To India with Love

Across the territory next week, various Yukon Education Week activities will take place to help raise awareness of the importance of education.

The path to educational awareness in other countries, however, can be much steeper.

Liesel Briggs and her daughter Rosemarie know this first-hand from their volunteer work in India and Nepal.

There, the only schoolhouse available to underprivileged youth may be a basic basic structure covered by tarpaulins, with classes taught by teachers earning as little as $30 a month. Basic supplies such as text books, library books and chalk boards are often non-existent.

“The school is a slab of concrete, covered by a tarp,” Briggs says of a school in northern India where her daughter started volunteering in 2006. The school had been developed for beggar children to drop in when they could.

“The kids would be out picking things out of the garbage to see what they could sell, or begging, and would go to school when they’re done” says Briggs.

“They live in tent houses in a town of about 1,000 people, and the children go out to work every morning, and their work is to do what they can to help put food on the table.”

When the children are done their work in the morning, they attend classes in the afternoon.

While her daughter was in India, helping to develop a library at this school, the elder Briggs began volunteering at the Linh Son Children’s Home, an orphanage in Nepal.

“I realized there were so many things that the kids needed, like glass in the windows of the rooms to keep the bugs out, and to keep water out during the monsoon season. They needed clothing, food and help with their education fees,” she says.

“In Canada, if you are underprivileged, there is a social safety net. For many kids in India and Nepal, school isn’t an option” says Briggs.

“The kids have to work. If they’re not working at begging, they are working at cleaning pots or as chai wallahs, who walk through the trains or the buses selling tea.”

In 2007, Liesel and Rosemarie Briggs have been raising funds through an organization called Hands of Hope, to address some of the basic educational needs they encountered in their volunteer work in Nepal and India.

“One of us will be in India every year,” explains the long-time literacy volunteer who later served as Executive Director of Yukon Learn.

By the time she retired in 2002, Briggs was tired of dealing with bureaucracies. She says governments at times do not recognize what is essential, looking only for objective or qualitative results and not recognizing qualitative results.

“This is one reason I prefer to be hands-on and get the money to where it is needed,” she says, “[and] see the smiles on adult and children’s faces and the pride they take in a library, in new clothes or the happiness of a full stomach.”

Briggs and her daughter pay for their own travel and accommodations on these annual visits, she explains. The money they raise through Hands of Hope is used entirely to supply books and other essentials needed abroad.

Among many other Yukoners who have assisted, Briggs points out, the Kids Helping Kids club in Mayo alone has raised several thousand dollars to help feed and clothe the children in the Nepali orphanage.

Since 2007, Hands of Hope has provided thousands of library books, metal book shelving, paint, windows, flooring and furniture for libraries, teacher resources and resource books, and a one-year salary boost for underpaid rural teachers in Nepal.

The focus now is on raising money to buy library books for an orphanage where younger children have received funding from people in the area to stay in the home and access education.

A key concern for Briggs lies with the children who are turning 18 and will have to leave the orphanage, but have no access to post secondary education support.

“If they do not have access to post secondary education, the boys will go back to the street begging, and the girls start to look for someone to marry.” She says.

“The schools are really advocating for both boys and girls to go to school. In two schools in the area, about 50 per cent of the students are girls. They want to give the girls a choice, to realize that their only option isn’t to get married. They can get an education.”

The next fundraising effort for Hands of Hope will be a South Asian Bazaar, taking place at the Yukon College Cafeteria on April 9, starting at 1 pm.

There will be face-painting, a cake walk, Bollywood dancing, passion testing, exotic booths, fortune telling and draws. Vendors will have booths to sell crafts and jewelry.

“I just want to help people,” Briggs says with humility. “If I have just five dollars in my pocket, I want to use it to help someone.”

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