Away with the Opies

Our travel adventures……

Category: Volunteer Work

Melamchi-Ghyang and Nepal – The last few days

 

Goodbye Village life…


Our last day


Our village home

School trip over it was time to return to the village one last time. Steve would be tying up plumbing loose ends and I would be teaching English – we were both looking forward to returning.

The 10 hour bus trip back to he village was every bit as bumpy and hairy as we’d remembered it, but we arrived safely and in glorious sunshine – it was good to be back.

 

Eek!


Nothing much had changed since our time away except for the arrival of Kat and Ed a young doctor couple also volunteering with Community Action Nepal and unbelievably from our home village of St Agnes in Cornwall – it’s such a small world. We all got on like a house on fire and spending time together was a lovely connection to home. Unfortunately they were leaving the following day, but we planned to meet in Kathmandu before going our separate ways, us to Myammar, them to continue their work with CAN. Kat and Ed have a blog called Doctors without Motors – well worth a read, especially as they travelled across India by bicycle before arriving in Nepal! 

Kat, me, Steve and Ed

Home sweet home

Our last couple of weeks in the village were spent in a tent. A reminder of family camping holidays, it brought back fond memories and was a mini adventure we enjoyed for a while. In the confined space we agreed that tidiness was the key to happy cohabitation, but sadly our plan was short lived. With inevitable mess and dirty washing building up around us it wasn’t long before our new accommodation lost it’s appeal!

During our short time together Steve, Kat, Ed and I set about building a bonfire to burn some rubbish. We surrounded it with a little stone circle and foraged for anything combustible we could find to keep it going as long as we could. Villagers chipped in by adding unconventional fire fodder such as old wellies, broken plastic chairs and batteries. The former burnt with a nasty looking blue flame, the later fizzed off in various directions – we all stood well back! Following the bright clear days the evenings soon became chilly, our fire was a welcome respite from the cold.


Steve worked on showers and solar panels for some of the villagers and provided water supplies to the school’s long drop toilets.

 

School toilet with new water supply


One of his most notable achievements during our last couple of weeks in the village was the production of some of rather tasty Raksi – the locals home distilled hooch of choice. Drunk hot it’s a warming treat in the cold evenings – it was a job Steve took very seriously…

Raksi production!


The Nursery school teacher was back from her Maternity leave and so now not needed to help with the youngest children I taught English to classes 1 – 5. The children were a joy to teach and my days passed quickly. Working in Melamchi-Ghyang School has been an absolute privilege and an experience I shall never forget. 


I spent a wonderful afternoon sat in the sunshine with classes 1 to 5 using art materials generously donated by Huish Primary School in Yeovil. The youngsters especially loved using the paints – some of them had never painted before! It was great seeing them so creative and so proud of what they’d produced.

Jack and Rangen with craft goodies from Huish Primary School


Steve and I introduced rounders to the school. A little improvisation was needed with equipment – cricket stumps as substitutes for rounders bats worked a treat. It was a nice change from the usual game of football and both the boys and the girls loved it.


We were invited to various homes for farewell feasts, one of which was at a Tea House where a couple of film makers, Tony and Clive, were staying for the night. They asked if they could interview/film us the following day which, having had a couple of Raksi’s, we agreed to. We have no idea if any of the footage will be used, but it was fun to have been a part of it and it was lovely meeting and spending time with them.

Tashi, Neema, Tara, Paldan, neighbour and me


We’d also been asked to write a piece for the award winning Nepali newspaper The Tourism Times about our Everest Base Camp Trek – this is it.


We were invited to a wedding (our 4th since being in Nepal) at the neighbouring village of Nakote. We walked the easy downhill trek there, but opted for a lift back with the locals – by truck. In Nepal that means on the back of the truck, hanging on for dear life… With the menfolk singing and dancing all the way to the village it was an experience we shall never forget and not one we plan to repeat anytime soon!

Our final day at the school ended with the obligatory appearance on the assembly stage. We thought our luck was in as there was a power cut and so no microphone, but sadly it didn’t let us off the hook. Following a genuinely heartfelt speach from Purna the headmaster about us leaving the village it was our turn to say something. Luckily I managed more than tears on this occasion and Steve was as composed as ever as one after the other we said our emotional goodbyes. We allowed ourselves a little proud moment as we received a large round of applause from the whole school before being presented with khata after khata from Purna and all the teachers. It was an incredible gesture of warmth from people who had so openly welcomed us weeks before and who were now our friends – we will miss them all.

Standing on the assembly stage on last time


We lived in unheated, ramshackle accommodation and endured freezing temperatures. We experienced 2 earthquakes and regular power cuts. We ‘enjoyed’ once weekly bucket showers and a shared compost toilet. We had mountain mice (more akin to rats) as bedroom companions AND WE LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT. For us though it was easy – we knew we could pack our bags and walk away if ever it got too much. We could return to our warm cosy home, or we could travel to anywhere in the world that took our fancy! We would thaw through and we could take a shower. For the people of Melamchi-Ghyang life isn’t that sinple.This is their everyday and always reality, this is their post earthquake existence. Occassionally they reminisce, but mostly they look to the future, not to the past. We could not fail to be humbled by the community around us and their response to what life had dealt them. We left the village with work already in progress – the new road is under construction and the rebuilding of the school’s hostels and classrooms is due to start soon. Our hope is that in the not too distant future this beautiful village and it’s outstanding school will be returned to it’s former, pre-earthquake glory so that the local people can once again enjoy their lives in peace and relative comfort.

Our accommodation

Our first room

We cannot thank Purna and Janghmu, the teachers, the pupils and the community of Melamchi-Ghyang enough for making our stay in this wonderful village so very special. Our words cannot ever do justice to our time there. 

On Saturday 25th February we said our final, tearful goodbyes to the people we’d spent so much time with. We walked out of the village looking back only once. Our volunteer work had come to an end and it was nearly time to leave Nepal – where had the last 5 months gone?

Time to go


Here are just a few of the very special people (in no particular order) who became our friends:

Phurpa my Nursery and Kindergarton class teaching friend – Jhangmu who fed, watered and looked after us – Rangen who helped me with English classes -.Kami who looked after us in Kathmandu and guided us in and out of the village – Purna the headmaster, who took us under his wing and showed us the ropes – Tashi who looked after Steve in the forest – Kami Lama who did the same – Karma and Karsang for giving up their room for us – All the staff and pupils of Melamchi-Ghyang school who welcomed us with open arms – Community Action Nepal and Murari who made all this possible and last but not least Corin an English techno whizz who runs his own charity Yolmo Connect providing computers and training to people in rural areas of Nepal and who loves the village as much as we do.

We would also like to say a huge thank you to the pupils, parents and staff of Huish Primary School in Yeovil for all their fundraising and support. Also for the wonderful home made cards and hand picked craft goodies they sent over for Christmas. We’ve been touched by their generosity.

 

                        

 

 

            

 


Our final days in Nepal were spent relaxing, sending home our winter gear and planning our trip ahead. We submitted our article for the newspaper and said our goodbyes to Kami and Tashi who’d looked after us during our stays in Kathmandu. We celebrated my birthday with Kat and Ed in Thamel. A lovely evening made even more special by a surprise cake – with candles! It was the perfect end our Nepali adventure. 


Bags packed

 

 We will be back


Kate and Steve – Melamchi-Ghyang, Nepal

Nov 3rd 2016 – Feb 25th 2017

 

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Kate-Opie
https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Steve-Opie

 

Plumbing in Nepal

 

My work in Melamchi-Ghyang


On 3rd November 2016, a day before my 51st birthday, Kate and I arrived in Melamchi-Ghyang, a village that was entirely devastated by the 2015 earthquake, to start our volunteer work.


My job was mostly to help with school and community plumbing work, but also to lend a hand with general maintenance and other tasks if needed. It soon became clear that conditions in the village would be very different from my usual super-efficient working life at home!

My office!


A few of the hurdles to overcome:

 There is no PlumBase just down the road. With the nearest hardware store a day’s travel by precarious bus ride away it was vital to assess what was needed as carefully and accurately as possible before making the trip to purchase the required parts.

2  Everything is decided by committee, meaning lots and lots of talking, mostly in Nepali and Yolmo (the local Tibetan dialect), before agreements are reached and anything can be started.

3  Work in the village is done to Nepali time, which is the impressive big brother of our Cornish “Dreckly”!

4  Bodging and recycling are necessary evils – there’s lots of make do and mend.

5  Pipes and fittings are different from what I’m used to working with in the U.K.

6  Lunch isn’t a meal deal from the local shop, it’s freshly cooked on open fires by the workers.

My special thanks goes to PlumBase, Truro for generously donating tools for me to use whilst in the village and for the community to use now we’ve left.

Fancy a cuppa!

Trusted with the cooking!


And so to work.

My first plumbing task was to assess the extent of problems with the community water supply and offer my advice. Shortly after we arrived the government announced that by mid 2017 communities affected by the earthquake would have a drinking water supply pipe installed by the government. The devil was in the detail and it later became apparent that in Melamchi-Ghyang this meant just one stand-pipe for 10 houses. This was not what the villagers wanted and so for my time in the village at least the project was on hold.

 

 


There had been intermittent problems with the school water supply. Originally installed by American volunteers it was damaged during the earthquake, but had since been repaired. The recent Monsoon season had taken its toll and so remedial work was needed to ensure a constant supply. Consequently I spent a number of days working with a few villagers deep in the jungle (on an old Tibetan salt trading route) fixing the existing water tanks, building a new one near the source and mending the pipe in various places. 

   

Cheers!


The locals also delighted in catching frogs which are considered a delicacy in the village. I didn’t fancy fried frog for dinner so left them to it!

 

Tashi proud of his frogs!


The School showers consist of 5 cubicles, each had a hot tap, a cold tap and a bucket. Known aptly as a bucket shower the practice was to fill the bucket with water and then wash yourself. With the help of my glamorous assistant and any number of willing, but less able onlookers I installed 5 new showers which were much appreciated by pupils and staff alike.

 

   

                                      

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

Able assistant!

 

 

Less able assistants!


There were a number of leaks in the water supply to and from the solar hot water collectors, these were fixed and the pipes insulated which was quite a task. The only insulation available were giant rolls of 5mm thick foam which had to be cut, rolled around the pipes, tied in place, covered with clear polythene (also cut from a roll) and finally tied again with string to secure it. What would have taken a couple of hours at home took me a week to do here.


I enjoyed a fun afternoon with the Year 8 students taking them on an environmental science field trip into the forest to show them the water system.

 

 


Dawa, a teacher at the school, helped me fix a problem with insufficient hot water being supplied to the girls showers. When the boys put their showers on, the girls water went cold – something I imagine the lads found rather funny, I know I would have done at their age! A new pipe was run from the main water tank to the solar hot water collectors, problem solved – boys fun ruined!

 

 

School shower block


Once accepted as being vaguely competent by the community I was approached to help with some of their plumbing problems including installions of solar hot water systems, fitting showers and fixing leaks.

 


Two of the school toilets were without water supply, which I sorted with salvaged pipe and fittings. The only new parts used were the two taps.


Caritas, a worldwide Catholic charity, had committed to supplying a new, more robust water supply to the school, from a different source to the existing one. I assisted them in surveying the route through the jungle and into the village with a view to piggy backing the new community water supply with the school’s pipeline. Caritas’ charity didn’t stretch to allowing the community to use the same pipe as the school and so an additional pipe was needed.


There were somethings I couldn’t fix… 

Toilets at the Cave Temple completely destroyed by the earthquake

There were somethings I wouldn’t fix…

Man on a hot tin roof!

 There were somethings that didn’t need fixing…

 

Such as the compost toilet and bucket shower where we were living!


Until recently the road ended just after entering the village. The 2 charities funding the rebuilding of the school, CAN the boarding hostels and Caritas the classrooms, insisted that the road was extended to the other side of the village where the school is situated to make delivery of materials easier and cheaper. About a dozen people owned land that was needed for this new stretch of road which was to run along an existing footpath. The Village Development Committee set their powers of persuasion into motion to cajole these people into donating the required land free of charge (we couldn’t see that happening back home!!!). Eventually, after much discussion the road was sanctioned and work started on building it during our last few days there – weeks later than originally planned. Just before we left I helped adjust some of the water supply pipes to the community that the new road affected.


The new Health Post funded and run by CAN is the only building in the village currently built to recent earthquake resistant regulations. The toilet and bidet hose needed a little work and both were fixed with salvaged materials and a bit of ingenuity.


My other duties in the village.

I mended the school microscopes damaged in the earthquake, installed electrical light sockets in classrooms, taught practical science lessons, put up shelves, took sports lessons, prepared radishes for drying, but most importantly of all…

I made Raksi!


 

Melamchi-Ghyang Annual School Excursion

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Year 9 Melamchi-Ghyang School Excursion 

Feb 2017


On the 2nd February 2017 we were privilaged to join the year 9 pupils of Melamchi-Ghyang School on their annual excursion.

This is our diary.



Day 1 – Kathmandu to Chitwan.

After a 5:45am wake up call we excitedly set off to catch one of two buses bound for the first destination of our trip – Chitwan National Park.

 

The day didn’t begin well – our coach wouldn’t start! Things weren’t looking good but 40 minutes of tinkering and head scratching later and thankfully our comatosed bus spluttered into throaty life – we were ready for the off. Steve was thrilled, the youngsters were vocal and I was wondering why I hadn’t gone to the loo when I’d had the chance.

Setting off along the main Kathmandu to Pokhara route – a road that Steve and I now knew well – we initially made good time, stopping only for the customary dahl bhat lunch and a couple of toilet breaks, a huge relief for everyone!

The atmosphere on the bus was buzzing until we hit road works. Stuck and going nowhere for over an hour the pupils seized the opportunity to stock up on roadside snacks, Steve – not able to read when travelling because it makes him ill – immersed himself in his kindle and I watched the chaotic world go by.

By the time the road was passable we were well behind schedule and with the day slipping away we kept everything crossed for no further delays. We arrived at Chitwan National Park a little before 6pm, almost three hours later than intended. The fading light made it impossible to trek through the Park as planned and so with options now limited everyone was hastily escorted to the museum before that too closed. Housing fascinating, strange and weirdly macabre exhibits of preserved mammals, reptiles and amphibians of all shapes and sizes it was somewhere we could easily have spent more time. But time today was not on our side and so with pretty much no light left we were whisked off to see some of the park’s elephants. Chained to their posts for the night Steve and I felt uneasy to see such majestic animals in their confinement. Many of the students though were seeing these impressive beasts for the first time – they were excited.

By now dark, we boarded the buses where the high spirited youngsters broke into Nepali song until we reached our hotel. We settled down to a late dinner, the girls eating first followed by the boys and finally ourselves and the teachers. Having had our fill we all headed our separate ways for the night.

We hoped that the next day would bring less time sitting on the bus and more time sightseeing…


Day 2 –  Chitwan to Lumbini

The second day started around 6am with some of the pupils reading their school trip diaries aloud. Nepal has an education system where classes are structured around ability rather than age, so pupils on the trip were of varying ages. All teachers were responsible for a small group of students and every day at least one person from each group was chosen to present work from diaries they were expected to write during the evening. Presentations rushed through, breakfasts eaten and bags packed we boarded the buses ready for the day ahead.

Numpty!

We were pretty much on time and things seemed to be going well until our bus driver decided to plough onto a single lane bridge which was already occupied by a vehicle coming in the opposite direction. This move created absolute gridlock and around 45 minutes of bedlam insued as we were ordered by a police officer to reverse (and reverse and reverse) past a huge queue of traffic that had formed behind us. Finally we found somewhere suitable to pull off the road to let the less than happy, and equally long, queue of traffic that had built up on the other side of the bridge pass. It was shaping up to be a day similar to yesterday…

Birth place of Lord Buddha

 

 

Lumbini, in the Terai – Southern Nepal, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the birth place of Buddha. It’s a very special place for Buddhists worldwide.

 

For us it was a lovely couple of hours spent exploring the temples and grounds, for the pupils of Melamchi-Ghyang School it meant so much more.

 

 

There’s always one! 

  

 


Exploring done, dahl bhat lunch eaten and souvenirs bought, we headed back to our buses. A short ride later found us at the Lumbini World Peace Pagoda. One of eighty such pagodas around the world – including the one in Pokhara we’d recently visited – these Buddhist stupas have been built to promote world peace. It’s a beautiful structure, so white that our eyes hurt in the bright sunshine reflecting from its walls.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Our next stop was the Indian border. Residents of Nepal don’t need a visa to travel to India and so the teachers and students payed a brief visit to their neighbouring country. At a cost of $100 each for a visa Steve and I decided to watch on from the (relative) comfort of our bus.

 

An hour or so later we were back on the road bound for hotel number 3. Tired from a long day we all dispersed to our rooms to freshen up and gather our thoughts before heading back down for dinner – boys first, then girls then teachers and us.

The family running the hotel said that Steve and I were ‘very white’ and guessed my age at 36! This was most definitely my favourite hotel of our trip so far!


Day 3 – Lumbini to Pokhara

The day started well because we were on the quieter bus away from “DJ Whistling Boy”! I’ll explain: all buses here have an assistant on board – mostly young lads – who help their drivers avoid collisions on the chaotic city streets or dropping off  cliffs on the hazardous mountain roads. On the public buses they also handle the money for fares. They use whistles as a form of communication hence we refer to them as the “whistling boys.” This particular lad – who today, thankfully, was on the other bus – spent far more of his time shaking his tail feathers at the students than he did assisting the driver and, in his efforts to impress, turned the music up so loud that our brains hurt! We duly dubbed him “DJ Whistling Boy”, the name stuck!

‘DJ Whistling Boy’!


On route to Pokhara we stopped at the UNESCO world heritage site of Tansen, where we visited temples including Bhagwati, built in 1815 by Col Ujir Singh Thapa to commentate the victory over British troops in the battle of Butwal during the Gurkha War (1814-1816).

Just before our final destination of the day we stopped off at Devis Falls and Gupteswar Cave . Steve and I had recently seen both of these and so we opted to sit them out and found a cafe for our first coffee of the trip.


The mountainous road we’d driven along that day to reach Pokhara had been both scenic and hairy, but thankfully we and our previously poorly bus made the journey in one piece – almost! A few metres from our destination there was a distinct clunk before we ground to a halt. The driver looked concerned, our whistling boy looked confused and the gathering crowds looked amused. Unable to contain our curiosity we got off the bus to see what was happening. Bad news, the drive shaft had broken – we were going nowhere . Luckily for us our next destination of Phewa Lake – the second largest lake in Nepal – was only a few minutes walk away. Shanks’s pony it was then.

A little more effort please Steve…

Before boarding our boat at the lake we were given life jackets, one of the first signs of health and safety we’d come across during our time in Nepal. We were deftly rowed to the small island in the middle which is home to Tal Barahi Temple. A quick walk round and many photos later we all boarded our boats to be rowed back to mainland shore.

 

With only one healthy bus Steve and I decided to avoid the crush and walk to the hotel a short distance away. Once there we all settled into our rooms, enjoyed a little chill time and wrote our diaries. Steve and I went for a wander to a small local cafe where we’d spent lots of time with our daughter Meg during the New Year celebrations – happily they recognised us, we felt very at home.

Following our usual dinner more students were chosen to read extracts from their diaries after which Steve was asked to offer advice. Taken by surprise at the request he had to think on his feet and rose to the task effortlessly. I was very impressed and made sure to be prepared in case the same was required of me at a later date – it never was!

The following day we needed to be awake at a very unsociable 4:30am for an extremely early start to see the sunrise and so with Steve’s wise words fresh in our minds we all settled down for an early night.


 Day 4 – Pokhara to Gorkha

Good news, our old faithful bus was fixed – bad news, today we would be on the other one with “DJ Whistling Boy!”

 

Our alarm went off at 4:30 for a 5am start to see the sunrise at Sarangkot. Steve and I were weary, the pupils however were not as their year group have a tough regime at school where early starts and late nights are the norm. Reluctantly and still half asleep Steve and I boarded “DJ Whistling Boy’s” bus and headed off in the dark for the starting point of our morning’s climb. It was lovely to be walking again and as the day dawned we were treated to yet another beautiful Nepali sunrise. Pupils and staff savoured the moment too – whilst taking more selfies than you can point a (selfie) stick at!!!

 


Elephant stone in Mahendra Cave

From here we walked back to our buses to be ferried to the Mahendra and Bat Caves. We enjoyed Bat Cave especially where thousands of bats hang from its ceiling. Seemly undisturbed by all the activity around them, they were a sight to behold and one of the highlights of our trip. Bat excitement long behind us we had an incredibly tricky exit to negotiate and with no technical gear or health and safety in sight it was not something I was looking forward to.

Purna leading by example

Firstly there’s a short, vertical climb to scramble up, followed immediately by a tight and claustrophobic squeeze around a 90 degree bend. Both were awkward and everyone other than Purna, the teachers – all male – and Steve needed a leg up from below and a haul up from above to manage them. Because it takes time to navigate both obstacles a queue had formed in the cave and some of us found ourselves waiting in the confined space for the best part of an hour. I for one was relieved when I finally wriggled out – Steve of course loved it. I was so impressed with how calm the youngsters remained and even more so with the school matron who managed it in her beautiful local dress – hats of to them all.

 

Yikes!


Out in the fresh air we headed back to the hotel for lunch, of you know what, before boarding the buses and heading the short distance to the International Mountain Museum. Steve and I had previously spent a day here so we picked our way through the exhibits we wanted to revisit before sitting in the sun. It wasn’t long before we were joined by the students and teachers and following their obligatory selfies everyone returned to the buses for the journey to Gorkha. Guess which bus we were on!

“DJ Whistling Boy” didn’t disappoint and the driver, today caught up in the antics, was driving at break neck speed along the winding mountain roads. At one point Steve actually said “Can I have the biscuits please, I don’t want to die hungry!” I passed him the biscuits and returned to reading my book, the alternative of looking out the window was much too scary…

Music turned up loud and travelling too fast resulted in the nearest miss of our Nepali adventure so far. Steve was unable to bite his tongue any longer, the driver had frightened himself and “DJ Whistling Boy” went quiet (briefly). It all got a lot more sensible after that.

Hotel number 4 was a good one. A lovely balcony gave us incredible views of a stunning sunset over the Manaslu Himal and after an adrenaline fueled day we could now relax. This hotel had the perfect solution for feeding people in numbers – a dahl bhat buffet. Steve, able to pile his plate as high as he wanted and go back for more if needed, was a very happy man. 

 


Day 5 – Gorkha to Kathmandu

After a lie in – our alarm went off at 5:30 – we walked directly from our hotel to the Gorkha Hill Top Palace. Set high on the rocks overlooking the town and surrounding countryside the view was stunning in the early morning light. One of our favourite landmarks of the trip, it was well worth the early start. Sadly Gorkha was badly affected by the earthquake of 2015 and parts of the old palace buildings show signs of damage, happily though much of it was unaffected and remains intact.

Why exactly are we doing this?


A short stroll back down the hill to more super speedy diary readings and a buffet breakfast including the magic food of bread. Not a regular part of the village diet sliced white bread was a winner here – students and teachers couldn’t get enough of it – Steve and I got stuck in too! 


Oh, that’s why!

Boys liking boy things!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back on the old faithful bus we headed to the Gorkha museum which was unfortunately shut and so following a quick scoot around the grounds we headed for the last treat of the trip – a ride in a Austrian built cable car to Manakamana Temple.

 

Cheap for goats and chickens, but expensive for foreigners Steve and I decided to sit this one out enjoying a reasonably priced coffee at the cafe instead. With great excitement the youngsters joined the queue – among said goats and chickens – and boarded the gondolas for their cable car ride to the top. A while later they arrived back down, buzzing with joy at their adventure.

Sadly the chickens and goats do not make the return journey!


With spirits high we all boarded the buses for one last time, headed for Kathmandu and the end of the excursion. It had been a wonderful few days of fun and laughter, wonder and learning. With minds full of memories and phones full of photos it was time to return to Melamchi-Ghyang, our village in the sky.


 For us it was a wonderful experience spent in the company of genuinely lovely people who we now considered friends. We were honoured to be included in such an important aspect of school life and felt privileged to have been a part of it. 

Our very special thanks go to Purna and the teachers for taking us under their wings and to the pupils who were a joy and a credit to Melamchi-Ghyang school.


 

The End!

 

 

 

 

 

A Nepali Christmas

Melamchi-Ghyang Village Christmas 2016

A family affair!

At last we’ve found some internet and so here’s our ‘better late than never’ festive blog…

Christmas in Melamchi-Ghyang village was absolutely incredible and one that will stay in our hearts forever. On the 21st of December we were joined by Jack, Amy and James (our son, daughter-in-law ‘licensed’ and son-in-law ‘unlicensed’ – as described during their time in Nepal!). Three days later on Christmas Eve Meg, our daughter joined us – our nest was full and we were happy.

It was a white Christmas!


Christmas Day sunrise

Christmas Day here was like no other. We were all woken by an earthquake a little after 5am and we fell asleep that night to gales howling and snow falling. Throw in the sunshine, hail, thunder and lightening and it was pretty much a full house.  We kicked the day off with pancakes – a Christmas breakfast we intend to make an Opie tradition, before heading to school for a few hours of teaching . Our morning there started with the six of us being invited onto the outside school assembly stage by Purna, the headmaster. The dreaded microphone was passed to us in turn to address the perplexed (how many Opies?!) crowd in front of us… Having been adorned with orange Khatas and garlands of marigolds we all said a few words.

What an emotional (and surreal) few minutes it was. Our family all together in the Himalaya mountains, on Christmas Day, on a stage, in the village that is, for now at least our home. Known as the ‘village of dreams’ Melamchi-Ghyang more than lived up to it’s name for us on this special day. Unfortunately we have no photos of this momentous occasion to post on this blog…

Jack spoke first, he was great, Amy next, she too was great, followed by Meg, yep great and then James, superb!  Then my turn… Everyone who knows me well will not be the least bit surprised to hear that my effort was not much more than a tearful blab of words – not so great. Steve trumped us all with the J.F Kennedy quote –

‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country’  

A round of applause ensued!


And so to lesson time…

James (along with Jack and Amy) had, without knowing it, agreed to a busman’s holiday. Accompanied by Rudra, a teacher at the school, he took on the challenge of assisting with the older year groups and impressed with his talks on student motivation and best study practises. 


Jack with craft goodies from Huish Primary School

Jack worked with years 5 and 6 where pupils replied to Christmas cards sent from Huish Primary School in Yeovil (England) where he works. They loved using the crafting materials chosen and bought by his pupils just before the end of term.
Jack was so excited about the goodies that it was the first thing he showed us when arriving in the village!

Thank you Huish 


Meg, having only just arrived the afternoon before was thrown in at the deep end and brilliantly stepped in to help with some art and craft activities.


Amy worked her magic with the youngest classes, her forte, as she too is a primary school teacher.


On behalf of Melamchi-Ghyang school we would like to thank Huish Primary school for all their hard work and overwhelming generosity. The pupils there have raised money through such things as cake and bookmark sales and copper coin collections. In the space of just one term they have raised an incredible £690.33. Along with the huge bag of goodies, Jack bought with him Christmas cards made by his pupils. We had the pleasure of reading them before handing them out and were blown away with the effort, thought and talents that had gone into creating them. They were just brilliant and the children here absolutely loved receiving them.

Thank you to everyone at Huish – staff, pupils and parents – we’re so touched by your continued support for our work here and we can’t wait to come back and tell you all about life in ‘our’ Nepali village and school.

Wow!

We would also like to say a huge thank you to the pupils, staff and parents of Rode Primary School who very generously sent out goodies with Amy when they found out where she was going and what she was doing this Christmas. Much fun has been had with everything the children here have received – it’s been a creative and exciting Christmas for us all!


Lessons over and we could all relax a little…

For Jack that meant an eagerly awaited game of chess with the school chess champion. Mrs Carrie Newman a TA at Huish school had very kindly donated 3 chess sets. Jack, who runs a chess club at school was looking forward to a game or two whilst in the village. Steve and James were also challenged to matches and so all 3 boards were being used simultaneously – with varying outcomes. Jacks match ended in a one all tie -with lunch beckoning they decided to shake on the draw. Steve and James were less successful…


Steve’s pasty shaped momo!

Chess packed away and Opie clan buzzing we all headed back for dinner. Now we weren’t expecting a roast dinner, or anything the least bit special – the usual Dahl Baht would have sufficed, but when we got ‘home’ Jhangmu had cooked us momos which are just the most delicious thing ever. Time consuming to make they’ve been a rare treat for us in the village and Jhangmu, knowing that we’re more than partial to the occasional vege momo, had surprised us with a Christmas feast of them!

Thank you Jhangmu, it really was the best Christmas dinner we could have wished for.

What more can we say!   


After dinner we handed out gifts to our hosts – small tokens of our appreciation to a family who’ve made us feel so at home.

Christmas Mug

 

The sun was shining and so we went outside to give and receive our family gifts. We were very grateful for wooly hats and gloves (thank you Mum and Dad) and learnt new card tricks, or at least tried to (thank you Rob and Rosie) It turns out that some of us have better slight of hand than others!

 

Christmas Hat

Christmas Beer

 

 

 

 

 

 


Gifts exchanged and decked out in our new wooly gear we excitedly set off to Phurpar’s house where we’d been invited for afternoon snacks. I say excitedly because I’d sampled her milk tea and her cooking before and I knew we were in for a treat. Phurpar is on maternity cover for the Kindergarton and Nursery class teacher and the lovely lady I’ve been working with for the last few weeks. She’s welcomed me with open arms, let me use my mad creativity in the classroom and accepted me unconditionally as part of her class. At only 19 she has a very bright future ahead and I’m sure we’ll remain friends and keep in touch when we finally say goodbye to the village.

We drank the most delicious milk tea, ate fried potatoes, drank raksi, cornflour and butter tea, all acquired tastes and sang Christmas songs, very badly… It was a great couple of hours spent with a lovely person and a moment in time we’ll cherish.

 

 

 

 

 

Fun with Phurpa

We returned ‘home’ for the evening, filled our bellies some more, played games, drank the first wine in weeks and savoured our time together. We tucked into our sleeping bags in freezing cold rooms with the storm howling around us. What an amazing day it had been!


Cheers ?

We wish everyone a wonderful 2017

Xx


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melamchi-Ghyang School

Shree Melamchi-Ghyang Secondary School

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Set high in the mountains Melamchi-Ghyang School is the most out of this world place we could ever have imagined working in. With roughly 250 pupils, 2/3 boys and 1/3 girls, it’s a community based government school offering ‘hostel’ boarding accommodation to all pupils from outside the village. This facility is necessary as the only access road (we would call it a rough dirt track) becomes impassable during the monsoon season making the only alternative route for pupils (aged between 4 and 16) a tough 3hr upwards trek. Despite it’s remoteness, the school’s success and growing popularity means that children from all over Nepal are sent to this hidden gem, miles from anywhere.

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Steve, myself and Alex having been welcomed to the school

Steve and Purna, the headmaster outside the school office. Not a school day as Purna isn’t wearing his usual pin striped suit!

At the helm is the inspirational and charismatic headmaster, Purna. He’s the formidable driving force behind everything the school achieves. Leading by example he expects the highest standards and committment from staff and pupils alike and strives to give everyone the best tools and opportunities to excel. Impressive results are achieved here, a few years ago the son of a yak hearder and pupil at Melamchi-Ghyang school graduated from Manchester university with a medical degree. 

The children are worked hard – it’s a 6 day school week for everyone. Saturday is a holy day and so the only day off.

Every other day is business as usual and goes like this –

Outdoor assembly at 8:30 gets the day started and is only ever cancelled if raining. All pupils stand in rows of boys and girls with the smallest at the front and the tallest at the back. The rows are then ordered by house colour, Blue, Red, Green and Yellow. Everyone has a small scrap of ribbon pinned to their jumpers to indicate their house and the girls, who all have long hair, tie appropriate coloured bows around their plaits and bunches – it’s very cute. Everyone follows exercises as instructed by a fellow pupil from the stage (a Nepali version of shake and wake), the school prayer is then sung followed by the Nepali national anthem. Recently voted the second best in the world, it’s a stirring tune, especially hearing it sung outside with the views of the himalaya all around. It gets me going nearly every morning!

Pupils, chosen either by house or by class then go onto the stage to recite a poem, ask a couple of questions, tell a joke, dance or sing. Their representative teacher is also expected to do something at the end and there’s no getting out of it – I know, I’ve tried!

Last week worming pills were handed out to everyone, with mouths checked that they’d been swallowed successfully. Apparently this happens 6 monthly.

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Just about ready to go on the assembly stage…

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          It’s big steps for a little person!

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In complete control during my class’ heads, shoulder, knees and toes assembly rendition…


Lessons start at 9:00. The morning consists of 4 forty-minute lesson periods with a 10 minute break half way through. There is an hour for lunch which is followed by another 4 forty-minute lessons including another midway break. The second outdoor assembly of the day for everyone in the winter months is at 3:30 before hometime at around 4:00. During the summer the day is half an hour longer and was shortened only a couple of weeks ago for the winter months. It’s getting noticeably colder now and with no form of heating anywhere on the school campus it becomes too chilly for study to take place after this time.

Except

Years 9 and 10 who are in exam mode and so expected to be at school to start lessons at 6:00 am. They don’t go home (apart from lunch) until 5:30pm and when they do finally get home, as with all the other pupils in the school (except for my kindergarten and nursery class) they will have homework in most subjects taught during the day. Any homework defaulters are hauled up on stage during one of the following day’s assemblies! This timetable lasts until March next year, so continues through the coldest, darkest months.

School uniform is navy with striped ties. Coats (non uniform) are allowed to be worn at all times of the day now, outside and inside the classroom. My little ones start the week, Sunday, looking very smart and tidy. By Friday many of them are filthy, mostly the boys. Twice yearly parents are asked to measure their children and any uniform needed is bought to them from Kathmandu.

 

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The male teachers all wear dark pin stripped suits and ties of their choice, the female staff wear bright pink local dress. They all look very smart.

 img_2135Traditionally shoes are not worn inside, so they are left outside the classroom during lesson time.

 

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Children help keep the classrooms, headmasters office, hostels and canteen areas clean using little hand brushes/brooms which work an absolute treat. No such things as Hoovers or employed cleaners here!


Lunch consists daily of the local dish Dahl Baht cooked over 3 large woodburning cooking stoves. It’s an impresive feat catering for so many children and teachers in this basic way. The food served is absolutely delicious and there’s plenty of it. Where possible all produce is bought from farmers in the village. By helping local people make a living from selling their goods it’s a win win situation for everyone involved.

With lunch comes a mug of hot water.

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The school kitchen

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School canteen

When the days were warmer I thought it was tough job for the chef and kitchen staff working by the fires all day. Now that it’s colder I feel complete envy!


The school buildings are all still temporary structures following the devastation of last year. After the earthquake struck it took just 1 month for the school to be back up and running. Impressive in any situation, but especially so when all buildings were destroyed beyond use and had to be rebuilt from scratch using only the rubble around them. What was achieved is a testament to the tenacity of the staff and the community, particularly considering that everyone was living under canvas in miserable conditions at the time.

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Girls dormitory room

 

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The only structure to remain unharmed after the earthquake was this poly tunnel. Used for vegetables at the time it was cleared and converted to an emergency shelter housing over 300 people in one go! The girls now use it as their study space.

 

Housemaster and English teacher Tika Limbu in his tented accommodation. He actually has a tent inside a tent!

The temporary hostel accommodation has been made as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. There are separate girls and boys boarding houses. Some are raised tin structures, all are lined with ply for insulation. The teachers are still living under canvas!

The shower facilities are basic but there are taps and hot/warm water generated by solar power. Proper shower fittings are on Steve’s to do list.

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Solar system

Shower Block

Toilet Block

Toilet Block

Fast forward 20 months and the situation at the school is this –

Engineers have visited during the last few weeks to give an idea on how now to proceed, costings etc. The boarding hostels, classrooms, wash facilities, canteen, kitchen and headmasters office all need to be rebuilt following new government earthquake resistant guidelines. Some funding is already in place, but more financial support will be needed to complete the project. Community Action Nepal have committed to help with a substantial portion of what’s needed, but as with many other charities here the disaster last year has pulled on their resources. It’s hoped that everything will be in place for work to start next year with a completion date in 2 to 3 years time.

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Danny from Belgium with Purna the headmaster

Some teachers are funded by the government, many by outside sponsors and we’ve been lucky enough to meet some guys from Belgium who do just that. They arrived bearing gifts of clothes and shoes amongst other things which were greatly and eagerly received by the children at the school.

Many of them are still wearing the clothes and shoes they were given that day. We were also lucky enough to spend some time with Corin, a computer/IT whizz who was actually in the school at the time of the earthquake! He has experienced village and school life pre, during and post the disaster – he is a bit of a legend in the village!


Huish Primary in Yeovil, the school where our son teaches, is very kindly fund raising for Community Action Nepal throughout this school year. The pupils have already been busy raising imagemoney with a copper coin collection and a bookmark sale. We’ve heard that they’ve been incredibly generous with their own time and money. Steve and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their hard work and generosity.We appreciate all that they are doing for the people of Nepal and are really looking forward to re-visiting the school to thank everyone in person and share our experiences with them later next year.

When the children here found out about what Huish School were doing for them they wanted to send letters to the pupils there. I was blown away with how much care they took and how enthusiastic they were about writing and decorating them – there were no homework defaulters on that day! They are so excited about sending the letters and are even more excited about hearing back. Two schools in different continents caring about the bigger picture – inspiring.

Here are just a few examples of year 5’s masterpieces. 

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For myself, teaching the little ones continues and I’m loving it – all of them are completely adorable. They do the Nepali shaky head thing which is just so endearing on Sherpa children who are cuter than cute anyway! The day includes English, handwriting, maths, creative play, outdoor activities and Nepali (not my forte!). We’ve drawn round our hands and feet, counted fingers and toes, coloured in rainbows and drawn faces.  I’ve also been spending time getting together some lesson plans for teachers to use when I leave – It’s been fun using my creativity and I’m hoping it will be of some benefit to the school going forward. I’m also looking forward to helping with some English lessons with the older children before I leave.

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Steve’s here there and everywhere doing just about everything…

 

He’s mended the 5 school microscopes, he’s fitted light sockets, he’s insulated classrooms, he’s put up a shelf for me (his most important task yet), he’s taken science lessons and field trips, he’s fixed the failing water supply to the school, got the wifi back on track – the list goes on. At the moment he’s spending less time in school and more time in the forest with the local men folk assessing what’s needed to improve the village water supply over the coming weeks.

Accurate calculations are required for plumbing parts needed as it’s at least a 3 day trek to Kathmandu for anything forgotten or missed off the list!

Year 8 pupils checking out the source of the school water supply

Steve's science field trip to the wetlands

Steve’s science field trip to the wetlands

 

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Corin and Steve misbehaving in class!

We’ve been asked to do some voice recordings for the English listening syllabus – hilarious, I’ve taken a school assembly – terrifying and Steve has been asked to sing in front of a class when they found out he was in a choir – awkward!

We’ve also taught the staff how to play scrabble so they can play (in English) with the students. You’d think we’d have an unfair advantage over the local guys but I came last!


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With little friends at the funeral…

The final school fact for now is that the school is at present the home of the sacred village funeral pyre. Originally set well away from the village it now, (since the earthquake) sits bang slap in the middle of the school grounds and temporary classrooms. Last week sadly the body of a local man was found after he slipped and fell whilst cutting tress in the forest that surrounds the village. The school was shut for the funeral ceremony and the cremation of his body. We were invited to attend and felt privileged to do so. It’s something few outsiders experience and a day we shall never forget – we’ll save the details for another post.


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Boarding pupils’ cutlery

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My classroom

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 This school, it’s staff and it’s children will remain in our hearts long after we return home. It’s a special place that we shall never forget.

P.S did I mention I’m bringing at least 20 children home with me (don’t tell Steve!).

Here are a few of them…

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Home Time

Melamchi-Ghyang

Work Starts…

On 3rd November 2016 we started our trek to Melamchighyang, the village that will be our home for the next few weeks. It was an early start to catch our jeep booked for 6am, but we were so excited and eager to start the volunteering work we had come to Nepal to do that we were both awake long before the alarm went off.

The 6 hour jeep ride was not what we thought it would be! Only 20 minutes of it was on tarmac, the rest was tricky off roading on dirt tracks through the mountains. Parts of the journey were really pretty hairy with sheer drops falling away from the narrow, monsoon battered roads.

The scenery became more and more stunning the further into the Himalaya we travelled and the roads became evermore steep and precarious!

Four hours or so into our journey the driver stopped for a break, mostly to top up his leaking radiator (again) and whilst admiring the views we were offered a cup of tea by a Tibetan lady, which we duly accepted believing it rude to refuse. Big mistake! Tibetan tea is made with Yak butter and salt amongst other things – it’s an acquired taste which doesn’t sit happily on a western palate!

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On route to the village

Two hours or so later we were dropped off at a point where the jeep could go no further and started the 3 hour uphill trek to get to the village. (There is a road that goes all the way to the Melamchighyang but the seasonal monsoon has swept parts away leaving it impassible for the time being).

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View to the school in the distance

This final stretch of our journey was tough going but seeing the village for the first time was worth every upwards step. Melamchighyang truely is a village in the sky, a fertile plateau nestled over 2500m in the mountains and it has to be seen to be believed.

We were greeted by our hosts Purna, who also happens to be the headmaster of the village school and his wife, Jangmo (pronounced something like Zangmo!). First impressions were that they were lovely, second impressions were that living conditions were about to become very basic!

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Around the fire

Our accommodation consists of little more than a tin shack, a shared long drop compost toilet, a ‘bucket’ shower room (a room with a bucket in it) and a communal cooking/living/eating area. The communal area is a cosy place which offers welcome relief from the cold once the sun goes down. The only source of heating is a small wood fired stove which is also used for cooking and heating water. This is where we spend our nights playing games and chatting.

The first evening was spent getting to know our new housemates, including Alex from Germany, also a volunteer at the school until December. We were introduced to Raki the local home brew, another aquited taste, but one we might work on! We slept soundly…

The following morning we explored the village and were shocked by how much devastation had been caused by the earthquakes. Every building was destroyed and now every villager is living in temporary accommodation like ours, built using only materials salvaged from the wreckage of their homes. Evidence is all around us of the village that once was and where on 25th April 2015 at 11:56 am everything changed forever. Seeing it all first hand is heartbreaking.


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Classrooms

 

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Purna showed us around the school where once again the destruction was plain to see. The school is both a day and a boarding school and the classrooms, boarding houses, washrooms, toilet facilities and canteen are now all temporary structures. Following the earthquake it took just 1 month to get the school back up and running, a credit to the community who were all living under canvas at the time.

Being here and living among the community is helping us really appreciate just what these people have lost and how they have suffered. Sadly 3 people lost their lives here on that day, thankfully though, no children in the school suffered anything more than a few minor cuts and grazes.


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The days when we first arrived were warm with clear, blue skies and sunshine but the weather is already changing – there are clouds during the day and without the sunshine it soon gets chilly, the nights are getting colder! The stars here are like I’ve never seen and the views, day and night are breathtaking.

 

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On the 4th we helped clear Kami’s small field ready for planting a vegetable crop – it also happened to be Steve’s 51st birthday, one I’m sure he’ll never forget and one celebrated Nepali style with a small mug of Raksi!

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My class – with the new teacher

Time then for work to begin. It’s been festival season in Nepal and so the schools have been on holiday for a month. The evening before the first day of the new term I’m informed by Purna that the nursery school teacher is not back until the Wednesday and so I’m to take the class until she returns – yikes! With no time to lesson plan I had no choice but to wing it! The nursery class consists of seventeen 4,5,6,7 and 8 year olds, all with very little English and all with boundless energy! It soon became very clear that winging it with such small people, not understanding a word I was saying was not an option and so an SOS was sent to Jack and Amy, my son and daughter in law, both teachers, for some tips and the afternoon and evening were spent lesson planning in preparation for the next couple of days.

Our introduction to school started with the daily outside morning assembly. Alex, Steve and I were invited on stage, before being given an orange scarf and a microphone with which to introduce ourselves to the whole school – terrifying!

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Assembly

Children between 4 and 17 attend the local school. The day starts with one of two outside assemblies at 8:30. At 9:00 lessons start, there is a short break in the morning and afternoon and an hour for lunch. Lessons finish at 4:00 when all children have to attend the second outside assembly of the day before being allowed home at around 4:20. Saturday is the only day pupils have off, so it’s a six day week for all of us!

Soon though the school day will be shortened by half an hour because of the cold winter weather.

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Assembly

 

There is no heating in the school and so from next week pupils will be asked to bring their coats to wear during assemblies and lessons if they get cold. The school uniform is navy and the parents are asked to measure their children twice yearly so that uniform can be brought to them from Kathmandu. There are 4 School Houses: Red, Yellow, Blue and Green.

The girls wear ribbons in their hair to match the colour of the house they’re in, very cute. The male teachers wear dark pinstriped suits, blue and white shirts and ties of their choice and the female staff bright pink local dress. They all look very smart.

There are around 180 boarders in the school, the remaining 60 or so pupils are from the village. All cooking for the boarders is done over two fires and all the children from the village walk home at lunchtime, 4 year olds included!

Day 2 and 3 in the classroom went well thanks to the tips I’d received and with help from Alex, I and the children survived in one piece with ALL of us having learnt something…

I’m now classroom assisting and very happy and relieved to be doing so!

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Health and safety – what’s that then!

There is lots to get used to here, the lack of health and safety being one of them. This picture is of a fire made to burn rubbish collected from around the village by the students. Petrol was regularly poured on it by pupils while being poked by staff with a stick!

Steve is on a plumbing mission in the  village and is starting work soon to make things better for the villagers – he’s just waiting for the parts he needs to be picked up from Kathmandu. He has his work cut out (there are 140 houses here), but is looking forward to the challenge. Today he’s fixed the five school microscopes and this week he’s helping with some science classes and possibly taking a couple of after school sports lesons, weather permitting…

This really is the most incredible experience, we feel so privileged to have the opportunity to be able to share our lives with the people here.

Inside our room

Home sweet Home!

 

 

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