The alarm rang out at 6.30am on Sunday 13 August 2017, but we were already awake with excitement – we were about to deliver the Sacks for our first international Sacks for the Future project in Nepal. With suitcases carefully packed over the previous few days, we were ready! Five of the Trustees (we missed you Jen!) had spent Friday and Saturday together at HQ completing the packing of the Sacks (including the last minute purchases of tennis & bouncy balls that did not arrive in the post on time!); quality control checking the ones others had so kindly helped to pack; and then the key task of packing the Sacks into suitcases (think: Tetris!).
Seun and Carina had a complex itinerary involving over 19 hours of flying, 4 flights, 3 countries and at least 35 hours until they arrived at their host house in Kathmandu, Nepal.
At Heathrow airport disappointment and devastation struck immediately! The (nameless) airline’s baggage policy allowed us to take three checked bags, but the third bag had a maximum weight limit, and despite explaining to them our non-profit and charitable nature of our trip they would not budge and continued to request over £600 in excess baggage fees. Without that kind of money to spare, we made the heart-breaking decision to remove a handful of the Sacks.
After a last minute pep talk (Kerry), diplomacy lesson (Shannon), snapchat selfies (Donna and Donna alone) and tears (ok, so probably just Carina), we eventually checked in, boarded and off we went.
After making it through Kathmandu’s notoriously long immigration and visa process – we were actually the last ones through (it was now nearly midnight local time on the Monday night) – we breathed a sigh of relief that we had made it! Alas! It was short-lived! Our checked luggage had not made it – despair and disbelief swept over us, and the airline could not even tell us where they currently were. Despite filing a complaint, all we could do was ring the next evening to get a status update. It’s often said that trials are sent to make us, but feeling exhausted and luggage-less, we were certainly being tested.
Now, if you’d seen the face of our host, Shambu, as we walked through customs (bless him, he’d been waiting for hours), with a smile as wide as his open arms to greet us, you’d understand why all our worries and concerns melted away!
Our host family were the Tripathi’s – If you knew of our story as to why we were out in Nepal, you’d recognise that our inspiration was a certainly Ram Tripathi and it was his family who had so kindly opened their house and lives to us. In a very traditional Nepalese way, their house was one of a multi-generational and multi-members of family. Grandma, sons, brothers, daughter in law, grandchildren and cousins all lived together – and what a special family! They even grow their own vegetables in the garden to eat. Throughout the next 5 days, we were treated so kindly and were immersed in their family in such a way that one would never imagine and it certainly gave us an amazing and unique experience. One of Ram’s nephew’s, Bipin, was a shining light for us and we cannot say how grateful we are to him for making our visit unforgettable. Bipin is a 20-something guy who spoke perfect English and wore his heart on his sleeve. He is a laid back, spiritual soul and took it upon himself to look after and guide us.
We spent Tuesday getting over our travel/jet-lag, still luggage-less. At least we found out that our luggage had made it to Singapore and the airline was sending them on to Kathmandu the next day. Fortunately we were clever enough to pack spare clothes in our carry-on, so we didn’t go without. The house had no hot running water – cold water was pumped throughout the house from a tank in the cellar and sewage water was collected too. Water for cooking and drinking was boiled the evening before. The house had electricity from a gas generator and no television. It was a clean and sturdy house. However cracks were showing in some of the walls – clear reminders from the devastating earthquake that took the lives of so many people in Kathmandu in 2015.
By Wednesday evening we had collected our luggage from the airport and had finalised plans for the next day to head to the schools that were to receive the Sacks. Significant rainfalls and flash flooding had caused approximately 300 deaths and tens of thousands of displaced people, just over the past week in South Nepal. The District of Dhading, where we were heading, had more than normal rainfall resulting in mudslides making some roads unpassable. We were still at risk of not making it to the schools…
Thursday morning, we were up early and ate our now favourite Nepalese dish of dal bhat (rice and lentils) and were sent off with some fruits. We had hired a 4×4 jeep (and driver) to drive the 130km – and we are so thankful we did! The journey took us to through the town of Malekhu where we stopped to pick up Shambu. The family had a small restaurant in the town so we met more of the Tripathi’s and were fed yet again! We still had about an hour left to drive, but this was now on mud roads and we were constantly increasing in elevation. We were impeded by goats, cows and passing trucks going the other way. We had to get out of the jeep several times to lighten the load so that the jeep could get over the mud craters that the rains and mudslides had created. We also passed a truck that was very firmly stuck in the mud and was going nowhere, the family flagged us down so that we could take their one-day-old live chicks further along the road to their destination as the trays of chicks were baking in the afternoon sun and they needed shelter. We duly obliged by putting the chicks on the roof and continued for another few miles with their “cheap-cheap” being more noticeable with each bump we encountered.
We appeared to stop suddenly and as we disembarked it was clear that we had gone as far as we could by jeep. We all loaded up with multiple sacks on our backs and began our trek to the first school – Shree Siddhakali Indra School. Little did we know this was going to be a 3k hike that started with a 600m bridge crossing high across a swollen river. Aptly named ‘The Bridge for Education’, this bridge was specifically built to link communities so that their children could attend school. We had to tiptoe across rice paddy fields, walk through leg-slashing water reeds and climb upwards until we saw a little building with a red roof. The school had ended after their morning session, but it wasn’t long before word spread that we had arrived and the children slowly and nervously appeared.
None of the children spoke English and it was clear that they were intrigued about us; however with a pressing of our hands and a Namaste, they instantly relaxed. Our friends translated for us and the children came to play a simple game of catch. We started laughing and joking by throwing the ball high and/or fast with the older and more competent ones and showing the younger ones how to hold their hands to catch a ball. Most of the children were wearing somewhat of a school uniform – light blue shirt and dark blue shorts or skirts – as provided to them when they registered at the school. In many cases this was likely to be the only clothing that was their own.
The school consisted of three small rooms, one had a bookshelf to hold a few books and some small toys. The other rooms had posters and pictures on the walls (made by the children) showing the English alphabet and numbers. The school also had a water pump which served the local villagers too.
The contents of the Sacks were explained to the children and they were lined up so that we could make sure they all received one. For some of the smaller children, the Sacks were almost as big as them! A few didn’t quite understand that this was for them and it was now theirs to keep. With a few hi-fives and waves we said goodbye to start the trek back to get to the next school.
The second school – Shree Sitamai Basic School – was a few miles further up the road by jeep and then another trek. We walked a long winding difficult mud trek that kept an ever increasing gradient; it took a long time to even see the school building with its blue roof and then even longer to reach it. The school children appeared out of nowhere, mostly it seemed they were climbing up the vertical face of the paddy fields and most were barefoot too. These children seemed a little older and less shy. We formed a couple of circles to play ball games – we were high on a ledge so had to be careful, but they were not afraid and eagerly jumped over the edge to reclaim the balls that went over. We tried to teach them the hokey-cokey (“you put your left leg in, your left leg out, in, out, in out and shake it all about”) but perhaps our musical/dancing skills were not strong enough to convince full participation!
This school was very similar to the other; it was a simple building split in to a couple of rooms. There were some benches too. This school also had a water pump and a toilet. It was not an easy place to even walk to, yet we could see the commitment made to the school by all the building materials and infrastructure that had made its way all the way up there!
As we handed out the Sacks, the older boys especially were very keen to open them and investigate – and very quickly found the sweets and started to eat them with massive grins on their faces. As we left we saw a few of the girls swapping their hats because of the colours, it was very sweet. Luckily, we had enough Sacks to give each child in both schools a Sack, despite being forced to leave a few behind in the UK. We wish we could have spent more time with the school children as it felt that we had just made a connection and then it was time to leave. We would have loved to have played more and perhaps sang through the alphabet or number games or sat with them and did some colouring in together.
Almost to the second that we reached the jeep, dusk had fallen and it started raining and wow, it rained torrentially all the way home for the next 3.5 hours. If it had even rained a little during the day we could have never visited even one, let alone both schools as we wouldn’t have made it there because of the roads. We were being watched over that day for certain.
We can definitely say it was all worth it – we’d love there to be a ‘next time’ in Nepal for sure!
Finally, we know that we couldn’t have done this alone – thank you to each and every person who has supported us. Whether it was by talking through ideas with us, guidance & recommendations, searching for the best value items, to purchasing items for the project or handing us some of your hard earned cash, or simply sharing our posts and spreading the word – it all counted and we are very thankful.
The Sacks for the Future Trustees
Hope. Inspiration. Compassion.