From Fairlie to Nepal
In a small cottage in Fairlie, one woman is doing what she can to make a difference to the lives of leprosy sufferers and underprivileged children in Nepal. Features editor Claire Allison talks to Phillipa Saxton.
The photographs on Phillipa Saxton's computer represent a lifetime of travel around the world.
Folders of images from Bhutan, Nepal, India, Vietnam, all reflect a well-travelled life, much of which involved leading motorcycle tours off the beaten track.
Phillipa - or Pip - is still travelling. After a brush with typhoid in 2008 she reassessed her priorities, and a couple of bad falls in 2010 (not from a motorcycle), resulting in spinal surgery last year, have somewhat curtailed the motorcycling. But she's turned her knowledge of some of the remote places in the world, her contacts there, and her interest in - and fondness for - the people, into something worthwhile.
Even while running the motorcycle touring business, Pip was keeping an eye out for opportunities to do something for the communities she was travelling through, and to.
"I had always put a percentage of profits into community projects abroad - I don't like the word charities - but funding one-off projects."
An early attempt to take that support further and organise a charity motorcycle ride to raise money for a leprosy hospital in India was stymied, but one of Pip's ground agents in Nepal was able to put her onto the right man for the job, and Pip became involved with the Sewa Kendra Leprosy Relief Hospital in Nepal.
"It's a small hospital run by one doctor. She started it, then acquired another doctor and a physio and a couple of nurses. They have 15 beds, and she performs minor surgery. But, they're woefully under-everything (under-staffed and under-resourced)."
The doctor had also begun a little school for underprivileged children in the area - some the children of lepers - on the roof of the hospital; a corrugated iron affair with not a single safety rail.
"So addressing that became my project. Kathmandu gets about four hours of electricity a day, so they needed a generator, and a portable generator for their outreach clinics. One of my clients, who couldn't even go on the charity ride we were running, very generously bought them a generator for the outreach clinics, and when the hospital decided they'd be better off with solar power, paid for the lot.
"From the small group who went on the ride, we raised a further US$8000, and that money went towards insulation, railings on the roof, and various educational items."
So, a new phase in Pip's life began, with the Saffron Road Charitable Trust coming to the fore, and taking its name from her touring company, Saffron Road Motorcycle Tours.
Her life now comprises stints at home in Fairlie - her home since 2004 - and trips to Nepal.
"Even when I'm in Nepal to take tours, I always spend an extra few days helping out at the medical centres, and when I'm home, I try to raise funds for them."
She says that while the World Health Organisation has deemed leprosy has been eradicated in Nepal, meaning there is less than one case in 10,000 people - that's not what the people on the ground are seeing. Many cases have gone undetected for years, and involve ulcers and amputations. With outreach clinics, cases of the disease are being picked up much earlier, and can be treated with antibiotics.
Pip has become a familiar face at the hospital, and the leprosarium - the community where leprosy sufferers live.
"I'm always welcomed there, and I end up just about in tears every time. The patients and residents just get so excited when we turn up. They call me Aunty, and smother me with hugs and kisses. We make a point of taking prints of the photographs which we took of them the time before."
Pip's latest project has been to source supplies for a new wing built on to another leprosy hospital outside Kathmandu. While the building, which has two wards and an operating theatre, is complete, there is nothing to put in it.
A promise of equipment from a hospital in New Zealand hasn't yet eventuated, so she's still collecting, and arranging sponsorship and help to get it shipped around the world.
Pip's also turning her fundraising and sponsorship-securing talents to a daycare centre run by a Nepalese woman in Kathmandu.
"On my last trip, my agent in Kathmandu, Rabi Thapa, took me to visit an incredible project he's now supporting. A local woman living in a small flat in the bowels of Kathmandu noticed how many young children were being dragged around with their working mothers - single mothers or the wife of an alcoholic, gambler, or somebody who was abusing them - working as street sweepers, building labourers etc.
"Some of the littlies were being chained to gas cylinders for the day so they couldn't wander, or worse, the mothers had surrendered their children to orphanages so they'd be cared for.
"This amazing woman, Bina Basnet, started taking these children in and looking after them in her flat. Numbers grew and by hounding a local landlord she was able to secure a compound and a couple of sturdy buildings next to her block of flats. She now has 186 children in her care. Through word of mouth and the efforts of people like Rabi, volunteers come from all over the world to help out. The centre provides love, care, three meals a day and a safe environment so mothers are free to make a living knowing their children are safe.
"From very young the children are taught to read, write and do maths and when they are up to standard, Bina tries to get them into private schools. They can't go to Government schools because they don't have birth certificates, and most of them are very bright ... and so keen to learn."
Storage unit, garage or shed.
Phillipa urgently needs storage for the items already donated and destined for the leprosy hospital and children's daycare in Nepal. The arrangement with the current storage facility will expire tomorrow. If you have an empty - or partly empty - garage or large shed that would be available for a few months, please contact Phillipa on 03 685 8805 or 0212 642 905
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Items needed for leprosy hospital and children's daycare.
Sheets, pillowcases, pillows, blankets, duvets, duvet covers, towels and face washers/flannels. As the bed linen is predominantly for hospital beds and care homes, there is a preference for single bed sheets, but any will do as they can be cut in half for narrow beds and cots.
Curtains of any size will also be useful to help insulate the wards in winter.
Knitters, please get out your needles to create winter woollies. Girls & boys: Jumpers/sweaters. Size 1 to 12 years
Men: Jumpers/sweaters. Size XXS to M.
Women: Cardigans only. In Nepal, women generally only wear cardigans as they are worn over saris. Size small to medium. Secondhand woollens, thermal items and socks will be gratefully accepted providing they have been laundered and are in good condition. Shoes & boots: Children's, men's and women's (no high heels)
Spectacles & sunglasses: Reading or prescription are fine.
Storybooks and well-known fables
Ladybird and Little Golden Books
Picture books and baby books (cardboard or cloth)
Atlases, world maps (laminated), wall charts
Paints, brushes, stencils, pens, pencils, exercise books, paper, large-piece jigsaws, flashcards and other educational learning aids
The Timaru Herald