A gap year trip to Nepal has led to 10 years of work for a teacher. Elise Brewerton talks to Nicky Puttick about her inspiring story
Ten years ago a young woman travelling the world met an inspirational teacher in Nepal.
The traveller was Nicky Puttick, from Southbourne, and the teacher was Rabin Jirel.
Rabin was once a street child but managed to educate himself and was determined to give other children living in poverty the opportunity to learn and make something of their lives.
The only problem was he had a football-sized, life-threatening tumour on his neck and Nicky, now 34, appealed to readers of The News to help pay for an operation to remove it.
They did, and he survived. And that kindness helped forge a friendship that has seen people across the area step in to save the school from closing on several occasions.
Now the Nava Indradhanush School and Orphanage in Kathmandu, the inspirational school set up by Rabin, needs help again.
Nicky, and her sister-in-law Sarah Knell, are appealing for help from readers once again to buy a permanent site, following their eviction from their long-term rented building.
‘Rabin’s life was saved by News readers,’ says Nicky, a mum of one. ‘When he came around from the seven-hour operation my mother, Liz Bond, made a pledge to him that we would raise money to buy land and build a school premises so they wouldn’t have to struggle so much in helping others.
‘It’s been a long hard slog of fundraising through local events and fetes, and we’ve had a fantastic core group of supporters who have sponsored children at the school and kept it running over the last 10 years.
‘We’re finally so close to being able to buy a plot of land and once we have land it is much easier to secure funding to build a new school and orphanage premises.
‘But we need to raise another £1,700 in order to do so. This is the third time they’ve been evicted from a rented building.
‘We have a chance to buy a small plot of land while exchange rates are good, because of the strong pound and a plot has become available in the right location.
‘Students are currently being taught in a temporary structure that looks like a giant cattle shed.
‘The land it’s on has been leased while we sort out a longer-term solution. It’s okay at the moment, but it’s dark and will be freezing in winter.’
Two years ago Nicky’s brother John met his girlfriend Sarah Knell, a paramedic.
The 24-year-old was so inspired by Nicky’s passion for the school she decided to go over herself and teach them basic hygiene and first aid skills.
Sarah, from Westbourne, arrived back a few weeks ago and says it opened her eyes to the hardships and the happiness of the Nepalese way of life. ‘I have never met anyone as passionate about teaching as Rabin,’ she says. ‘I probably never will.
‘He is inspirational. It was his life-long dream to improve things for children in a place that is still a third world country and is massively over-populated.
‘Rabin was a street kid but did really well for himself and now he wants to give something back.
‘He runs the school with no government funding but manages to give the children a higher level of education than if they went to a cleaner government school with better facilities.’
Sarah stayed with a couple who live close to the school and each day, at 4am, they would all go to the nearby Hindu temple for prayers.
Sarah says: ‘The couple didn’t speak English so we communicated through hand gestures. They were the friendliest people, so kind and open and honest. I picked up a tiny bit of the language and we managed to get by.’
At the school itself children aged five and over are taught in English to a high standard, to prepare them for university. Rabin has high hopes for his pupils.
‘The kids are fantastic,’ says Sarah. I was struck by how generous they were.
‘They have nothing but every day we would go for break and they would offer me their lunch because they thought I didn’t have any.
‘And in the morning they would bring me flowers and put them in my hair.
‘For a lot of them home is one room shared by their whole family. There was one child Rabin gave a home to because he discovered they were living in a corridor.’
Sarah used her medical knowledge to pass on basic skills but could only do so much.
She says: ‘It was a real eye-opener. In the west if you hit your head and start vomiting you go to hospital.
‘Over there parents probably wouldn’t take their child to hospital. There aren’t ambulances.
‘Lots of children wouldn’t wash their hands before they eat or have been to the toilet. And Kathmandu is a very dirty city. The school constantly has to remind the children it’s not okay to litter.’
Sarah says the children are incredibly optimistic, despite the poverty.
‘It has opened my eyes to a completely different way of life. They are so happy, even though they have so little.
‘When it gets dark at 8pm they can’t afford electricity to power the lights. So the children simply play in the dark. They are amazing.’
Over the years, a unique bond has been forged by readers of The News and the school.
One of the greatest supporters, Geoff Taylor, from Southbourne, died last year. He used to make jams and marmalades to support the school as well as sponsoring three children there.
Others knit clothes to keep the poorest children warm in the winter.
Nicky added: ‘We know that a school in Kathmandu can feel so remote and far away to our lives here, but somehow over the years a unique bond has formed between our community and the school.
‘The community have been amazing in supporting the school and orphanage for the last decade and have had such a profound impact on so many children’s lives that they’ve never even met.
‘We’re so close to buying this land and putting down some real roots for the school – seeing everybody’s efforts over the years really means something for generations of Nepali children.
‘These children are going to freeze in winter.
‘They’re being taught in corrugated iron constructions at the moment which shelter them from rain, but Kathmandu winters are bitter.
‘There is now a sense of urgency to our appeal, and every donation makes a big difference as we have no running costs ourselves and the pound goes a lot further in Nepal.’
To support the school and make a donate go to navatrust.org.uk or send a cheque made payable to The Nava Indradhanush Trust to RBS, Flint House, 44 South Street, PO19 1DS.