The Helambu Project, set up in the UK by Banchory GP Mike Steven, reached a milestone earlier this year when its boarding school, built in 2008 by donations from the Deeside area, became operationally independent.
Dr Steven had previously trekked in the area as a medic for a BBC expedition. After trekking through the Sindhuplachok District during the filming of Extreme Dreams, Dr Mike was moved by the harsh living standards of the locals, yet at the same time – like many visitors to Nepal – was humbled and overwhelmed by their kindness and hospitality. He made a promise on his return to help raise awareness of the Helambu community by setting up Helambu Project UK.
Since then, he has fundraised extensively within Scotland and re-visited Nepal in 2009 with medical colleagues as part of the health camp trek. His current role has been to continue to help co-ordinate fundraising activity within the UK and support the further development of the medical infrastucture in the region.
Dr Steven said: “The boarding school in the Himalayan foothills which currently houses 80 pupils is now working principally from parent donations and government grants. With the school up and running, Helambu Project is focusing on the wider community, in particular trying to bring together the remote mountain schools and villages, many of which have become desolate due to migration towards the cities.”
With that in mind, the idea of an Helambu Olympics was formed and, in partnership with the Nepalese charity (HELP), they invited 12 schools from the region to take part. The tournament got underway in early spring with over 200 boys and girls travelling down for the three-day tournament in the Helambu valley.
There were 15 events in total ranging from Olympic classics to old favourites like the sack race. The tournament also included traditional Nepalese dancing and song competitions. Events included javelin, shot put, high jump, long jump, football, badminton, volleyball, tug-o-war and long and short distance running. In addition, there were also academic events including essay writing competitions, speech and debate and chess. For many of the children it was their first chance to play some of the sports. Given their Sherpa and Ghurka routes, they tended to excel at events involving stamina and strength!
Every child who took part received a certificate, with the winners getting medals, every school took home a gold medal.
The schoolchildren left behind, who weren’t lucky enough to be selected for the tournament, also benefited, as the sports equipment was donated back to each of the participating schools.
Dr Steven said: “This is the first time teachers and pupils had been given the opportunity to meet up with their neighbours in any form and it was heartening to see the feelings of camaraderie and school spirit amongst the pupils.
“The teachers felt it helped build the children’s confidence and it was great to see that equal numbers of girls and boys managed to win medals. From what I’ve heard, the schools are already in training with the competitions for future places being as fierce as ever!”
They now hope to make it an annual event. Other recent activities included the ‘Her Turn’ programme, in which female tutors travelled to rural schools specifically to educate and empower the girls on leadership and safety issues. “Our volunteers have a variety of opportunities to live and work in this beautiful region as hosts of the local people,” said Dr Steven.
Anyone who would like to visit the area, support what Helambu does, or become involved, should contact Mike Steven on: firstname.lastname@example.org or speak to him at the Banchory surgery.