Climb every mountain, follow every dream...

Helen wants to provide the highest quality of education possible for Intrepid grandmother Helen Jones has gone through a life-changing experience after setting up a school for disadvantaged children in Darjeeling. The 66-year-old retired teacher from Middlesbrough, England, joined forces with some friends four years ago to establish Roseberry School. She is now set to embark on a 100-mile sponsored walk in August to raise cash for the school.

Helen, a former physics teacher and deputy head-teacher of a community college in north Yorkshire, loves to travel. She is also fond of plants and gardens and has a large garden of her own that she opens to the public for charity. She visited India for the first time in 2002 to look for plants in Darjeeling and Sikkim. Her guide persuaded her to spend some time in the area teaching. Helen was bowled over by the proposal, but she was shocked by the state of the schools she visited. She took home the memory of hundreds of children walking miles to school along mountain roads each day.

Back home, Helen had for many years been raising money for charities by giving slideshows about her travels. She decided to put her money to good use by sponsoring a school in Darjeeling, thus giving back something to the community which had given her so much pleasure. After a few months, her guide and his wife informed her of a disused building in Darjeeling where Helen could set up her school. Helped by a close circle of friends, Helen launched School Aid India with the dream of opening a school.

During the following winter, Helen’s guide got a team together to renovate the building which provides two tiny classrooms in the Toong Soong area of Darjeeling on a steeply sloping hillside. It is blessed with a small flat area outside for the children to play. The building was only just ready by the end of February 2007 to open its doors in March. Helen’s aim is to admit 15 disadvantaged children from the local area each year, starting at pre-school age. Teaching is through the medium of English and the teachers are drawn from the local community and all must have a teaching qualification.

Highest quality

Helen wants to provide the highest quality education possible for the children until the age of 10. After that, if there is enough money, grants will be given to the children to attend secondary school. At the start of this school year, the school had 52 pupils and four teachers in four classes.

After only one year of operation, Helen was amazed at the support she received both in Yorkshire and Darjeeling, and it became obvious that she would need larger premises. She is currently trying to negotiate a lease for some land adjacent to the school and has set up an appeal to raise £50,000 in four years. After only one year, she has managed to raise £35,000 and is hopeful of reaching her target.

Helen now plans to embark on a 100-mile sponsored walk in August to raise funds. She will start and finish her hike at Roseberry Topping, which gives its name to the school. Incidentally, she was once told she would never walk properly again after a climbing accident, but the doctor’s diagnosis did not put her off and since then she has travelled the world trekking.

The marathon walk, scheduled over seven days, will take place in Danby Beacon, Sleights, Robin Hoods Bay, Levisham, Hutton le Hole and Chop Gate.

But Helen won’t be walking the entire route alone. Among the team will be a 42-year-old amputee, who lost the lower part of her leg in an avalanche accident in Switzerland. She plans to walk with her 15-month-old son strapped to her back. Another friend of Helen’s, a 65-year-old grandmother who had a knee operation last year, hopes to do the whole walk in spite of her difficulties. For Helen, there will be a double celebration on her return to Roseberry Topping, as she will be blowing the candles out on her 67th birthday cake.

Helen thinks the pain will be worth it. Her grandchildren will be there when she finishes her walk and seeing them will remind her of the children in Darjeeling who are not as fortunate as them. Helen has also roped in kind-hearted Teesside youngsters into her project. Her zeal is truly commendable.

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