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Here at The Circus we have a programme of fundraising for social and charity projects both in Berlin and around the world. You can find out all about our current project, Etive – Educate, Transform, Integrate, Value in Brazil here. A year or so ago we raised funds as part of the Pahar Trust Nepal’s #30for30 campaign, to build a new early years education classroom for a school in a village in the Himalayan foothills. Thanks to the support of our staff and guests, we were able to raise €4800 and fund the classroom completely.
Paul Scraton is a Pahar Trust Nepal Ambassador, former staff member and long-term friend of The Circus. Paul continues to work for The Circus on a variety of different projects, and we were especially pleased that he was able to travel from Berlin to Nepal to officially open the classroom. Here’s Paul’s report of the day:
Our journey began in Lakeside, Pokhara – the tourist hub of Nepal and the starting point for adventures into the mountains, including the Annapurna Circuit Trek. Hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and bars, as well as countless outdoor stores and outfitters, line the Lakeside Road, while the promenade along the shore is thronged with people enjoying the views across the water and up into the high mountains.
Our destination was beyond the far end of the lake, among the hills and steep-sided valleys of the Parbat district in the mid-western foothills of the Himalaya. We were heading to the small village of Deupur and the Shree Prabhavkari Basic School, where we had been invited to open the new early years classroom for the school’s youngest students – a project led by the Pahar Trust Nepal and its #30for30 campaign and funded by The Circus in Berlin.
The Pahar Trust Nepal is a UK-based charity with a sister NGO based in Pokhara that works to improve standards of education, health and sanitation in hard-to-reach communities in Nepal. This includes building new schools, renovating classrooms or existing buildings and constructing health posts, often in places hours if not days away from the nearest hospital. Many of their projects are in villages that cling to the hill- and mountainsides of the region around Pokhara, and yet a world away from the bustle of Lakeside.
We drove out of the city, following the Mid-Hill Highway on a route familiar to many trekkers coming down off the Annapurna Circuit. As the highway twisted and turned its way along the valley, we were granted the occasional glimpse of the high Himalayan mountains of the Annapurna range, including the iconic and sacred Machhapuchhare (6993m), with its distinctive fishtail summit.
And then we were off the tarmac and onto a dusty, bumpy, red-dirt road. Little more than a track, it wound its way up through orange groves and terraced fields, passing through villages that until recently had only been accessible by foot, whether human or animal. Our jeep was loaded with supplies for the classroom – including brightly coloured plastic bears and deers – strapped to the roof rack, and the going was slow.
We were less than fifty kilometres from Pokhara as the crow flies, and yet the journey would take the best part of three hours, more than half of which was spent bouncing along the dirt track at a little more than walking speed.
It was in moments like this that it was possible to understand what the Pahar Trust Nepal is getting at when they speak of “hard-to-reach” communities. Even if things stay stable, to build, renovate or even supply a school or health post in such a location is a major challenge. Added to this is the potential for earthquakes, the annual impact of the monsoon – whose rains often wash away these roads – and landslides on these steep slopes, which not only damage the roads but other infrastructure as well, from electricity supply and internet connectivity to buildings, including schools.
Parking in the shadow of orange and banana trees, we unloaded the jeep and made our way down a steep, winding path to the school. We were greeted by the pupils and teachers, given flower gardens and a neat little hat known as a Topi. The school itself was built on two sides of a central courtyard, with the mountain falling away beyond the fence. Ushered to our seats, we began the opening ceremony, involving speeches, dances, the formal opening of the new classroom and – as I discovered throughout my trip, whenever more than three or four people get together in one place – a lot of dancing.
Walking around the school, the contrast between the new classroom – brightly painted and fully furnished – and the rest of the classrooms was stark. Cracks in the walls showed the impact of the 2015 earthquake, a devastating event that caused damage to over 8,000 schools and more than 30,000 classrooms across the country. It was a reminder that before anyone can think of teaching and curriculums, of textbooks and brightly coloured rocking horses, the first task has to be buildings that are safe and secure.
After we opened the new classroom we danced and we chatted, before having a typical lunch of Dal bhat – lentils with rice – and tried, while talking to the head and other teachers, to grasp the challenges of providing education in such an environment while marvelling at both the view beyond the school fence and the joy with which the kids had greeted our arrival and attempts at dancing to their favourite songs. Or perhaps they were simply happy for the break from normal classes.
I took away many things from my trip to Nepal and the visit to Deupur and the Shree Prabhavkari Basic School. One was a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by the people living and working there. But the other was the possibility and difference that it is possible to make, when organisations like the Pahar Trust Nepal and the local community work together – as is the case for all their projects.
The money raised by the staff and guests of The Circus, plus the commitment of the village and local municipality, mean that the youngest pupils in Deupur have a safe, fun and creative place to start their educational journey. It didn’t feel like anyone really needed a reason to dance beneath the late autumn sun, but at that moment, in that place, it felt like a very, very good one.
You can find out more about the Pahar Trust Nepal and support their future work on their website.