Belinda Swank (Changent/Fundraiser)
During this year the one question that everybody asks me is, “Why are you doing this?”
I read a quote this morning from my husband’s favorite writer Dr Seuss that said: "Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple."
I tried to explain it to everybody, making it sound more complicated than what it was.
But if we listen and go quiet we can hear what our hearts are telling us, and for me I always knew that I wanted to help in some way.
How to do it was never clear and that was the journey. Finding out what it was I needed to do, was much harder than making the decision with my husband to actually do it and to stop thinking about it.
I had lived in Nepal for 8 months and when I had to leave I knew that I would be back. My husband joined me on a trip two years ago and then the seed was born.
For a year we talked about it, not really knowing where to start or what to do. We were thinking about the cost of the tickets to return and then on a domestic flight with Delta, they offered us each a $400.00 coupon to take a later flight.
At that point we knew that we needed to go back. We had $800.00 discount on our tickets to Nepal, but still no plan. For about three months we looked at so many different options, not really knowing or having any experience.
I probably wrote to every government agency and non-profit organization in Nepal to ask for information. None of them replied as I guess they thought what does this crazy woman want to do.
She has no money, no plan and she is talking about coming here to start some project which she is not even sure of. But eventually we decided that we would want to do water tanks, because it was fairly simple to do and there is a huge water shortage in Nepal.
Second phase I started writing again, and still no response. And then I saw the Prilosec OTC competition. It was a competition where you could write about your passion or dream and Prilosec OTC would sponsor a certain amount towards this project.
I entered and we were able to get over 700 votes. The journey to find the school to work with on this project was another story. I think the recipients of these emails from me really did not take me serious or did not really understand what our plans were.
My husband learnt everything he could about building a ferracement tank and we looked at various options. After about three months later, and a few schools that did not work out one of my old friends from Kathmandu contacted me and he suggested that we work with his old school. We were so ecstatic as eventually we had a school we could focus on.
We started collecting school supplies for 170 children, through donations, writing and looking for sales we eventually reached our goal. We were also able to secure sponsorship for 60 back packs and some extra back packs were also donated.
I started working on a plan to do some art and craft classes at the school and I was able to find the help of another two volunteers that joined us. I believe that each child has the need to dream and be creative. We had collected enough paints, coloring pencils, markers, activity books and crayons to start these activities with the children.
We had our first visit with the school on Friday February 18 at 2:30 PM. Nothing could prepare me for what we saw. It was half day at the school, so at the time we arrived all the children had been sent home.
It gave us time to soak everything in, taking our time to walk from class room to class room. The school looked as if it was in a stage of being broken down. Anywhere in America this building would have been demolished, not fit to be used, most definitely not for children.
Metal rods were sticking out of concrete walls, parts of the wall where steps leading down once had gaping holes, there was no support on one part of the school, as the stairs had been broken down.
Barren rooms, school benches turned over and the grayness of bare concrete walls is what these children had to look at day after day. How can you be excited to go to school each day, how can you want to concentrate in class? My first impression was shock, but then I met the most humble and warm teachers.
They have a passion for teaching and talk about the children with such love. This is a school where time did stand still and nothing has changed for over sixty years. The principal has been with the school for forty years; it is his life and had been his life for all this time.
Some of the teachers have been here for most of their teaching careers. It is a forgotten school, tucked away behind buildings in a small side street. The children that come here are all from remote areas of Nepal. Their parents are laborers that came to the city to find work.
These children have little and no chance of breaking the cycle. Life is about the struggle to survive day after day. Education is not a priority for the parents if you need to put food on the table.
Our hope is that we can give each and every child at this school the opportunity to graduate. Some will be the first graduates in their family. For the children to have the opportunity to break the cycle and not to be taken out of school to work as child labor.
To inspire the parents to see how important education is and to see the growth as we go along. These children are not in a safe environment as the building is not structurally safe for them. The engineers have given the building at most two years before it will collapse because of erosion.
The teachers do not have the teaching equipment to even teach the children science. There is no safe drinking water at the school and not even a few story books that they could read. This is their home, this is their reality. This is where they sit in the classrooms each day exposed to the elements as there are no doors, not even windows. Our dream is to change all of this one day at a time.
This school is the beginning of a story that has changed our lives forever.
Belinda Swank on Changents
Waters from heaven