Armidale High School, Nepal Project

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Armidale High is a multicultural school with several Nepalese students, and when the earthquake struck, news of the devastation was keenly felt in the school community. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake caused widespread damage to buildings, roads, infrastructure and significant world heritage sites such as temples and stupas, as well as many lives being lost.

AHS and the Armidale Nepalese Community headed by Mr Keshav Timalsena began working to raise money to help; the focus became to rebuild a school in an affected area, because education is a key foundation for a community to be able to rebuild itself.

Tell us about the connection AHS has with Nepal …

Nepalese senior student at AHS, Riya Thapa, and her family have connections with people who were able to identify a school in Nepal that was in need of help. The importance of this connection is that all money raised will be sent directly and securely for the immediate purpose of the reconstruction project.

Riya’s father, Rajesh Thapa, is a leader in the Armidale Nepalese Community and has been a driving force in this project. Raj became aware of a primary school near Nuwakot, a few hours north-west of Kathmandu, which is very remote and was severely affected. The school is central to the village community and as such, was ideal for the AHS Nepal Project.

Who has visited the project?

In December 2016, the Thapa family travelled home to Nepal for an eight week holiday, the first visit since coming to Australia six years ago. Georgie Cooper, AHS School Captain and friends with Riya since Year 7, was fortunate to join them in January. Japanese teacher at AHS, Mrs Debbie Moore, was able to divert her family holiday in Japan to also join the group, and together they all travelled to Nuwakot.

They were joined on the long four hour drive from Kathmandu by several key people keen to be involved in the mission, including a representative of the Ministry of Education Government of Nepal, head teacher Mr Narayan Prashad, Nepal Educational Development NGOs representative Mr Binod Das Gurung, Armidale Nepalese Community representative Mr KB Shrestha, and the engineer, Mr Santosh Thapa.

Upon arrival, they were greeted warmly by students, staff, parents and others at the school site, which had been visibly devastated by the earthquake: a whole building, which comprised about half of their school, had been destroyed; a makeshift shelter was being used, as well as the surviving original building. Plastic and woven walls were all the students had to keep out the harsh weather conditions, with plastic sheets on the floor to sit and learn on. The Armidale High group were overwhelmed by how little the Nepalese village had and how much we take our own situation for granted.

How did the MOU come about?

In a formal meeting between the Armidale representatives, the Kathmandu project-management team and people from the school and village, the rebuild situation was discussed and how AHS wanted to contribute. In the past people had come to visit the village, taken photos and promised to help, then never been in contact with the villagers again. The government hadn’t offered any assistance in recovering from the disaster either. As a result, there was initially a level of scepticism from the community, who were reluctant to trust the Armidale connection.

There was a lengthy round table discussion involving all the parties and the locals realised how serious and committed the Armidale group and Kathmandu team are. Amid great excitement and lots of handshakes, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by Mrs Moore on behalf of AHS Principal Ms Lasker, who has been very supportive of the project, showing the agreement to support the construction of a new school building. The engineer immediately began drawing plans for a building to replace the one that had been lost.

How is the school rebuild going?

Since that day, there has been amazing progress – the construction is now only three weeks from completion, well before the monsoon season begins in April/May, thanks to the swift work of the construction team. As more funds are sent over, the team can continue construction of the classrooms. They send regular progress photos, so AHS can keep track and share how the rebuild is going.

All labour and materials for the rebuild are being sourced locally around Nuwakot; this provides additional employment, as well as involving the whole community.

Tell us about fundraising activities and how people can get involved…

The project started with minimal money, so plans at the moment are to build three rooms; additional funds are needed for a fourth room, as promised, as well as money for educational supplies such as desks, books, posters, blackboards and writing materials. Contact Armidale High School to donate and add to the fundraising effort, phone (02) 6776 7466, email armidale-h.school@det.nsw.edu.au

Raj and Keshav of the Nepalese Armidale Community recently organised a charity movie night at the Belgrave Cinema showing a Nepalese film. The movie was sponsored by Global Consult’s managing director Mr Deepak Chettri, which was completely sold out and a big success. Through the Armidale High canteen there are regular fundraisers such as pizza lunches, also the annual Harmony Day celebrations and many more activities planned – with all funds collected going to the Nepal Project.

Currently Mrs Moore is putting together a care package from AHS to send to the school, to tell the students that we are thinking of them and how fantastic it is to see their new school taking shape. Included are lightweight things made by students, such as drawings, short letters and origami.

Interest is building as word of the Nepal Project is being spread. Governor Hurley visited Armidale High School in February and was very keen to hear all about the project, having been to Nepal himself.

Riya and Georgie will be attending a Rotary meeting soon to speak about the project and will be looking to share this fantastic story with as many people as possible; search on Facebook – Armidale High School.

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