Sunday, December 30, 2018

Goodbye 2018

Cleaning out the dust, leaves and cobwebs. 
In my last blog post, I announced that we'd formally secured a site for the new Learning Resource Centre that we are opening with the Steve Sinnott Foundation and Manisha Nepal Palpa. Since then we've been busy and have made a good start on getting it ready to open next year. We've built new steps to give easier access to the building and by the end of the day, we should have electricity and running water. Lots more to do, but a great start in a short time.

Picking up litter with more enthusiasm than actual helpfulness

Steps leading down to our centre

Rewiring our future computer lab 
Although most of my focus has been on getting the LRC ready, I was reminded that in the UK many people are celebrating Christmas when on Christmas Day we received 8 shoe boxes crammed with stationary, hats, toys and books from Howard Junior School in Kings Lynn for their twin school, Himalaya Primary in Mahachap. Santa's sleigh obviously made it to Tansen!

Collecting parcels on Christmas Day
Christmas is not widely celebrated in Nepal, and wasn't even a government holiday this year. However, I had a small celebration at home, eating fry momo and the best part of a Christmas Dinner, roast potatoes! We exchanged a few small gifts, mainly chocolate, which I've been happlily stuffing myself with for the last few days. 

Yesterday, Himalaya Primary School celebrated its 50th Anniversary AND formally opened the new building that Manisha UK helped to fund along with the local government. I decided that it would be great to take the gifts from Howard Junior School at the same and add to the celebrations! 

Arrival Seflie!
I decided to make the trip my final run of the year and enjoyed 12km of undulating jeep track and some hazy views of the Annapurna Mountains on the way. Miraculously, I wasn't harassed by a single dog for once!

As usual at these events, we had to sit through lots of incredibly long, tedious speeches by local politicians. It never ceases to amaze me that they can continue talking for so long, even though it's very clear no one is listening as everyone has their own conversation. But eventually, the ribbon was cut on one big Christmas present, the new school building. This is such a huge improvement on the old building, where desks sat on uneven mud floors and noise carried from room to room. And most importantly, it's safe and children no longer have to study in classrooms that were officially condemned after the earthquake almost years ago!  

After a few more speeches, and being repeatedly promised we'd be able to distribute the gifts next, impatience got the better of me. During another long, droning speech, I started calling over children and asking them to round up everyone in their class and make a line for the lucky dip. Once others saw what was happening, it wasn't hard to get them all over to me! We'd put stationary into sets and left other prizes, such as hats, on their own so that everyone would go away with a great gift. Children in Nepal so often lose their smiles as soon as a camera is pointed at them, but I can assure you there were plenty to be seen!

The speeches were occasionally punctuated with dance. These children are wearing tradtional Magar dress. 
Pencil case from the lucky dip
The signs should read "Thank You Howard Junior School". 
 That's pretty much it for 2018. 2019 promises to be a very exciting year, with the new Learning Resource Centre opening and continuing our work with the village schools. Keep checking my blog, as well as for the latest news.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

It's Happening!

The signatures are on the lease agreement and the ink is dry, we have now officially secured a site for the Steve Sinnott Learning Resource Centre in Tansen! 

We can now start work properly on getting the building to open the LRC as soon as possible in early 2019. A truly exciting time to be here, apart from the prospect of having to clean the toilets....

Of course, getting the LRC ready needs funding, and a secure, legal way to transfer funds from the UK to Nepal. We've had some issues with the bank we were using in Tansen, Saran, Sagar and I took a trip to Kathmandu to open a bank account that could offer a more complete and professional service. As is so often is the case here, things didn't run exactly to plan and we were unable to get the new account open there and then, although it should happen before Christmas. We did, however, manage to register Manisha Nepal Palpa (Manisha UK's sister charity in Nepal) with the Social Welfare Council. This gives us some of the documents required for opening a more appropriate type of bank account, for visa applications and for obtaining any tax exemptions and help we are entitled to.

We've launched a website for our Learning Resource at
There isn't a lot of content right now, but check back regularly and as we progress further you'll see more and more of what we are doing there.

Now it's time to start cleaning and face those toilets....... (it's not all glamour being a volunteer in Nepal!)

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Something to celebrate

If you keep up with this blog regularly then you may have noticed I haven't posted in a while. I've been waiting for some exciting news to become official, and although it still isn't quite official I've run out of patience so am going to share it anyway!

We've (almost, nearly, very close!) signed an agreement for a building for our Learning Resource Centre that we are opening with the Steve Sinnott Foundation. It's a great building, purpose-built for education and we've agreed (and almost signed!) good terms. It's been a long process to get here with a number of options we had pursued previously falling through, so it's safe to say I'll be having a glass of something when we finally get signatures on the paper.

Clearing grass at the future Steve Sinnott Foundation Learning Resource Centre

My wife trying to get the wealth goddess to visit

That's not all we've had to celebrate. Before that, we had the 5 day Tihar festival, which is the Nepali version of Diwali. The different days celebrate different gods, many of which are represented by animals. So it's pretty normal over these few days to see dogs and cows wearing tikka and mala, although they don't always seem to happy about it! The 4th day is devoted to the goddess of wealth, which is when everyone lights up their houses and makes rangoli patterns to encourage the goddess to visit. I can't help notice that people seem to take this more seriously that the previous days, altough despite my wife's best efforts she seems to have missed us! Traditionally on the final day sisters give presents to their brothers but in the name of SDG goal 5 (Gender Equality), it was gifts all around in our house. As well as giving and receiving gifts there is decorative tikka worn on the forehead and lots of food, most notably a variety of different breads.
My nice gives Tikka to her 'bhai' for Tihar

My trip highlight was getting to run on these paths in the morning
Not a bad view on the journey
Yet another reason to celebrate, my younger brother, back from working in Malaysia for a month-long visit, got married. We had a small ceremony in the home, followed by much eating and dancing. This was followed a couple of weeks later by about a dozen family members pilling into a jeep to visit his wife's old home in her village for the big party. In truth, I don't find much to celebrate in Nepali weddings anymore. Daughters-in-law are very rarely treated as daughters and from the morning after the wedding are expected to do the majority of cooking and cleaning for their new family. Sadly, even my own Nepali family are not an exception to this, despite my complaints. But credit to my brother-in-law who does his best to help her.

The new building at Jandeep looking fantastic and much safer than the old rooms.

As well as lots of celebrating, Saran and I managed another school visit, which have been much too few and far between. This time we went to Jandeep School in Dumre, where I was excited to see the now completed new building that Manisha supported. The building is great and thanks to their twin school, Gretton Primary, back in the UK we'll be able to provide some furniture for the new rooms. The government has provided some good computer facilities so on my next visit I'll be providing some training for teachers, as well as a hard drive chocked full of education TV programs and movies (and a few that are just entertaining, of course!)

Now Saran and I are busy collecting estimates for work we want to have carried out on our new building. Although the building is in great condition there is still plenty to do. But as soon as the ink is dry on the contract we'll be able to get started on the real work!

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Over coming mountains

On Saturday I completed the 50km race at the Annapurna100 in 10 hours and 19 minutes, finishing in 25th position overall. As you can see, it was beautifully clear with incredible mountain views. It was hard running and serious climbing, reaching an altitude of 3500 meters but a magnificent experience that I'll never forget.

Trail running is hard. It takes a lot of preparation and above all, perseverance. The same can be said of working in Nepal. Saran and I are still trying to get clear answers to simple questions that will allow us to move forward with our Learning Resource Project but local officials leave us waiting and stringing us along with vaguely positive answers but no clarity. Just like on race day, there is nothing to do but try to keep moving forward one small and often very slow step at a time and that is exactly what we'll keep doing.

You can still sponsor my run and support Manisha UK. A huge thanks to everyone who already has!

Saturday, October 20, 2018


As expected, October has been a slow month so far. Fever and flu kept me out of action of nearly 2 weeks and I'm only now really recovering my stamina. For someone used to running almost daily, 2 weeks of inactivity has a very noticeable effect.

It's now Deshain time in Nepal, which is the biggest festival of the year for most Nepalis. Shops are mostly closed and schools are on holiday. Yesterday I celebrated the main day of the festival with family, receiving tikka and barley to wear behind my ear. Nepali Hindus believe barely was the first food, given by god, so it has a special significance for them.

On Wednesday I will travel to Pokhara, to take part in what will be the by far the hardest race of my life, the Annapurna 100. This is a 50km trail race in the Himalayas, with more than 3kms of vertical ascent, and reaching a peak altitude of around 3500 metres.  It's completely unlike anything I've ever run before and large sections of it, i.e. those going up!, promise to be physical and mental torture!

So why am I doing it? Well, apart from the fact that I like a challenge (you have to if you want to work in Nepal really!) I'm trying to raise money for Manisha UK's Learning Resource Centre. So please, click the link below and sponsor me to support a really amazing cause. Just a pound or two goes a long way in Nepal and every donation really does make a difference.

Friday, October 05, 2018


I've been back in Nepal almost 7 weeks now and if there is one word that the describes that time, it is most definitely frustrating. 

My focus is on getting the Learning Resource Centre set up but despite lots of talk we still don't have a site. We met with the mayor again at the end of last week to submit a formal request for a particular site and although he took the request positively, we still have to wait for it to be submitted at another meeting, which will mean we won't have a decision until, at best, just days before the main Nepal festival season starts, meaning we won't be able to start any serious work until November.

I was gearing up for a busy week visiting schools this week, but these plans were struck down at the weekend when I got a bad fever. I've spent most of the past week in bed, not a good cure for frustration! Hopefully we'll have better luck next week but many schools are now doing exams and will then be stopping for the festival season.

Even my running training has been hit by my fever although that at least I'll be able to start again properly next week, unaffected by exams or festivals! At times running seems to be the only thing keeping me sane here!

We'll keep plugging away an hope for better progress after the holidays but October promises to be a very slow month.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Slowly does it

From a work point of view, it has been a frustrating couple of weeks since my last blog post. A number of public holidays, continuing monsoon rains and the normal slowness of decision making in Nepal all mean I haven't been able to do anywhere near as much as would have liked.

Saran and I did manage to make a short visit to Devwani School, in Tansen town. This was an unannounced visit so it was especially pleasing to see the school doing so well knowing that nothing was being staged.

A group of class 8 students were using the library that Manisha provided the school. They may not have been 'library quiet' but their enthusiasm and enjoyment of reading were obvious. A flick through the book checkout register showed the library being really well used with over 1000 books checked out since opening. The new Learning Resource Center, once opened, will have a bigger and better selection of books and I'm sure given these children's attitude we won't be short of a few customers.  It was really wonderful to hear teachers talking about how much students reading has improved since the library opening and it's a testament to what is possible when Manisha and schools work together to make education better!

 In the last two weeks, there have been at least three notable festivals (and probably some less noticeable ones as well, something's been keeping schools closed a lot!) The temples were lit up and there was a party atmosphere to celebrate 'Krishna's Birthday'. I'm not sure how old he is but if the lights are in the place of candles then it's a fair few years. At Bhagawati Temple and along the high street there was food, music and lots of dancing, alongside more traditional puja (prayer) and worship.

The following day was either Jatra or Chatra. This is something to do with a battle in which the English, or possibly Indian's, were defeated keeping Nepal free. Or, from my slightly more cynical point of view, free to be oppressed by other Nepalese rather than foreigners, as it wasn't exactly a happy time for the average Nepali peasant 2 centuries ago. This was the 200th anniversary making it especially significant. A huge chariot was pulled through the streets of Tansen, followed by hundreds of singers, dancers, and marchers. Many of those involved were from the schools around the town. We spent most of the day without electricity, as the wires had to be disconnected to prevent the chariot hitting them.

Finally, today is Teej festival, a festival with special significance for women. This one doesn't have a great deal of impact for me although I did visit relatives last night for a delicious Teej meal with my wife. Lots of chicken, roti (bread), various types of rice and fried potatoes. Although I'm pretty sure the fried potato was just because of me and not a normal part of the festival. For the women of Nepal, there are lots of programs going on for which they get dressed up in their best clothes and jewelry and dance for hours. As I write sitting in the office I can hear one party with some very loud music.

With plenty of spare time, I've been training hard for my upcoming Everest Challenge. I wanted to see the new Manisha UK classrooms at our supported school in Mahachhap so made the long run out there, climbing over the landslides and fighting through monsoon rains. I made it to the village but was unfortunately chased off by dogs before I had the chance to take photos! I did manage to photograph the landslide (and my shoes after climbing across!) and you can see why we won't be going on the motorbike until the weather has improved.

I has to visit Kathmandu to extend and upgrade from the tourist visa I took on arrival. While there I was able to participate in my first ever race in Nepal, a 15km trail run. It wasn't too hard going compared to what I've been training on and I was able to finish 6th overall and as the first foreigner, which was a great confidence booster. The 50km Annapurna 100 race I will take part in next month will be an entirely different challenge, so please do consider sponsoring me if you are able to. It's for a great cause!

Hopefully there will be much more Manisha related activities to report in my next post. In the meantime, don't forget you can keep up to date by following Manisha UK on Facebook and Twitter.