Monday, 14 December 2015


VISIT IN NOVEMBER 2015 BY CHARLES AND IVANA JENKINS

Pema greeted Ivana and Charles Jenkins very warmly when they arrived. It was Charles's second visit, the last one being in freezing January weather 32 years ago. Mega was just as welcoming. The Jenkins were quickly ushered to the reception room which was a little more spacious than 32 years ago as a partition had been removed. This was the only change which Charles noticed, everything remaining spare and spartan (though now there are showers and flush lavatories).

Mega cooked a delicious late lunch and Pema talked over a whole range of subjects.She is particularly concerned about the situation in Tibet. On a different note they proudly showed their lovely new puppy. 

12 of the 16 children were introduced (the two older ones were still at their sixth form college; and 2 live out) who were all courteous and charming. The dormitories for girls and for boys were each only the size of a reasonably spacious room in a Western house. The beds are close together. 

Two of the children, aged about 12, read fluently in English and showed their exercise books, which were beautifully handwritten and of a standard that compared favourably with what might be expected of children at reasonably good schools in the UK (Ivana was a teacher and school governor). 

The home certainly seemed a happy place, despite its lack of any material goods beyond bare necessities and despite the difficult backgrounds of the children. Pema said that she had no feeling for IT and there was no evidence of smart phones or any other electronic equipment.


Ivana Jenkins, Pema and six of the children, 2015, 
including a new girl (aged 8), in the centre

Later Pema took the Jenkins to the school, about 15 minutes walk away, which she founded and ran for many years (and which our charity does not support). She remains the principal but has delegated the day to day running of it to a head. 

There are 1200 pupils of all local ethnicities and religions. From the size of the building one would have guessed the school roll to be about 400, so clearly class sizes are very large. The school is also very sparse. The only things other than benches and blackboards and notices in the classrooms were some specimen jars in the science classroom containing a range of life forms including a small cobra. 

Some of the science exercise books were of an impressively high standard. There is a computer room with about 10 old fashioned computers to enable the pupils to adapt to the IT culture which has swept across India in the last 20 years. Another big plus is the relatively spacious ground for sports etc, a very valuable asset in a typically dense and small but expanding town. 


The busy street immediately outside the Home in Herbertpur

Saturday, 25 April 2015


Visit of Jock and Mark to the home in February 2015

We had a lively and very filled four day visit in mid-February. The rapid pace of change in Herbertpur over the past five years was one of the most striking things: there are now very few animal-pulled carts (but still many bicycles); lots of rushing, tooting trucks; prominent worries about boys misbehaving with girls; and great pressure on land. 

The children - or young adults in many cases - were very courteous and made us feel exceptionally welcome - as of course did Pema and Mega, who looked after us incredibly well. We were fed all sorts of Indian and Tibetan delicacies, not to mention liberal helpings of rum and whisky! 

The children were in fine spirits. They seemed confident and less shy than hitherto. All were were in good health (see Dr Rigg's comments below), except one girl who has (non-communicable) TB and was temporarily living away from the Home; and a boy who had pneumonia and was in a Dehra Dun hospital, with his father. In total, there are now 15 children in the Home (3 were away) and we also support one lad with very poor parents who lives nearby. 


The children in the Home courtyard, 2015

When they leave, the children usually go on to job apprenticeships (in hotels, airlines, nannying etc), higher education (nursing, engineering) or careers (for example, in the army). Apart from being deeply cared for and given a secure home background, the children benefit from a sense of confidence that they can succeed - which comes from both Pema and Mega. 

About 130 children have 'been through' the Home since it began in 1980 (the UK charity was registered in 1982).


Pema and Mega outside the Home, 2015

We spoke a lot with Pema, which was great. She and Mr Mega are now definitely not taking any more children into the Home - not least, because of Mr Mega's age (about 82, though you would not guess it) and because Pema has a worrying heart condition. The youngest child in the Home is 10, which implies about 8 more years of support for the Home, though there will eventually also be the issue of Pema and Mega's pension.


The two youngest children, 2015

Pema is rightly very proud of the Johnson Secondary and Primary school, which she started and which now has 1,000 pupils, about 55% Moslem (mostly from a village west of Herbertpur), 43% Hindu and 2% Christian. (We do not support the school financially.) Fees are very low (£4 a month) but, even so, this is too much for some parents. Pema is very keen to keep the c50 'freeships' going and to keep the fee level low. The school has done well academically but there is pressure to raise fees, principally in order to pay the teachers better. Pema is still the Principal, but on a part-time basis.  Communal tensions are far more prevalent at the school than before, sometimes surfacing with perceived unfairness by Moslem parents of treatment of their children, in a school where all the teachers are Hindu. 


Two of the girls dancing, 2015

On the last night in the Home, we were treated to the usual, thoroughly enjoyable song and dance display. Six of the girls danced very elegantly while singing an entrancing Nepali folk-song. Several of the youngest boys were especially skilled and lively dancers and one lad in particular had a remarkable sense of rhythm and lack of self-consciousness. The standard then dropped dramatically when Jock, Pema, Mega and Mark joined in a communal disco-session - though Mr Mega put us all to shame with his energetic moves.

Street view in Herbertpur, outside the Home (centre right, red and yellow pillared building), 2015

Monday, 20 April 2015

Dr Rita and Tony Rigg’s visit, February, 2015

As usual our journey by car direct from Delhi airport took us much longer than anticipated, by a good three hours! After catching up on the chat we had a restful night once we got acclimatised to the noise...India never seems to sleep, there is always activity and restlessness and traffic.

Next morning was an early start. There was a public holiday so no school. The plan was to explore Dehra Dun, the geological museum of the Himalayas have lunch and then visit the Dhondupling Tibetan colony and Buddhist centre at Clement town just outside the city. Breakfast as usual was delicious and we were treated to perfect poached eggs which apparently Mr Mega had been taught to cook by Mark! They were excellent! This was accompanied by what seemed like a whole loaf of toast just for the two of us. Again beautifully and graciously served to us by two of the girls.

Pema asked quietly if I would check over the children and although I was not in any way prepared and had only my stethoscope and torch from my iPhone on me I was happy to give it my best shot. I was mindful of the fact that one of the children was away in their own home being treated for and  recovering from "closed" TB, that is TB that is not directly infectious. The medical examinations which included those for Pema and Mega took the best part of the morning. Word gets out quickly and before we knew it the neighbours joined in as did our driver! Pema was grateful for reassurance and acknowledgement that for the most part the children were found to be in good health. For me it was an honour to be able to give back something to them.

After the trip to Clement Town, we returned to the home in the late evening. We had dinner and afterwards were entertained to an evening of song, poetry and dance. It was heartwarming to watch how all the children contributed. The boys were fabulous at breakdancing with agile gymnastic skills. Mega did not hold back and joined in wholeheartedly.

The following morning it was time to say goodbye and the children all lined up before school, well scrubbed up and looking spick and span. They had prepared some lovely cards for us having obviously put in a lot of effort and work into them. They are happy, hard working with high aspirations. Pema and Mr Mega give them what they need to develop this belief in themselves.


We loved our time with them, too short as usual. Just to see the children, to be enthralled by Pema, her enthusiasm, her understatement of what she has achieved in Herbertpur in education for the children of the area and the care and love given to those she has taken into her home over the years, was very humbling. Not to forget Mr Mega who has for all these years been at her side, the strong quiet type. 


Monday, 23 March 2015

SPONSORS' MEETING
scheduled for 7.30 pm April 22, 2015
at the Cullinan's house, London EC2
Hear about Jock and Mark's February 2015 visit to the home

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

AUGUST 2014 UPDATE

*The children in the Home are all well and thriving. Pema has been hearing from many 'old' boys and girls: some in the army; some in nursing and/or married; a few have emigrated to Canada; and many live and work elsewhere in India. We calculate that over 300 children have been through the Home since its inception in 1979.

* At the last sponsor meeting, in 2013, we were delighted to welcome the Johnsons from New Zealand, whose mother linked with Pema and helped fund the Johnson school which Pema founded in the 1980s. The Johnsons have been supporting the school for decades (this charity does not fund the school). They brought some very interesting photos of Pema at her wedding and the early days of the Home in the late 1970s.

* Mark and Jock intend to visit Pema and the Home in February 2015 - so we are postponing the sponsor meeting this year until spring 2015. Some other sponsors also plan to visit the Home and we hope to hear from them.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

LATEST NEWS FROM THE HOME AND VISIT BY RITA AND TONY RIGG

The annual sponsor evening was held on September 7th, 2012, in the Cullinan's home in Hackney - for which many thanks to Katie and Paul. Incidentally, this month is the 30th anniversary of the founding of the UK charity. Pema sent a message of very warm thanks to all sponsors and supporters.

Rita and Tony Rigg and their son, Matthew, visited the Home in February 2012. Rita, who is a GP in Edinburgh, kindly came to London to tell us about her visit and to show her photos. She spoke eloquently and to the point. Rita's slides and account gave a great view of the practicalities of life in the Home - and reflected the immense impact which Pema and the Home have on visitors, due to Pema's affectionate warmth and energy, Mega's quiet but strong presence and the shy charm of the children.

There are about 20 children in the Home currently, with 5 being cared for outside. They are all in good health, though one boy became very ill after the Rigg's visit (he has since recovered). Two former children from the home visited while Rita was there, which was inspirational for the children - to see how well the two girls had done. Rita and Tony much enjoyed an evening in which the children danced and sang, sometimes very poignantly.

Home life is simple, communal and hard-working. There is not much room but things run smoothly. Pema and Mega are quite strict. For example, the children can only watch TV twice a week and generally only go into the town to see a film or similar once a week. They seemed happy and well-cared for.

Pema's health remains dodgy due to a poor heart. She finds the hot summers in northern India very difficult. Mr Mega (who is 78, to Pema's 58), was in good form and was remarkably healthy, still doing his early morning exercises at about 4.30 before making breakfast for the children, helped by those on the rota for that day. Pema is not keen on technology but is apparently doing a diploma in computer science.

We also heard about the Johnson school, which Pema started and where she is still the principal - though now on  a 3-day week basis. (The UK charity does not support the school financially.). There are now 1,400 pupils in the English-language-medium secondary school and 150 in the primary school. The aim of the school, from Pema's perspective, is to educate some of the poorest children in the area. Rita was impressed with how widely and wisely Pema looks into how children at risk are cared for at their homes.

Generous donations organised by Jock enabled a new school bus to be bought last year. Another kind legacy from Scotland is being used to build new toilets and classrooms.

Finally ..  Jock read from some recent letters from Pema - lively and colourful as always. Among the things she wrote about was a small boy of four whom she had taken in, who was much troubled (his father had died and his mother was dying of TB). The boy's extrovert and innocent personality shone brightly even when faced with the angry parents of a small girl to whom he had proposed in class (which they must have taken rather more seriously than he meant).

** Pema and Mega hope to visit their two children in Canada in 2013. If they do, they may well come to the UK, perhaps on the way back, in May. We will keep you posted ...

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Sponsor and friends meeting

Do come to the sponsor and friends meeting on February 21, 2011, in London at 7pm. Sponsors should have received an invitation. If not, please contact Mark Hudson. You will hear about how things are going in Herbertpur and about Tibet.