Ben Pattie’s April visit narrowly misses the earthquake
In April me and my family had an unforgettable experience visiting the Hannah Memorial Academy and saw how some of the fundraising I had done was being put into action.
I first heard about the inspiring story behind the Hannah Memorial Academy from Christine (Founder of the charity) at a company away day. At the time I was working for London based public relations firm, Hotwire PR, who are big supporters of the charity. Despite moving on from Hotwire over a year ago, Christine’s moving speech about the charity had stuck in my mind. So when my family decided to include a trip to Darjeeling during our holiday to India, I could not pass on the opportunity to visit the school.
I was able to arrange this with the help of Christine and her daughter Alex. Through Christine we made contact with the founder of the project and local man – Jason who kindly arranged transportation for me and my family for the hour and a half drive from our hotel in Darjeeling to the school. During the journey he told us his version of events and why he decided to setup the school. It was at this point I realised just how important the school is to the local community and the sacrifices Jason has made to realise his dream.
Despite a torrential rainstorm and the fact that the children were already supposed to be on a public holiday, many children of all ages had stayed behind to welcome us with songs and warm smiles. As we played some number and word games, it was clear to see their strong appetite for learning. They were also delighted with the toys and sports equipment that we had brought for them. After the children went home, Jason and his wife showed us around the school grounds. Jason explained how the fundraising contributions had been used to expand classroom sizes and build a much needed local road directly to the school, amongst other things.
The near-complete homestay building has also been constructed with the help of additional fundraising and is a prime example of Jason’s ambitions to continue to expand the school and provide greater access to education. Once complete, the homestay accommodation will offer more opportunities for volunteers to visit and contribute to the project. Having worked hard to raise funds with my former colleagues at Hotwire PR, it was great to see first hand evidence of how some of that money was being put back into improving the school and its facilities.
While Jason has made excellent progress, there is still lots of work to be done. If he and his team are to continue to expand the school they will require additional outside support. But I have no doubt that with somebody as ambitious and driven as Jason at the helm, the school will continue to grow. Our family trip to Darjeeling was already a magical experience for us all as we had decided to visit the tea plantation (Namring) my Grandad used to manage at and where my dad grew up. However, our visit to the Hannah Memorial Academy and meeting with Jason was a very special highlight of our trip. In the UK we often take for granted the fact that we have widespread access to free education. But in some remote parts of the developing world, like the Dooteriah Tea Estate where the Hannah Memorial Academy is based, schools are the heartbeat of the community and provide the local children with a great start in life.
I hope that I can continue to lend my support to the charity beyond my visit. If you are interested in getting involved in a worthwhile project I would strongly encourage anyone to find out more about the Hannah Memorial Trust.
The world needs more people like Jason and more projects like the Hannah Memorial Academy. But he cannot do it all on his own and will achieve so much more with the help of others.