But no equipment, books, pencils or lighting

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Dear readers:  I have been absent from this project for five weeks. When I left Nepal I was hoping that I had injected enough enthusiasm into the local community and those who had sway in Kathmandu to push this much needed school along without me.  It seems that once the butterfly leaves, all ideas fall to the ground.  

I'm sorry, but I'm pulling out of the project as I can't build Rome on my own.  I have had no communication from anyone in Nepal involved in this project, besides some Facebook entries.  I haven't even had the bank statement I asked for.  So I'm  refunding the money my friends and colleagues donated as soon as Paypal allows me to.  The rupees collected by the committee will, I hope, go to buy a few pencils for the children.

Good luck to everyone at the village.  I hope you can work together as a community to get what you want.   Remember that nothing will happen unless you continue to build on your passion.  


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Village People

I've been meeting with Uttam and the rest of the committee weekly since I went to the village.  What began as a small group of four, has now extended to a passionate committee of 16.  Every week some more people come, with their hopes and dreams for a village school laid out in front on them in triplicate on the dusty table in Uttam's "board room".   Last week a woman arrived - power to the sisters - who has a felt shop downstairs and who donated 500 rp from the sale of her wares.  One man arrives every week with his arm cradled in plaster, but still tries to take notes.  We have a university student;  a social worker, a village elder - each in their own way contributes to the path we hope this gathering is going to take.  Yesterday a newcomer said it would lend veracity to the cause if we put up a profile of all the committee members. I've given Uttam this task.  All their hearts are in the right place, but they really don't have the motivation that Westerners do.  I don't know how hard a slog this is going to be.   They keep asking how they will build the school - who will tote the bricks and hammer the nails.  I tried to explain about small steps, and that I will keep on asking Higher Forces for BIg Help when the time comes.

I also told them, again, that if they stop being proactive, this project closes, and as I have the donations in my PayPal account, the money will be sent back to the donatees.  That I promise.

Sue and the Village Committee

Donated from sale of her wares

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Donations are coming in!  Your hearts are in the right place. You have put in the foundations!  May blessings and good fortune and excellent Karma follow you all the days of your life.

FOLLOW THESE EXAMPLES, EVERYONE!   IT'S EASY!  JUST PAY THROUGH PAYPAL.  The payment address is   You will be AMAZED and surprised to see how little it costs to build a school here, and change these children's lives.





The following night I was sitting in my favourite Kathmandu restaurant, Or2K, where a lot of NGOs and AIDS workers hang out.  I was introduced by a friend, to a friend of hers, Tim Schmidt, who just happens to be the NGO for the John Wood's organisation, Room to Read.

John started an organisation ten years ago to build libraries and schools for children in need.  There's a lot on the above link: but simply he's helped millions of children, through networking and community involvement.  

I told Tim about "my" school.   When I showed them the photos of the "school", he said - "At least they have a building".  Many don't.  Many are schooled under trees.  I told him the stats:

There are 115 children who need educational assistance, classes ranging from pre-school to year 5.
Girls: 44,   Boys 61

Divided into the following social groups
1. Dalit Girls - 11     Dalit Boys - 14

2. Janajati Girls - 23   Janajati Boys - 36

3. Others - Girls 20    Boys - 11

Tim suggested I contact Room to Read. He told me that all schools and libraries are built on a priorities basis.   Some are granted schools and libraries because of their dedication and desperation.   He told me of some porters who'd walked over the mountains for three days with their yaks, when they heard he was in town, to ask for a school.  He was helicoptering to see them the following day.  He said a school doesn't cost too much money:  you'd be surprised how far funds will go here. He told me that when they build a school, all levels of the village and surrounding villages are involved - that everyone benefits from the exercise.  I had a wild light in my eyes.  I had found another passion

I contacted Room to Read and told them my story.  They sent me a generic refusal 48 hours later. 

I contacted them again, asking them not to send me a generic reply.  I asked them to send my emails to Tim.

I haven't heard from them.

I want this village to have their school.  I won't leave stones unturned.

So I asked Uttam to get his colleagues together.   We met up five dark flights around an oval table with Kathmandu's racket and dust in the street below.   I told Uttam that if he wants his school, he and his colleagues, friends, neighbours, aunties, uncles, cousins, will have to do more than just ask for a school.

I asked them all to put their hands in their pockets and put their own money where their mouths are.  They pleaded poverty.  They pleaded that the West had more money than they do.  I said This is Your School.  You have to Do Something for It.  I will help you, but in direct proportion to how much you help yourself.   One said that he was a student and didn't have money.  The other said he was a fruit seller and didn't have money. A third said that he was the village elder and didn't have any money.  A fourth said he was out of work and didn't have any money.   A fifth said he just came to the meeting and didn't have any money.  

Then, I said, you won't get your school. They looked dejected.   I said every single rupee counts.

Put your hands in your pockets, gentlemen, I told them.   Put money on the table.  First the money dribbled out in five rupee notes. I laughed.  I said - you want to build a school.   I explained the concept of Pay it Forward.  We played a game.  I said that each person around the table must improve on the amount of money the previous person had put on the pile. 

We collected a couple of thousand rupees.  I put in a few hundred - a few dollars.   I told them to open a bank account that day;  with two signatories, and that I expected to see the statement every month, and zero withdrawals.

They said - How much money will we need for a school? I said, never enough.  Just keep giving and collecting.   If I tell you, you will stop helping yourself.

They said What happens to the money if we don't get our school?  Do we get it back?

I looked at them, dumbfounded.  What do you think? I asked.

They looked dumbfounded.  

I said - well, then, you'll have money for chalk and books and papers and pencils and maybe if you ask enough of your friends and aunties and cousins for a few rupees here and there, you might have money for a roof.  

I said, I will ask my Australian friends and aunties and uncles and colleagues to help you too. But that money won't go into your account. That stays with me, until with my money and your money, and possibly the help of an organisation like Room to Read, you'll get your school.

And, I told them, I will keep on contacting Room to Read until I get a positive response.


I'm a photojournalist, taking 2011 off to see what the road will deliver to me.  I'm spending time in Kathmandu, Morocco, Turkey, Bali and the Pacific.  But this story is not about me - that's on another blog. This is the story of how I chanced to walk into the office of a Tour Company to see if someone could take me for some short walks to photograph women in their traditional jewellery, which is my speciality.  There I met Mr Uttam, who over a cup of sweet cardomom chai,  suggested I join him and a group of his colleagues for a visit to a remote village the following morning.

Uttam, waiting for the bus
We'd leave very early.  We'd go by public bus.  The journey shouldn't take more than a few hours.  After waiting for several hours on a street corner where vendors sold plastic flowers and bedspreads, and sadhus returning from the Pashupatinath Temple waited for their transport, the group assembled and squeezed into the rusting metal contraption that passed for a bus.  It was packed to the rafters with villagers returning to their home, and Uttam's colleagues, and myself, sitting on the gearbox.  It was a pretty terrifying ride.  The bus had great difficulty turning the narrow, eroding corners.  Once we had to cut a section of the "road" to be able to pass. Another time the bus wedged against the mountainside and we had to squeeze our way out between a rocky, crumbling wall and a precipitous drop to Nepalese Nirvana.

Not the easiest of roads
At one point the bus could go no further.  We had to walk into the village, led by a couple of small boys, along sandy tracks more suited to goats.  Across the valley, small wood fires burned, and strong, brave, bowed women carried heavy loads of potatoes and cauliflowers on their heads.  In the background, snowy tips of the Himalayas showed occasionally behind the clouds.  As we walked closer to the village, a ridiculous din of amplified Nepalese music shattered the peace of the valleys.  I looked up to the sandy, dry plateau into which we were walking, and there, gathered in an excited group, were the  villagers of Dhakal Khola, Jivanpur VDC, Ward No 8, and my reception committee.  Children slithered down the slopes or hid under their mother's saris,  older women looked shyly from behind tree trunks, older men looked astounded at this Western Woman who'd walked across valleys to come and visit them.  There were very few adolescent boys around. Everyone was dressed in their finest clothes, to welcome this visitor from afar.

Visitor from afar, given VIP treatment
We were Namaste'd and given garlands an bunches of wild flowers and ferns collected from the gardens.  I was ushered to a green plastic chair with a fabric cushion.  Uttam and his colleagues were seated around me.  The village elders gathered around in a circle for official photographs taken on mobile phones.  Desks were dragged down from the mud and stone and corrugated dwelling on top of a hill for the villagers to sit on, in a circle around us.

We were given goats milk yoghurt, a tin plate of dahl baht, rice and betel cooked in the community kitchen, out in the open, behind a tarpaulin.  We ate first, and then the villagers followed, after watching me with astonishment. A screeching microphone was set up, and the village elder made a speech. Older women made speeches.  Young women made speeches.   When the power cut out,  some young men, representatives perhaps of those who'd left for the big city of Kathmandu to earn their fortunes to send back home to their village, shouted their speeches.

Chandesowri Primary School, 
Dhakal Khola
Jivanpur VDC Ward No 8. 
Of course, I had no idea what what going on, but every few minutes I heard the word "Australian".  Then Uttam explained.  The reason he and his colleages came to this village was to try to drum up some tourism for it, so that they could build a new school.  When the villagers heard that he was bringing an Australian journalist, they were ecstatic. Here was someone who could help them bring tourists into their village!  Who would put their village on the map!  Who could, as a result, ensure that so much money came in, they could build a new school! That their children would be educated!  That there would be a future for them! That once their children reached at age of 14, they wouldn't have to be sent to the big city to work! The elders and the women would have their families intact, and the structure of their community would remain intact.

I looked up the hill to the existing dwelling, where a group of the more shy women were sheltering under a scrawny tree. I walked up to it, up the loose shale, kicking up dust.  I bend my head to go inside, and it took a few minutes before my eyes adjusted to the dark.  This didn't look like a classroom. This looked like an abandoned hut.  An old calendar hung on the wall.  There were a few loose planks on the ground, on which a gaggle of excited children had plonked themselves to show me how they sit during their classes.  The "school" - Sri Chandesowri Primary School consisted of two rough, raw walled rooms,  no more than 3m x 3m, which serviced 115 children from pre-school to year five.  A barred "window" let in little light.  I opened a creaking shutter that hung precariously on rusted hinges, and shafts of dusty light lit the excitement on the children's faces.

Susan Storm with group of children from Sri Chandesowri Primary School
They clung to me.  They sang for me.  They practiced their few words of English.  There were no books, no chalk, no learning tools, no educational toys, no paper, no crayons, pencils, paints, calculators ... nothing. This was a school with ... NOTHING.   Except a very cramped facility in which to jam the children when the teacher walked across the valleys from her own village, an hour away.

Followed by a few of the village elders and some of Uttam's colleagues, two children on each hand dragged me down to the houses to see where they live.  We passed a dozen young boys sitting in a tree.  Goats tethered below houses.  Old wells.  Papaya and mango trees.  Straw drying under eaves.  We crossed little brooks.  I saw where food was cooked on open fires in dark rooms under the wooden houses.  I saw where entire families slept in one room.  I saw the metal pots used for collecting water for the wells.  I saw where rice dried in wooden storage bins.  I saw giant cobwebs on ceilings blackened roofs and lumpy kapok mattresses, and wondered how they'd fare in winter, when the snows came.

Homestay suggestion
I asked what their plan was to bring tourists here.  "Homestays!" was the enthusiastic, translated,  reply from the old, whiskered man with gnarled hands and a toothless grin.  "Maybe you can help us bring them, and the money we make we can put towards the school."

I thought about the tortuous bus ride in, and the walk.  I thought about the effects of tourists on the delicate balance of this village, high in the mountains.  I thought about plastic bottles, and toilet paper, and hygiene and the fragile environment being trampled.   I'm a veteran traveller, and I particularly enjoy the spiritual and cultural rewards of a trip like this one.  But somehow, the damage to this village, if busloads of tourists were to be brought in, would outweigh the rewards, small as they would be.

When we returned to the village "circle", two young men were doing a miming comedy routine for their village.  When the music cut out with the power again, they sang, themselves.  The young girls danced, and asked me to join them.  I was asked to make a speech, to tell them that I would help get them a school.

I stood up, wearing my garland, and thanked them for letting me come to their village. I told them I understood how much they wanted a new school and how important education was to them.  I told them I would do whatever I could to help them achieve their dream.

We were given another plate of food, sustenance for the long journey back to Kathmandu.   We had to walk for 2 hours to meet the bus.  A group of children walked with me for some of the way. I gave one of them my special Super VIP gold and yellow rosette that I'd been given, and another a sandalwood fan from Bali.  They both kissed me and kissed me and kissed me, and said "I love you!" and took turns holding my hands.

I said very little on that drive back, in the dark.  I thought about my own children, how they had the best education they wanted and that my daughter now has a PdD in the Rights of Children.  How she's doing her Very Big Bit in Australia.  How chance and providence lead me to directions; how a butterfly flapping its wings can change the course of the life of a village.

The returning group of villagers were different ... but old men sang, and old women clapped, and young boys slept on their father's laps, and this time, all the women touched me and smiled at me, and when I got off the bus, they waved me through the cracked, dusty windows.

But I couldn't stop thinking.

How could I help this village have a school?



Let the universe unfold.