's Place with colouring books, felt pens, stickers and popcorn. Such was the preparation required when visiting Gina Parker at our City office, who has been such a pivotal and inspirational force in the development of Supporting Nepal's Children.
She had been on an educational day out in London with Lillie (age 4) and Jude (age 7). With both suitably armed with felt pens (the washable variety) and colouring books, and munching popcorn, we whisked our way through the agenda to agree how we might convert generous donations into classrooms. With Gina, she makes it so easy. Within the hour, we had nailed an agreement that would put at least 10 classrooms on the map in Nepal, all built and furnished so that Nepal's young students can get on with the important job of learning, and thereby help rebuild their country after the devastation in April this year.
And the colouring by our two young students was just as impressive....
Newbury Location meeting SNC Carwash - 30th June 2015
So there we were.... 10 enthusiastic volunteers armed with sponges and chamois on a boiling day at the Norton Park Hotel near the M3, about to clean 57 cars entrusted to us by Partners who clearly had no idea whether they would see their vehicles again. But we did it - 32 degrees of sunshine and 7 hours later we had finished cleaning all of them. The Partners and Management of the Newbury Location had raised 1600 which when doubled buys two classrooms for earthquake-stricken Nepal. Some even paid us NOT to clean their cars - such was their concern for their polish and paint. But we did a fine job and two more seismically safe classrooms are secured for Nepal. Only another 35,990 classrooms to go. Thats a lot of cars....
The Newbury Location Car wash Team