On their tenth anniversary, Darjeeling Children’s Trust (DCT) – a beneficiary of the Cobra Foundation – has sent us a “huge thank you” for the support we have given DCT to help and support children in Darjeeling and change lives.

Here some highlights from the last ten years:

Some of our headline statistics – BUT Statistics and headlines aren’t the whole story!

Twelve schools supported over ten years with improvements to the poorest schools in the town including building new toilets with water harvesting where none existed; repairs to roofs, walls and floors; provision of new doors, security gates and fences, glass to windows, and new cupboards; eight schools currently provided with stationery and visited by the travelling library and music teacher; 70 young children and young people sponsored into English-medium speaking schools; 42 young people supported through training in hotel management courses and 9 young women trained to become beauticians; 6 young women supported through nurse/paramedic training; needlework training for 64 orphanage girls; new dormitories completed for 60 orphanage boys in 2014; health care provided for 45 orphanage girls for 10 years; construction in progress in 2018 of new dormitories for 50 orphanage girls; over £500,000 raised or donated for Darjeeling’s children; ten trustees who give their time voluntarily and don’t claim costs!

It’s the stories and the people that count!

Helping children at school: No matter how numerous the statistics may be, they only tell part of the story. A visit to Darjeeling always reunites people and facts, and so it was during my latest visit in March 2018. First call was made to Mahatma Gandhi School, where DCT has worked in partnership with teachers to identify their priorities.  Based on this DCT has helped the school by funding two new security fences, provided security gates, glass to windows and new whiteboards as well as helping replace the leaking roof and ceiling to the school hall.

Meeting the teachers with whom DCT works in partnership is always a pleasure and allows us to review previously funded work and future needs

In November 2017 we heard about the latest problem: the flat roof above the classrooms is leaking and mould is growing on the ceiling. So, time for builders to be brought in to give quotes for the work. Our local Darjeeling trustees who oversee the process are vital to ensuring that DCT gets value for money.

The new school hall roof which should keep out the rain for many years

Revising for exams isn’t huge fun but at least the students can enjoy a dry place to work in the newly painted and repaired hall

The children need the tools to enable them to work and this includes exercise books, rulers, pens and pencils. Supplies to schools are topped up twice a year by DCT based on numbers of pupils on each school’s roll.

A teacher with some of the stationery her school receives and one of the many children who benefit. This little girl looked somewhat overwhelmed when we visited her school but she got on with her work as we talked to her teachers!

Stories and music: In the poorest schools, providing story books and access to music are also high on DCT’s agenda to encourage literacy and help emotional and intellectual development. During our visit in November, travelling librarian Tschering was fascinated to discuss her work with an experienced primary school teacher visiting from the UK and she is now extending the scheme to adopt a more cross curricular approach with lots more craft activities which the children love. Meanwhile our music teacher Rajib has a variety of challenges from teaching more complicated songs to the older students to finger rhymes with the very young. He is also planning for a third Music Festival in autumn 2018 when song and dance will be combined with enthusiasm by the children and young people.

Scenes from previous Music Festivals which were held in 2010 and 2014.

Children with the DCT’s travelling librarian and others who are totally entranced in a story.

Education and training: If you want to have access to professional and indeed many other jobs in India you need to be fluent in speaking and writing English which is the language of much of government. Over 60 children from low income families are currently sponsored to attend English medium schools and are benefitting from an education that should give them those skills.

However, education doesn’t stop when you leave school and DCT has sponsored over 120 young people on vocational training courses. Competition for jobs is strong in India and having just passed your school exams doesn’t necessarily get you a job. DCT aims to give young people the skills which can help them get a start on the employment ladder – what they then do with their lives is their responsibility. The young people we help all come from low income families who could not afford training fees or equipment such as uniforms and new shoes that training courses often require.

It is a salutary experience when a young person who has been given that help by DCT meets you and says “You have given me a life”. This is what happened when we met up with former FCI student, Pawan, fifteen months ago. It was a message which was echoed by another former student’s mother when she called in to see us in November last year when she said “Thank you for giving my son a future”. Both young men are making successful careers in the Middle East where they intend to work for a few years before returning to India. They are also both helping support their families in Darjeeling and Pawan was putting his salary into bricks and mortar and building a new family house.

In November we paid a visit to Darjeeling’s Food and Craft Institute where we saw all the students supported by DCT.

Sanjana is studying Food and Beverages and she is seen training in the students’ dining room whilst Nayan is busy in the kitchen developing his culinary skills.

Supporting orphanage children: Since DCT began we have had a strong connection with the Kripasaran Boys’ and Girls’ Orphanages in Darjeeling. The original buildings housing the 60 boys were decaying and cracked and in danger of slipping down the mountain during earth tremors. DCT was instrumental in bringing together a project team to design and redevelop the boys’ site and in 2014, with major funding provided by DCT, new dormitories were opened for 6o boys. It was a wonderful day and one on which the quality of life for those children was immediately improved which in turn will help them study and achieve more in their lives.

The new building glows yellow, symbolic of peace, on the steep hillside.

The challenge now is to provide similar accommodation for the 45 girls who currently live in damp and cramped conditions. DCT still needs to raise over £100,000 to achieve this aim – but we will get there! In November we visited the site to see the demolition of some of the old buildings on site which will create more space for new construction.

A huge thank you to the Cobra Foundation for the support it has given DCT to help and support children in Darjeeling and change lives!