Sixth-formers return from Nepal after a ‘life-changing’ meeting with the people they have reached out to from afar

A group of 35 sixth-formers from Birkdale School in Sheffield have returned from a three-week trip to Nepal having spent time with people living in some of the world’s marginalised communities.

One of the group’s leaders was the school’s former joint head of sixth form, Keith Brook, 64, who retired two years ago after 28 years of working at Birkdale School teaching biology and psychology as well as coaching hockey. 

Keith, who lives in Dronfield, made his first trip to Nepal with his wife Gillian and a group of students back in 2000, which has since become an annual fixture.

Over the past two decades the students have taken it upon themselves to raise money to build the Peace Garden English School, attended by children living in the nearby Khokana leprosy colony, as well as supporting two other nearby schools and building a church.

This year’s group of 35 students from Birkdale School spent time teaching in pairs at the Peace Garden English School as well as travelling up into the Himalayas to visit The Leprosy Mission’s Anandaban Hospital which provides healthcare and support to the Khokana leprosy community.

Keith, who was awarded the MBE in 2012 for services to education in Nepal, said: “It was quite a moving experience for our kids.

“Nepal and the wonderful Nepalese people always catch your heart a bit. The parents always tell me their kids come back from Nepal different people with a different perspective and outlook on life.
“There are 400 pupils at the Peace Garden English School, aged from 3 to 15, many of which would not be in school otherwise.

“They are taught in English, the language of education in Nepal which stands them in good stead.  “A lot of the pupils live in the Khokana leprosy colony simply because their grandparents had leprosy and were sent there. Their children had no schooling and opportunities in life.

“But now our students can fundraise to ensure the grandchildren of these leprosy patients have opportunities through education.

“We’re hearing some amazing stories of children who have been through the school such as Jyoti and Bikash who both grew up in the leprosy colony. 

“Jyoti now works as a radiologist and Bikash is studying for a Masters degree in Business Studies and has set up his own school outreach to tutor children from the leprosy colony. He now wants to give something back.”

Keith, who has two grown-up sons who have visited Nepal with the group from Birkdale School over the years, said the sixth-formers spend a year fundraising for the people they will meet in Nepal prior to making their trip.

He said the activities range from the more conventional sponsored walks to a sponsored week of eating dal bhat, the rice and lentil dish which forms the staple diet of much of the population of Nepal.

Pictured: Dan Lam, 17 and Bhavesh Grover, 17, meet a patient at Anandaban Hospital.

This year the students, as well as the congregation at Keith’s church, St Andrew’s Community Church in Dronfield, have been raising money for The Leprosy Mission’s Heal Nepal appeal which will find, cure and heal people with leprosy in a bid to rid the country from the ancient and highly-stigmatised disease. 

This means reaching people with leprosy through outreach teams before they develop permanent disabilities or caring for them for months at Anandaban Hospital while their wounds heal and they undergo life-changing surgery.

Keith said they have been further encouraged and motivated by the fact that, thanks to UK Aid Match, all donations made to Heal Nepal by 27 April 2019 will be doubled by the UK government.

Birkdale sixth-formers Cameron Goodwin, 17, from Waverley, Rotherham, Dan Lam, 17, from Sheffield and Bhavesh Grover, 17, from Sheffield, helped organise a bake sale which contributed to more than £1,000 the school raised to support the Heal Nepal appeal.  

Cameron said: “The stigma surrounding leprosy in Nepal was quite upsetting. It was shocking to hear how people had been shunned from their villages for having a disease that is curable.
“I probably enjoyed the teaching most on the trip but everywhere we went people were very welcoming and happy to see us.”

Bhavesh said: “I thought what they were doing at Anandaban Hospital was quite amazing. Here we are fortunate to have NHS hospitals across the country, which we take for granted, but people would travel across Nepal and sometimes from India to reach Anandaban Hospital.

“And the hospital wasn’t just curing their leprosy, it was helping them to get back on their feet again and teaching them how to protect against injuries as a result of nerve damage caused by leprosy.”

Dan said: “Visiting Anandaban Hospital and spending time with the patients was very eye opening as I didn’t realise the impact leprosy had on people. People who were cured from the disease 30 years ago were still struggling with the effects of leprosy.”

Thanks to UK Aid Match, all donations made to Heal Nepal before 27 April will be doubled by the UK government. Visit the Heal Nepal donation page to give a gift today.


 

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