A member of the Rotary Club of Ripley is heading back to Nepal for his 13th and final trip to provide assistance to children and rural schools.
Chuck Ray Conner, who lives in Roane County, will embark on the five-week trip Nov. 1 and return Dec. 7. The Ripley Rotary club approved the purchase of airfare and international medical insurance.
“In the past we have provided service to as many as 14 schools during the journey,” Conner said. “I thought that in 2016, that would be my last but after a year-plus of rest and rejuvenation, I have regained the energy and enthusiasm for a final trip of service for the children and rural schools of Nepal.”
Throughout the years, Conner has assisted in building small schools, toilets, water systems, provided food, clothing and supplies for the children as well as supporting women’s micro-loans, health camps in rural villages and supporting “Days for Girls,” which provides menstrual health education and hygiene kits for girls to keep them in school and not isolated from society.
“We also have two Tibetan boarding schools in the small city of Pokhara. The children come from Upper Mustang during the long winter months to continue their schooling. We generally have assisted between 8-16 schools per visit,” Conner said.
In addition to donations and backing from Rotary and others, Conner’s journey is made possible by donations received through his GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/NepalSchoolsandChildren. He also accepts donations of jewelry appropriate for young girls, which can be mailed to Chuck Conner, 2533 Charleston Road, Spencer, WV 25276.
“We would prefer no plastic, if you have jewelry that you haven’t worn in some time, there are many young girls that would be thrilled to wear it. Necklaces and bracelets are best,” he said.
Conner also likes to contribute as many school supplies as he can.
“I am trying to raise the school supplies locally – pencils (plain and colored), markers and crayons). I am limited in the supplies that I can take but with donated funds can purchase additional materials in Nepal,” he said.
During each trip, Conner documents his work through an “almost” daily journal that he distributes though email.
“I document the daily highs, lows and in-betweens of the service, the challenges, the incredible friendliness of the Nepalese, the beauty of the landscape and culture. It offers some insight into what it takes to offer service to the schools. If that is of interest to you, if your email is provided you will receive this,” he said.
Conner is also careful to ensure all funding is used as intended.
“To ensure that all funds are used as indicated, each year upon my return, I complete a financial report which details the use of funds down to the penny. The Ripley Rotary Club has taken on supporting the project by providing airfare and travel insurance. I pay for food and lodging and incidentals,” he said.
When Conner and Ripley Rotary began the service project in 2004, they began by partnering with a Rotary Club in Kathmandu to purchase goats for rural farmers who had access to land but no finances for an animal.
“We based this program on the Heifer International model that when an animal is bred, its first offspring will go to someone without an animal. We also purchased cows in another remote location for farmers. We did this for two years,” he said.
During his first two visits, Conner was accompanied by a young teacher who has now been a friend for 11 years. The teacher showed Conner what it was like for Nepalese school children.
“He began to take me to the rural mountain schools to show me the depth of needs by the children and the schools. Most of the children came from very poor families; some came to school hungry and in poor hygiene and health. Most schools, have no electricity, poor if any toilet facilities for the children and the classrooms were dark and dirty without any educational posters, decorations or color in them,” Conner said.
For the past decade, the focus has been on providing resources to children and their schools.
“We have focused on three geographic areas, the Bandipur area, Chitwan (southern Nepal) and towards the west, and two schools in Pokhara that support children from Upper Mustang, a northern territory that is very remote,” he said.
Conner’s Nepali friends take the time to each year to help identify schools in need and act as coordinators, guides and interpreters to make the projects successful.
“For each school student we have provided notebooks, pencils, pens, erasers, sharpeners, handmade puzzles and games, donated jewelry, backpacks and more. For the schools, we have purchased science labs, water pipes, clothing for the children, and first aid kits. In addition we have left funding (with a written and signed agreement) for the schools to build toilets, water tanks, provide for food, medical care, educational and recreational materials for the students,” he said.
In 2015 Nepal suffered a massive earthquake that killed more than 9,000 people and left homeless close to 100,000.
“We decided to focus on the schools of the Gorkha District that had sustained damage. We visited eight schools that were in remote areas, difficult to get to and seven of those schools were beyond repair and had temporary structures for the classrooms. For many, they will be in those for a few years to come because of the ineffectiveness of the government process. Two of the schools we visited, the two smallest and most remote, had not had anyone from an NGO or the government came to assess or offer assistance,” Conner said.
For three years, in 2007, 2008 and 2009, Ripley Rotary also partnered with the Rotary Club of Purulia, India, in an “Avoidable Blindness” project. With two Rotary Foundation Matching Grants, the clubs gave the gift of sight via cataract operations to over 500 rural, poor Indian citizens.
“We combined this within the same service trips to Nepal, managing two international projects at once,” Connor said.
Additional information can be found at chuckconner.com/Nepal-Schools