When Heather Garrett was offered the chance to go on a once in a lifetime three-week excursion to support a school in remote rural Nepal, she jumped at the chance. In her role as Pukekohe Intermediate’s Deputy Principal-Pastoral and Behaviour, she has along with the students at the intermediate been instrumental in helping to fundraise to support Nepal in its undeveloped and remote areas.
It all started in 2017 when Lisa Mckenzie, CEO of Hope and Joy Ministries approached Heather about fundraising efforts, as part of the trust’s annual mission trips that work closely with Nepali communities and people to complete much needed projects.
Hope and Joy Ministries is a registered charity lead by the passionate Lisa Mckenzie, a home schooling mum of four children that has had a desire since she was eight years old to help those less fortunate by completing poverty relief projects.
A week prior to Heather’s trip to Surkhet, The Hope and Joy Ministry had supplied another remote and rural community in Nepal, Bandarjhullah with the installation of three water pumps, as the community’s only water supply came from a dirty and small watering hole full of contaminants.
Already a seasoned traveller, Heather had not yet visited Nepal and says her experience was simply amazing.
“Lisa had bought in some felt toys the Ministry was planning to sell but she wanted to get the children (at Pukekohe Intermediate) involved. Our kids got behind the project 100% and sold a lot of things, so when I found out they were looking for people to go along on the trip, I was excited.”
The trip was organised by the Hope and Joy Ministry and travelled to Surkhet, a remote area with a church school that needed extra classrooms built.
Heather says the journey of getting to Surkhet was incredible, and a memory she will never forget.
“The flight was the most incredible thing. We flew along the spectacular Himalayas, although in the wrong direction to see Mount Everest. We flew from Kathmandu, a twenty-five-minute flight towards the Indian border, and landed in Nepalgunj, fifteen minutes from the border. It was crazy!”
From there, Heather and the mission travelled by car to Surkhet, a journey that was long, hot and an uncomfortable four and a half hours where they were greeted with roadworks, road washouts (from recent flooding) and women carrying heavy loads of hay on their heads for kilometres.
Heather says the sight was amazing, and just getting there was an adventure, including the initial culture shock and avoiding the many different hazards on the roads!
“On the first day, I was too scared to even walk down the road, afraid of being run over, but it’s something you quickly get used to. Over there, people give way to you which is clever how that works. We got used to their rhythm of life.” Says Heather
The group ate their meals with the locals, eating chicken, buffalo, venison and goat, with portions of their main staple, rice. The costs towards food during their stay was paid for by the Ministry. Generally, with many poor Nepalese families, meals are eaten only twice a day, at 10am and 8pm at night, and only then, when there is food available.
Heather says everything was killed and prepared on site, although she is grateful she never saw any animal being killed in her presence.
“If you saw a goat tied up outside, you knew you’d be having goat that night for dinner.”
During the group’s ten day stay, they helped clean and paint some of the newly built classrooms and with the $1000 raised by Pukekohe Intermediate, provided the school with an indoor trampoline, see saw, slide, and other toys, setting up a playroom for use during Nepal’s monsoon seasons.
Heather says seeing the look of pure joy and excitement on the children’s faces was an amazing feeling, as the children had never had any toys to play with, so they made sure to provide the school with sturdy equipment that would last.
“It was a complete roller coaster of emotions. In Surkhet, we were treated like family, because we ate with them and got to know them. Nepalese people are so incredibly friendly and happy, and we got to share some special moments with the children, like face painting, singing and teaching them games like hopscotch.
With the extra five classrooms built in the school, it provides more room for the area’s poorest families and their children to be educated. The school provides free education and meals if food is available, with dedicated teachers that are volunteers.
Heather says some teachers of the school are still in training, while some live on the grounds of the school. Each day they attend college at 6am for a few hours, before teaching their classes, as it’s the only time they have time to study. Since there is no pay for the teachers, they rely on the church donations for food to feed themselves and the children, eating only when there was money available.
Although there are other schools in the district that families can send their children to, often those schools require school fees and uniforms, so, the school education provided at Surkhet, at no cost, gives children greater opportunities to be free from poverty and to help their families live a healthier life with less struggle.
As with any third world country, Heather says the slums of Surkhet built out the back of school were shocking, but despite the poverty she noticed how clean looking and well- dressed the children were in the slums and in the rest of the community.
“Even though those in the slums have next to nothing, there was still a sense of pride. Their doorsteps were spotless and swept every morning, with some even decorating them with pot plants and the colour was just fantastic. Yellows, red’s. In Nepal, it’s all about colour.”
Heather noticed that children never fought or argued, and people could get by as long as there wasn’t a flood, droughts, or wild animals attacking their livestock and crops.
Surkhet and other areas manage with their subsistence living but without the help from charities like Hope and Joy Ministry Trust, most poverty -stricken areas do not eat, with famine common in many places.
With the church school a part of the Trust’s ongoing projects, Heather and Pukekohe Intermediate are planning on starting another fundraising venture to help raise funds for heating, cooling and reading books, and would like to send a different teacher each year.
“We have the resources, but getting things like books to them isn’t easy, as they have no post office, and books can be heavy. We will figure out a way for that to be our next project.” Says Heather.
For the Hope and Joy Ministry, their aim is to continue making a difference through the communities needs and will be running their annual Readathon during the school holidays in terms two and three. The readathon gives New Zealand children the chance to participate and make a difference in the lives of the Nepali people that the Ministry connects with.
Children are sponsored per book they read during a two- week long period and they donate the funds raised to Hope and Joy Ministries, where it will be directed to the areas in need.
Hope and Joy Ministry travels to Nepal each year and welcome volunteers on their missions. Donations are also welcome as they help the Ministry complete necessary and life-changing projects.
Interested participants can visit the Ministry website www.hopeandjoyministries.org for details. (currently under construction)
Lisa Mackenzie- CEO of Hope and Joy Ministry Trust- email@example.com