Adventurers wanted to help children of Nepal

IT was a speech in the pouring rain at Darnick Tower, during the Melrose Festival of 2007, which helped launch the now growing charity tackling education and health issues among children in Nepal, writes Mark Entwistle.

New Zealand-registered charity First Steps Himalaya was co-founded in 2008 by Fionna Heiton, the current owner of Darnick Tower, which plays such an integral part in the annual Melrose Festival celebrations.

Last week in our coverage of this year’s Melrose Festival, we incorrectly stated that the tower of the tower was Mrs Theresa Wilson, who, in fact, has been the tower’s tenant – not its owner – for the past 47 years.

Fionna, who inherited the tower from her relative Juliet Heiton, now oversees the operation of the trust, which works with children and their families in rural Nepal to give youngsters a childhood through the provision of early education, community health and awareness programmes.

It was while in Nepal in 2002 – at which point she was expecting twins – that Fionna was stunned by the appalling lack of basic support for pregnant and nursing mothers.

First Steps Himalaya gives communities a greater chance to succeed through early intervention. Just three hours from the bustling city of Kathmandu is the quiet village of Sangachok.

The village is home to First Steps Himalaya’s flagship Early Childhood Education centre. Children attend daily for play-based learning that was unknown until recently.

Funding from Scottish Rotary groups has allowed the trust to expand its services to six more communities last year and the aim is to establish 90 similar centres by 2015 revolutionising rural education in Nepal.

To provide vital funds to support its work, First Steps Himalaya runs a number of off-the-beaten track adventures and treks in the stunning Himalayan mountains.

This includes a trek on the Annapurna Circuit with Nepali-born Durga Aran, who co-founded the trust. The trek climbs from picturesque rice terraces to rugged mountain terrain, crossing the Thorong La pass at 5,416 metres, and places are still available on its September departure date.

Participants on one of charity’s Great Adventure trips spend an amazing 14 days immersed in the tranquillity of village life. They will test their boundaries as they engage with locals and experience everyday life in the rice fields.

They will help to paint and carpet new classrooms, dig trenches to connect water to the school and share their knowledge and skills, all the while navigating through the stunning countryside on foot.

The next Great Adventure departs Kathmandu on October 18, 2011. All profits from both trips provide the trust with vital funds to run its projects.

Further details: email: director@firststeps himalaya.org or visit the website on www.firststeps himalaya.org