Barry Evans speaking on Nepal

Tue 19th July 2016 at 12.45 - 14.00

Stewards:- Lead - Michael Tiddy

Charlotte's haven on Earth

Charlotte's haven on Earth

Many members are aware that I have some sort of involvement with Nepal but they are not sure what it is , why I am involved,  how it started,  what we have achieved so far and what we are aiming to achieve in the future.  I thought that it would be a good basis of my talk if I concentrated on trying to answer these questions and some of the wonderful occasions that I have experienced and the truly inspirational people that I have had the good fortune in meeting.

I make no apologies that my talk has a high personal element, but to understand the title there is also a strong Rotary involvement with some members of this Club and a very inspirational Rotarian in Nepal.

          For Ann and me, 9th April 2013 was the saddest day in our lives. I remember well that phone call from her husband in Australia at 9.40 pm UK time telling us that our beloved daughter, Charlotte had died after fighting cancer for 3 years.

By comparison, 16th January 2016 was one of the happiest moments in our lives. That was the day that we met and enjoyed the mutual love of our 34 adopted Nepalese grandchildren.

Whilst this talk today chronicles the intervening years between those two ominous dates, it is necessary to look back beyond Charlotte’s untimely death as to how Ann and I should have become so deeply involved with Nepal. Before doing so I would stress that I am not an expert on Nepal. We have visited Nepal only once and most of my knowledge has been gleamed from emails from our new found friends in Nepal and from the internet.

         So the story starts with a meeting of the International committee of this Club, whilst I was chairman of that committee. In the aftermath of the cessation of the Club’s involvement with the Nagpur eye hospital following the successful conclusion of that project, it was the decision of the International committee to fund a number of small projects, where a little would mean a lot to the recipients. The list of potential recipients had been prepared, but then Sarah Perris intervened and spoke passionately of the need to support a small school project in Nepal. I can remember her words well. “Nepal is the second poorest country in the world and it was imperative that the committee supported the proposal.” The committee were convinced and Sarah’s recommendations were accepted.

Subsequently Rod, when he was chairman of the International committee took this to the next stage, by the Club funding projects introduced by the Rotary Club of the Himalayan Ghurkhas. In appreciation of the support of the Club, Rotarian Major Yam Gurung and his wife visited the Club, where they were hosted by Rod and Ann. That afternoon Yam and his wife had tea with the members of the International committee at the home of Keith and Peggy Ward. In the evening Rod and Ann had a wine and nibbles event and it was there that Ann and I first met Yam.

Yam had come to Nantwich not only to thank the Club for funding projects of the Rotary Club of Himalayan Ghurkhas, but to seek funding for more projects. Unfortunately the financial resources of both the International committee and the Club made this difficult to achieve.

Ann and I had run very successful businesses both at home and in the US and there were tax advantages in supporting charities registered in UK and USA respectively. Like so many Club members, we supported some well-known national and international charities. A big turning point was the death of my sister, a dedicated school teacher spending most of her life providing quality education to children in the deprived area of Liverpool and latterly Wales. Moira had never married and as beneficiaries of her estate, we wanted an outlet to contribute to her memory. Educational projects in Nepal seemed to be the logical way to achieve this and the Rotary Club of the Himalayan Ghurkhas provided the security that the money would be well spent.

Over the next 3 or 4 years we supported 9 projects for the Rotary Club of the Himalayan Ghurkhas with two more in the pipeline. I shall not elaborate on the details as for those of you who are interested these will be documented on a new website being prepared and is likely to be on line in early autumn.

The next stage of the journey was on the high Seas. I had received a final report on a completed project from Yam Gurung on my computer, whilst we were on a cruise. I am no computer expert and sought help from the staff on the ship to help me download the attachment. Interest was expressed by certain crew members when the attachment was downloaded and we were advised that the Senior Security Officer on the ship was an ex Ghurkha. So began our relationship with Krishna Limbu and the funding of more schools and also all-terrain 4WD ambulances for use in remote locations. Again there will be links to this on our website.

Fast forward now to July 2013 when Ann and I met with Rotarian Major Lilbahadur Gurung, the retiring President of the Rotary Club of the Himalayan Ghurkhas at Crewe Hall. He was in UK visiting family and wanted to meet us to express his appreciation for our previous support.

          During that visit Lilbahadur enquired if we would sponsor poor and orphaned children in a little child care facility / orphanage that he had established. It was called ‘Haven on Earth Child’ child care facility. The children were the victims of the insurgency between 1996 and 2006. There were 13 children in the orphanage and the annual sponsorship cost was £900 per child. Whilst we agreed to sponsor 3 children, Charlotte’s death was still very raw and painful. It had been only 3 month previously and Ann and I thought that in the proper format, this could be a suitable memorial to Charlotte. Charlotte loved children. Both Charlotte and her husband had fought and worked alongside Ghurkhas in Iraq.

Lilbahadur left with us a simple explanation of his objectives. This was to provide a safe haven for the children, provide them with the very best education and to give them both play and cultural activities. The facility was in a rented house and the conditions were cramped.

           It left us with a lot of food for thought,we had had the immense privilege of having met a man inspired by vison, compassion and a true love for humanity.

Our first thought was that Ann, I and Lilbahadur are all mortal and yet we wanted any project in memory of Charlotte to be a permanent memorial. We had already established a Charitable Trust in the UK, the Eifion Trust, named after the Bardic name of my great grandfather, in order to get the advantages of gift aid and to be tax effective in being able to fund overseas projects. Whilst personal donations both in US and UK were tax deductible this only applied to charities registered in the respective countries. We would fund the Eifion Trust to make the donations to our charitable ventures. The initial trustees were Ann and I, my accountant and a long term friend David Brown and it was also fitting that Rod Stokes, having been a major player in our involvement with Nepal, should also be a Trustee.

If it was to become a permanent memorial, it was important that a facility would need to be owned and preferably purpose built, complete with space for the children to enjoy leisure and pleasure activities.

The Eifion Trust wished to proceed in stages:-

1 A proper charitable structure to be established in Nepal and also an administrative organisation with a project committee and management organisation for when the children were housed. This should be enshrined in Nepal Law with a Nepali Government Certified copy in English.

2 A suitable parcel of land was to be purchased.

3 The appointment of Architects and Engineers, to prepare full plans and working drawings and a building contract with quantities i.e. similar to as if the project was to be built in the UK.

4 The building must have the capacity to house at least double the number of children (28) and to provide for play and leisure areas.

5 An estimate of construction cost and all other ground works would have to be submitted by a Building company approved by the architects.

6 When these matters had satisfied the Eifion Trust, the trust would fund both the acquisition and the construction of the building.

7 The completed building would be called Charlotte’s Haven on Earth.

In December 2014 the contract was signed. By April 2015, the structural framework of the building had been completed.

On the 25th April 2015, Disaster struck Nepal. An earthquake occurred, killing 8,000 people injuring 21,000 and devastating large areas of the country. Such was the quality of our building that the only damage was the collapse of an external panel wall between the structural members and a few hairline fractures to the plastering. Mercifully there was no damage to the temporary accommodation being occupied by the children, whose numbers had now swelled to 20.

            On the 12th May, a second earthquake occurred. Again damage did not occur to the new building nor to the temporary building, but the effect of the aftershocks was traumatising the children and they were moved into a small hotel some 200 miles away in Pokhara in a safe area. They stayed there for some 10 weeks together with a few accompanying teachers, so that their school work was not affected. This represented an additional cost to the Eifion Trust, but the safety of the children was paramount.

The two earthquakes obviously caused disruption to the building programme, but this was also aggravated by the India Government blockading the border with Nepal on 13rd September 2015. This lasted into 2016 and effectively blocked all fuel supplies and materials from entering the country. This effectively prevented building and other supplies reaching Nepal and caused massive disruption of electricity supplies. Without materials, the re-construction work after the earthquake in Nepal was severely disrupted and the absence of work forced many tradesmen to leave the country to find employment elsewhere.

Notwithstanding these problems, it was a great credit to the builder, architects and engineers that the building was substantially completed at the beginning of this year, so that the children could now take occupation. As a result of the earthquake the numbers had grown to 34, with 28 children being housed in the new building and a new lease was taken on their existing property to house 6 younger children.

Together with Charlotte’s husband and her children, whom we had flown over from Australia, to spend Xmas with us we departed for Kathmandu on 14th January. Sarah, Georgie and India and the grandchildren of Alan and Jan Dobson had raided their wardrobes and cupboards as did some of our own grandchildren and we had to take out 6 extra bags of clothing and goodies for the children.  By pooling our luggage allowances and with the cooperation of Etihad, we were able to take all these with us at no extra charge.

                So we have now reached 16th January 2016, a beautiful and glorious happy occasion, when we were ceremoniously welcomed by our new grandchildren in the grounds of a splendidly built Charlotte’s Haven on Earth. From Charlotte’s death came life and hope to the children. Had Lotte not died, it is unlikely that we would have embarked on such a major and ongoing project.

In addition to being Grandparents to the children, Ann has accepted the request from the Management Committee of Charlotte’s Haven on Earth to be their Patron.

The Eifion trust has moved on with 3 new school projects awaiting our funding and the introduction of two more trustees from RC Nantwich, Sarah Perris and John Crowe. This enables the trust to expand its activities and seek support from donors other than Ann and myself and the first priority to achieve this is the preparation of a website. Potential donors are interested in the activities of the Trust, but require access to more information.

In addition to its activities in Nepal the Eifion Trust has funded malaria nets in Africa and also funds micro finance projects that are ably administered by Rod. It has also funded the purchase of wool for Inner Wheel members to knit blankets and shawls for Fistula patients in Ethiopia.

The Eifion Trust is best suited to undertaking capital projects and as Charlotte’s Haven on Earth is an ongoing annual commitment and very personal to the Charlotte’s Family, a new Trust, the CHOE Trust, has been formed. This has a long term annual commitment with Ann, myself and our daughter Kate as Trustees and will be perpetually funded from the Evans Family Trust. We are delighted that Sarah has agreed also to become a Trustee as right from the outset Sarah has been impassioned about this project and hopefully she and the girls will be making a visit there shortly.

You will have probably gathered that Charlotte’s Haven on Earth is quite a mouthful and that is why we have abbreviated it for the purpose of the Trust to CHOE.

The involvement of the Nantwich Club does not end there. Robin Latham’s grandson is currently visiting Nepal. Jake is a pupil at the Grange School, Hartford, where Charlotte went to school and they are hoping to find time for students from the Grange to make a visit to the memorial of a past pupil.

This has inspired us to investigate the possibility of an arrangement with another of Charlotte’s previous schools, Tarporley High School and sixth Form College for the funding of teacher and student exchanges with the school that the children attend, Valley Public Higher Secondary School in Kathmandu of which I am the Guardian. The school has 800 pupils with kindergarten, primary, secondary and sixth form.

Barry Evans