INTERVIEW WITH OUR FOUNDER
Barbara Datson, founder of children’s charity CHANCE for NEPAL, fell in love with Nepal and its people on her first visit here in 2002. She ‘simply wanted to make a difference’ when she saw the hardship here. Her simple wish remains at the core of CHANCE for NEPAL, officially founded in 2007.
Barbara, can you tell us where CHANCE for NEPAL began?
I went to India in 2002 on my own for an adventure having witnessed my three sons having gap years, which I never had! My husband was very understanding, as it must have been terrifying for him to see me set off from Surrey with my backpack and a copy of The Rough Guide to India for a month. I was full of excitement and anticipation. Without wishing to sound trite, I found myself, my strengths and weaknesses popping up at every decision I made and experience I had. At that point, Nepal was not in my sights, I just wanted an adventure.
So, can you tell us how this adventure took you to Nepal?
While I was in India, in Rishikesh, I met Dr Ines von Rosenstiel, the founder of Medical Checks for Children (MCC) which sends teams of doctors and non-medics to villages, schools and orphanages around the world. Ines invited me to be part of a medical mission to Nepal later that year.
After working with the medical team for one week, I then spent a further three weeks getting to understand the culture and enjoy the beauty of the people and the country. I was hooked!
Was it crystal clear that you would found a charity from the moment you arrived in Nepal?
Yes. I felt alive, driven, and committed to helping in a small way. I simply wanted to make a difference, to save a life.
And so you went back to help?
Yes. For the following five years I returned and worked with MCC. In 2007 I was asked to lead my own medical team to Pokhara, which lies 205km East of Kathmandu. This was MCC’s first visit here.
You make it sound very simple, and perhaps the message is very simple?
Yes. It’s amazing to me to think that from these simple beginnings in 2002 we have now raised funds in excess of £650,000 for a better life for the children of Nepal. Undoubtedly many lives have been saved and thousands of children have been given a brighter future.
How has Nepal changed you?
My experiences in Nepal have undoubtedly changed my life forever. I feel so fortunate to have had the privilege to go there, it has been both a spiritual and dynamic life journey for me. I feel Nepal has given me far more than I have given to Nepal, a true sense of self and purpose. I believe everyone can make a difference to their lives in whatever way they choose. For me, my heart opened up to the people, their beauty within and their open friendliness.
How did you establish the main work of CHANCE for NEPAL in the fields of Children’s Health and Nutrition, Care and Education?
In 2004 I was introduced to the organization SHENPEN, originally envisioned by Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche to help the poor and under privileged n Nepal. SHENPEN is run by Westerners, who are all volunteers, and live and work in Nepal. I liked what they did and so a trusting relationship developed and we have many projects, which we continue to support together. With SHENPEN we supported (in the main) educational, street child projects and skills training. By 2006 I was their main fundraiser and we became partners in 2009.
MCC introduced me to Wendy Marston, founder of what was to become Burns Violence Survivors Nepal (BVS Nepal) in 2003, and so began CHANCE’s commitment to helping raise funds for skin grafts, physiotherapy, counselling and food hampers. Wendy introduced me to the Bir Hospital and Kanti Children’s Hospital. The Bir Hospital burns unit was damaged in the 2015 earthquake and since then BVS supports the burns unit at the Trauma Hospital and Teaching Hospital. Since 2003 we have supported the Kanti Children’s Hospital, the only Children’s Hospital specifically for children in Nepal.
Two years ago, we became involved with the NGO GMIN, (Grassroots Movement In Nepal) who build schools, health posts, training centres and homes in remote areas of Nepal, and WEGAIN ZONE in their fight to get government backing to ban the sale of glue to children under 18.
Joanna Lumley is your patron. Can you tell us about her and how she came to be a supporter?
Joanna accepted our invitation to be CHANCE FOR NEPAL’s patron in 2008. She is very supportive and has become deeply involved. We are so appreciative of her commitment. We asked her if she would agree to be interviewed by the director of the Club at The Ivy for a fundraising event for CHANCE for Nepal. She agreed and at An Intimate Evening with Joanna she delighted over 100 guests with stories of her life on stage and screen, particularly in The Avengers and in Absolutely Fabulous. This was the second time she has been ‘the star’ of an event for CHANCE at ‘The Club’. One of the most popular Auction Promises was Cocktails for two with Joanna. It received such keen bidding that Joanna kindly offered to repeat the promise – twice! In her extremely busy life she always has time for CHANCE for NEPAL, we are indeed most fortunate!
What can people do to help CHANCE FOR NEPAL? What’s most useful?
In the UK where I live, people can donate or lend their time and skills. We always need hands on deck to help with events and admin. Of course there are raffles and events where people can donate gifts or experiences. Maybe someone would like to do a fund raising event for CHANCE FOR NEPAL! Run a marathon? Hold a quiz night? We are open to ideas and grateful for any support people choose to give! It always amazes me how generous and creative people are.
What sort of things have people done for you?
I am amazed and touched by the diversity of ideas! Dr Shamila Strestha, now a GP and one of the doctors from the medical team I led in Kathmandu in 2012, ran the Paris Marathon for CHANCE in the same year and the Berlin marathon in 2014. In 2015 Tom Cullingham, reading media and film making at University, directed the film MAYA for his final year degree which went on to win several awards. He donated 50% of the proceeds from the film he made to CHANCE for NEPAL and is in the middle of making another film and wants to help CHANCE for NEPAL again. Andrea Matthews holds a yearly garage sale for CHANCE for NEPAL. Jane and Brian, Landlords of The Keep in Guildford host regular quiz nights which supports the education of two children at Pegasus English School as well as our other projects.
What about on the front line, in Nepal itself?
Of course in Nepal we are always looking for volunteers at all levels. At Papa’s Home, which we have been supporting for many years, Lalit, the founder, invites volunteers to stay in a separate rented apartment, very close to Papa’s Home. This is not only a great opportunity for the volunteer to learn about the culture of Nepal, teach the children English, do fun things with them, but wonderful for the children too who learn about different cultures, languages, new games: the volunteers bring another dimension to the home.
Can teachers do some teaching at Triple Gem School?
Definitely! Nick Morrice an English teacher and friend went out to Nepal and taught English at Triple Gem School for a short period. He was thrilled at the enthusiastic reaction from the students. Nick has gone on to write a book called ‘Discovered in Kathmandu’ which he dedicated to CHANCE about how he went on to ‘adopt’ a family of five boys, one of whom he has put through medical school and is now a doctor!
Really there are loads of opportunities to volunteer and we would love to hear from you.
How often do you go to Nepal? When is your next trip?
I go once a year for the month of November. I visit all the projects in both Kathmandu and further afield.
When you look back at the last 15 years you must surely be proud of what CHANCE for NEPAL has achieved for the children of Nepal?
And I am! CHANCE for NEPAL has grown hugely with projects in education, health, street children, skills training and rabies vaccinations. An amazing 34 children receive educational sponsorship through CHANCE with the help of English sponsors. Working in Nepal is a most rewarding, humbling and challenging experience. I will strive to continue to make a difference in the years to come. Nepal has become my life!
If you would like to make a donation to Chance for Nepal simply click below to view the different donation options available.
During my annual visit to Nepal and our projects, I spent a day with WCS. I was accompanied by Bimala, a member of the Shenpen team, (one of our main partners on the ground) who