THE Deeside community has been thanked for helping fund a brand new boarding school in an impoverished area of Nepal.
The Helambu Project, spearheaded by Banchory GP Dr Mike Steven, has raised 35,000 in the past two years to cover the cost of building the Posang Memorial Community Boarding School, which was completed ahead of schedule last April.
Dr Mike was inspired to act after witnessing the tough living conditions endured by locals when trekking through the Sindhuplachok district of Helambu as a participant on BBC2's Extreme Dreams in the summer of 2007.
He recently returned to visit the school and hold a health clinic, accompanied by wife Val, who is also a GP, and their eldest children Rory and Rachael.
Dr Mike said the school, which is situated high on the Himalayan ridge close to the Tibetan border, has made a major difference to the lives of the local youngsters.
At present 110 children currently attend the boarding school, ranging in age from five to 14 years.
He said: "Not only are the kids getting an opportunity to learn, but the school gives them something to do with their day. When I trekked there in 2007 the kids we met were just hanging around in their rags, scattered across a wide geographical area. Now they are in smart uniforms and have a very busy and full day. It has also provided employment for some of the parents and has helped revive what was becoming an increasingly fragmented community.
"We left with the feeling of how well run the school is despite the challenges of its remoteness and harsh terrain. The dedication and motivation of the teachers to work in such a remote area was matched by the enthusiasm and willingness of the children to work hard and learn."
The next step in the Helambu Project is to support the school during its formative years.
Dr Mike said: "The basic cost of supporting 110 children, staff, food and stationary is around 15,000 per year. Parents are already contributing either financially or by helping at the school and we have secured some international support agency grants. Our hope is for the school to be self funding in three years.
"The majority of the 35,000 was raised locally and thanks to the extraordinary support of the Deeside community we were in a position to build a much larger, full-sized boarding school at a cost of 30,000 which is now home to the 110 pupils and nine staff. The remaining 5,000 has been spent on salaries with 2,000 set aside to fund solar power, planting vegetation and building fences to protect crops from wild animals. Although the additional income allowed us to build a larger school, we have retained space for expansion and already have a waiting list of 60 pupils."
The 35,000 that has been raised since the formation of the project in 2008 has been achieved through numerous fundraisers, including a sponsored cycle from Edinburgh to Paris completed by Dr Mike and Dr Sandy Rough.
The pair are planning another sponsored bike ride and are keen for anyone else with fundraising ideas to get in touch.
Dr Mike added: "I would like to thank the Valentine family who forewent their Christmas presents and instead gifted 400 towards funding a new leg prostheses for a pupil at the school and paid for a female pupil with cataracts to be treated by an eye specialist in Kathmandu.
"I would like to appeal to individuals and groups to continue their support and would welcome any fundraising ideas. I would be delighted to be invited back to talk to the various community groups who have supported the school to let them know the difference they have made."
Further details can be found at www.helambuproject.org The website contains up-to-date information on the school's activities, the health work being carried out and information on how to donate.
Dr Mike Steven can be contacted at email@example.com