Imagine if your children had to walk hours to school through rough, mountainous terrain on a journey that can take hours.
Then imagine, the school they arrived at had holes in the walls, no easy access to drinking water, and the roof was patched together in an attempt to protect the children from the elements.
That was the scene Department of Human Services staff member, Julia Brownlee, faced on a recent trip to Nepal.
Julia volunteered with a group from the Reach for Nepal Foundation, and participated in a community rebuild project in the village of Takukot, in the Gorkha district. Takukot was badly damaged as a result of last year’s devastating earthquake as it was only 35km from the epicentre.
“There were a number of difficulties we faced from the start,” she remembered.
“The village is very remote and access is difficult. The only transport in or out is via jeeps or donkeys.
“Travel was really slow due to the conditions and even short distance travel could take hours. It was honestly one of the most challenging journeys I’ve had.
As well as being slow, the journey can also be dangerous.
“At one stage, there was even a landslide,” Julia said. “The driver simply stopped, and along with a little help, shovelled it aside and on we went. The Nepalese have a wonderful ‘can-do’ approach.”
Upon arrival at the village, the reason for Julia’s trip became very clear.
“There was a lot of work that needed to be done in the area, but my group focused on building a fresh water tank next to the local school,” she explained.
“Up until then, the only fresh water supply the school had access to was a nearby spring. The path to the spring was treacherous, affected by weather and all sorts of other hazards.”
“We helped clean up the spring, installed a pump to help bring the water up from the spring into a brick storage tank which we built right next to the school.
“For the first time, the children at the school had easy access to drinking water, which is a wonderful improvement for them.”
For many of us, educational opportunities are something we can take for granted. But for many communities in Nepal, it’s something that’s deeply treasured.
“The kids are so vibrant, interested, curious, happy, and just appreciative of everything,” Julia said.
“They go to school from the age of 3 and are so proud to do so. They wear their uniforms every second, despite the fact they can only wash them once a week.
“And you can see that enthusiasm for education throughout the community.
“The moment we got there we received an incredibly warm welcome from the school of 400 students ranging in age from 3 to 16 years.
“They had spent the previous afternoon making our fresh garlands and formed a parade of honour as we walked to the school. It was a wonderful surprise.”
As it turned out, Julia came armed with a surprise of her own.
“As part of the trip, I coordinated 6 backpacks of used school readers from local Canberra schools to donate to the Takukot school.
“The principal was really grateful as their resourcing is limited and learning English is one of their requirements.”
For Julia, the trip was worth it in more ways than one.
“There’s the majesty of the mountains, a fusion of cultures, and the opportunity to directly help the people who really need it.
“I’m already looking at going back next year to see where else I can help out.”