Article: Yvonne Foster

Yvonne on her way to the school

My visit to the school, by Yvonne Foster, Hannah’s Great Aunt

In November of this year I was kindly invited by Chris, Roger and their lovely daughter Camilla to join them on their annual visit to the Hannah Memorial Academy near Darjeeling in the foothills of the Himalayas; and what a wonderful experience it was too!

We set off from Heathrow, spent the night at Delhi airport and caught an early morning flight to Bagdogra where we were met by Jason Lepcha, the taxi driver who recognised Singh Koli, the man who had murdered Hannah in 2003.

On the Monday morning Jason drove us down to the school – and what a journey that was!  Bumpy and potted roads with precipitous sides, no health and safety checks here – thank goodness for Jason’s driving skills!  We arrived at the school to be greeted by the staff and over 60 happy smiley children, aged from two to eleven.

After the morning break, when we played with the children in the playground, I went to a classroom to read to the children so that they learnt with an English accent.  How delightful they all were, so polite and eager to learn and what struck me straight away was the way they cared for one another.  We had lots of fun – I decided to teach them nursery rhymes, with all the actions, which they thoroughly enjoyed, so it was a happy and enjoyable time for us all!

After lunch the children all took out their toothbrushes, one child held the toothpaste and then all went across to the wash basins and cleaned their teeth and washed their hands etc.  (This has improved their teeth hygiene beyond expectation)  School ended at 2 o’clock, so that the children had time to get back to their homes before dark.  Eight children and one teacher had an hour and a half walk in the morning and back again at night!

For the rest of the week I stayed down at the school, my bedroom was the school staff room, and very comfortable too – with an outside Western loo, but no hot water!  Jason’s Mother did all the excellent cooking and after school the children took me to visit their own homes and to meet their Aunts, Mothers, Fathers Grandmas etc. I was welcomed so warmly where ever I went.  I must say that the stone paths up the mountain side were a bit challenging – but little hands helped me!

On our last day of visiting the school we decided to walk down from the Darjeeling road; by car it was an hour and a half’s drive, to walk it took us an hour and three quarters, we took photos on the way down too!

The school is absolutely amazing, the staff so dedicated and the children doing so well; whilst I was there all the top group heard that they had passed their exam into  Secondary School, and one past pupil is head girl at a prodigious Secondary School – well done!

Jason Lepcha is truly an exceptional man, helpful, unassuming and a wonderful driver!  His wife, Isabel, teaches at the school and their son Shaun has a place at a very good school in Darjeeling, in the entrance exam he came 9th out of 600 pupils.

This visit to the Hannah Memorial Academy will always stand out in my mind and my abiding thought is ‘That out of a great evil has come good’.

Yvonne Foster – Hannah was my great niece by marriage.