When a massive earthquake struck Nepal in April last year, all Ganess Kumari Gurung could think about was the safety of her three children at home.
The 29-year-old housewife was travelling on foot up the remote mountains in Makawanpur district when she sensed trouble at home. Ganess felt tremors as she was walking, and the feeling of the unknown sent chills down her spine.
“I was worried for my children’s safety and rushed back home. At that moment, I could only pray for the best and hope that they were all right,” she said.
Ganess’ son, aged nine, and two daughters, aged five and 11, escaped unhurt but their family home in the village of Furke was reduced to rubble.
In the months that followed, Ganess, her husband and their three children had to put up in a temporary shelter.
The school which the children go to, the Shree Basanta Primary School, was also destroyed in the 7.8-magnitude quake that ripped through the country. Ganess’ children and hundreds of other children were forced to travel on foot to another school many kilometres away.
“Shree Basanta was just a stone’s throw away from our homes, but since it was destroyed in the earthquake, the children had to go to the next nearest school which was very far away.
“And here, we travel by foot. The kids had to walk for hours to and from the school to continue their education,” Ganess lamented.
However, luck was on their side as the Lions Club of Bayan Baru (LCBB), Penang, decided to take the initiative to rebuild the Shree Basanta Primary School.
Fast forward 14 months later, and the new school is ready to commence operations. It is bigger and equipped with better facilities to give the kids all the help they need.
“I am very happy. My children can continue their education here without having to walk so far. We are very blessed and could not be more grateful. This school building looks even bigger and better,” said Ganess, at the opening ceremony of the newly constructed school.
There was a carnival-like atmosphere as parents turned up in droves to share in the joy.
The glow on their faces and the glimmer of hope in their eyes, say it all – the new school presents an opportunity for the kids to start anew. A good education opens doors to a better life.
One of the parents, Rajani Gurung, 40, was overwhelmed by emotions during the opening ceremony.
“The rebuilding of Shree Basanta is a huge blessing. My house was filled with cracks during the earthquake. It was terrifying to say the least.
“At that moment, we could not run away even if we wanted to. We were trapped and silently prayed and waited until it was all over,” recounted Rajani.
“When I took over, my first priority was to raise US$50,000 (RM205,000) for the Shree Basanta Primary School,” said Sharon Goay, president of LCBB from July 2015-July 2016.
“I joined the team going to Basanta in February, to assess the progress of the construction. On our way up, I realised the journey was much more difficult than I had imagined.
“I remember asking Datuk Goh (LCBB charter president Datuk Goh Eng Hoe) how long it would take to reach the place and how many more mountains we had to cross as I was starting to feel pressure in my ears.”
The 75km journey from the capital city Kathmandu up the remote mountains in Makawanpur district took the group more than four hours by jeep.
“When we reached Shree Basanta at 2,590m elevation, I realised that we had undertaken a difficult project.
“Today, we can see Shree Basanta Primary School standing tall again and we can be proud of our motto, ‘We Serve’.
“No matter how difficult the task, we can achieve what we set out to do if we have the sincerity, determination and commitment,” said Goay, at the opening ceremony, to the roar of thunderous applause from the crowd.
“LCBB first visited Kathmandu in January last year for a charity programme called Winter Clinic which was organised by the Dolpo Tulku Charitable Foundation,” said Datuk Goh.
The club donated US$10,000 (RM41,000) for medical supplies and, with the cooperation of Doctors Without Borders, provided treatment for the children who had travelled down the mountains to Kathmandu for their medical check-ups.
“We also visited the Pabitra Samaj Sewa orphanage for another charity programme in conjunction with our 10th anniversary.
“During this visit to Kathmandu, I realised there are many children in need of help. When the earthquake struck Kathmandu last April, I was really shocked. I was supposed to bring my mother to visit the birth place of Lord Buddha (Lumbini) for a pilgrimage. (Lumbini is a revered pilgrimage site in central Nepal.)
“The Dolpo Tulku Charitable Foundation then contacted (then president) Datin Julianna Chong for help with a programme called ‘Shelter over the Head’. Without any hesitation, our LCBB members started the charity drive by donating funds to buy zinc sheets to rebuild the homes of the underprivileged in the mountainous areas in Nepal. We managed to donate US$10,000 (RM41,000) for this project,” said Goh.
“When my team was here last June, it was our first trip up to this place to assess the damage caused by the earthquake. In my heart, I had thought of giving up due to the challenging weather, geographical location, distance and logistics. I thought maybe we could just give a donation to the school board.
“However, after seeing the children on our way up and back in Kathmandu, I decided that we must help them.
“Exactly a year later, and on our third trip here, the new Shree Basanta Primary School is up and running – bigger and with better facilities.”
Goh pointed out that it was not easy to rebuild the school within a short period of time, given the geographical location, distance, limited resources and logistics.
She credited all parties involved in the project, naming the hard work, determination and commitment of all parties in overcoming the obstacles as factors that allowed the dream to become reality.
“I always believe that children are our future,” said Goh firmly.
The writer’s media trip to Kathmandu, Nepal, to witness the handover of the Shree Basanta Primary School to the relevant authorities, was sponsored by the Lions Club of Bayan Baru, Penang.