I like to think I am a person with an open mind that embraces many interests, but without doubt, two of the most influential factors that have shaped my life during the last 30 years has been my love of walking in and exploring the high Mountain ranges of the world (and in particular the Himalaya and Alps), and also for the music of the Canadian singer Leonard Cohen. I first discovered his songs in 1967 and watched him live for the first time at the Isle of Wight in 1970 and I have often described him as both my idol and icon.
As I describe below, I have recently combined the two in a very worthwhile and rewarding manner and I hope that after you read this article you might also be inspired to help the deaf chillden at Baharibse, in the poverty stricken Himalayan nation of Nepal.
On April 25 2015, just three years ago, a devastating earthquake struck Nepal, killing nearly 9,000 people and injuring nearly 22,000. 21 people died at Everest Base Camp, the beauiful Langtang Valley, long popular with trekkers, saw a huge avalanche that killed over 250 people and removed villages from the map.
Hundreds of thousands of Nepalese were made homeless, with entire villages flattened and many famous historic buildings destroyed. Perhaps one of the most terrifying experiences took place at the School for Deaf Children at Baharibse.
The School for the Deaf is located about three hours drive from Kathmandu. In a few seconds, the life of the students was quite literally turned upside down, without anyone able to advise or explain what was going on. In just a few minutes, one of the few schools for deaf children in Nepal was quite literally destroyed.
Fortunately the school has had a long and rewarding association with Community Action Nepal (CAN), the UK Charity formed by Doug Scott in the early 1990s. In 1975, together with Dougal Haston, Doug was one of the first Britons to summit Everest and subsequently put together a series of climbs that made him one of the world’s most famous and innovative climbers and is one of only three recipients of the prestigious lifetime achievement ‘Piolet d’Or’award.
Doug has devoted the last 30 years of his life to raising funds for CAN, so that he could repay the support he received from the impoverished mountain people, who supported him during his climbing career in the Himalaya. The philosophy of CAN has never been to belittle people and communities with a never ending series of handouts, but to put the framework and structure in place to help people help themselves.
The success and scope of CAN has been extraordinary and Doug and fellow trustees of CAN regularly travel to Nepal at their own expense to meet the Nepalese CAN team and to visit the many projects that CAN is partly funding and overseeing.
In 2016, when Doug and his fellow trustees visited the school, they were moved to see children’s clothing scattered amongst the wreckage, along with satchels and exercise books, and, although rebuilding had commenced, they wanted to make a priority of re-establishing the IT room, so the deaf children could access the outside world and learn skills that may help them find work on leaving school. Sadly all the computer equipment had been hurled from the desks and shelves during the earthquake and had been destroyed.
Other projects outstanding in 2016 included the weekly supply of fruit and vegetables, the construction of outside toilets, an outside kitchen, a boys and girls hostel and a boundary fence. Furniture was required for the school and furniture and bedding for the dormitories.
CAN was also keen to support the acquisition of neighbouring land and to establish a fully functioning kitchen garden for the production of vegetables as a cash crop to help fund the school on an ongoing basis. At the time, the school was functioning in a temporary learning shelter and accommodation blocks. It was planned to use these for vocational training, once the new school was completed. And the school would be made secure by the erection of a boundary fence.
So where does Leonard Cohen fit into this?
One of the mottos of our travel company, Casterbridge Tours, was ‘Learn to Travel – Travel to Learn’ and, as a former teacher, I have always been aware there is no substitute for the value of travel as a learning experience, where we can all learn about and borrow from the best of alien cultures.
And personally after a lifetime of working, travelling, wandering and living around the world, I have long thought the Moslem tradition of Zakat – giving a small percentage of one’s wealth and income to deserving causes on an annual basis – is one we can all both learn from and practice.
In recent years I have involved all our family members in selecting causes that our family property company can support for the following 12 months and, as a result, in 2017 I advised Doug, who I had met several times over the years in both the UK and Nepal, that we would like to make a donation to support the excellent work that CAN undertakes in Nepal, a country I have visited on multiple occasions.
Doug suggested we might consider funding the completion of the building works at Baharibse.
The only stipulation/request that I made was that the funding would be associated with Education and young people because everywhere in the world, in communities rich and poor, it is the young people who are the future and who need support and help.
I also wanted the project to be associated with the memory of the Canadian Singer and Poet Leonard Cohen, whose music had accompanied me on my life’s journey and who had been an inspiration and given pleasure to millions all over the world.
This was for two reasons:
1 Firstly, although Leonard, a Canadian Jew, had never visited Nepal,he was a frequent visitor to the Indian sub- continent and had practised Buddhism for much of the last 40 years. He was always sympathetic to those who had little and, by making the donation in his name, it was a small gesture of thanks by myself to Leonard for the pleasure his music had provided.
2 Of far more significance, and always being of a pragmatic nature, I thought if I could link Leonard’s name and memory with the school and children of Baharibse, it might encourage Cohenites around the world to also support the wonderful work CAN has done at Baharibse in Leonard’s name.
I am now pleased to report that the rebuilding of the school at Baharibse has been completed and this includes the Leonard Cohen Dormitories.
Earlier this month Doug and some of his fellow trustees were at the school for the official reopening of the new buildings and I will quote from his report.
5.00 a.m: we departed Kathmandu reaching Bahrabise by 9.30 a.m. We then walked across the suspension bridge to admire first the new school hostels, the rendering gleaming in fresh, yellow paint. Beyond the hostels were the new classrooms, toilets and sanitation blocks all completed to very high specifications. The old refectory had been completely refurbished.
The Bahrabise School and hostel buildings were inaugurated by Doug Scott and Aashman Tamang the Chief District Officer [Sindhupalchok District] during which everyone concerned was complimented for the rebuilding, particularly Keshab, Suman and the local contractors.
Perhaps the highlight of our visit was the dancing by six children in traditional Tamang costume who kept in time with the music despite being profoundly deaf. They never took their eyes off their teacher who was busy signing. For all of us watching this was quite a moving experience just to see how these children could realise their full potential despite such a handicap. As so often is said, CAN’s buildings are important but not so much as the nurses and teachers that work in them.
The Headmistress Maina and her staff were given a good deal of praise from all the various speakers for their utter dedication as was Bhoj the instigator of the school. He had first asked Doug Scott to establish a school in 2000. At that time the school was in the home of a sympathetic friend of the deaf children in the town of Bahrabise. Bhoj was beaming with delight now that for the second time the deaf children had a school to attend and it has to be said, a much better school than the first.
Part of the school’s agricultural land had been devoted to mushroom production. On examination this project revealed itself to have been hugely worthwhile and profitable having repaid 50% of the capital expenditure in the first year from the sales beyond the school and that was after supplying the school with all the mushrooms to feed the children. This was another highlight of the trip seeing the new mushroom cultivation as an income generation project designed and planned by the pupils with small scale funding from the Global Giving donors. The building and equipment costs were around £1,200 but in one season the school has sold £600 worth of mushrooms at the market. The latest income generation scheme is for the school to raise goats on the uneven ground down by the Bhote Koshi river.
Another possibility towards sustainability is to link up with the Leonard Cohen Community.
This needs some explanation: the principal donor towards funding the hostels was the Michael Bromfield’s family in the UK. Michael made his very generous donation on the understanding that one of the hostels would be known as the Leonard Cohen Hostel. Michael is a fan of Leonard Cohen the Canadian singer, songwriter and poet who died recently and who still has a huge following and Michael is hoping to link the School for the Deaf at Bahrabise with the Leonard Cohen Community. To that end there is now a plaque on the wall to the memory of Leonard Cohen along with some of his memorable poetry.
It is I think quite appropriate that the words on the plaque include two of Leonard’s most memorable lines:
’There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in’
And indeed, as the rebuilding of Baharibse testifies however dark and bleak events may be, there is always room for hope.
Of course, supporting the School for the deaf at Baharibse is not restricted to devotees of Leonard Cohen and, if you would like to contribute to the ongoing costs of the remarkable school at Baharibse, then please make a donation using this link and adding ‘Baharibse’ and/or ‘School for the Deaf’ to the message box.
You can also learn more about the remarkable work that CAN does amongst the impoverished but indefatigable communities in the remote mountain areas of Nepal by visiting their website here .
And if you would like to learn more about Leonard Cohen and how and why his music is so memorable to so many there is no better place to start than here!
Please support the deaf children at Baharibse if you are able to do so,
© Michael Bromfield