I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Nepal on many occasions and make many friends there. Everyone I know who returns from that amazing country talks in glowing terms about the mountains, the rivers, the amazing landscapes, and the people. Amongst the poorest folk on earth they are also amongst the friendliest and kindest.
Last year I met a fellow Scot when I was trekking in Langtang. Hugh Mackay lives in Tain in the north of Scotland and he is married to a Nepalese woman, Shanti Lama. Intrigued by the thought of a woman from the remote district of Humla in Nepal living in Tain I visited Hugh and Shanti some months later and wrote a feature for the Scots Magazine about her experiences in Scotland. During that visit I learned that High and Shanti run a small charity to raise money to help educate Nepalese women. I was surprised to hear that in many areas of Nepal only the male children get an education.
“It was my father who encouraged me to go to school, much against my will I might add,” Shanti told me. “I was the first female to go to school in Humla! My father was a teacher and believed in education. In the classroom were all these boys, and I was the only girl. They would beat me, and I hated it. I was always crying. I didn’t want to go to school but my dad used to say tell me I had to go. ‘You have to learn so you can have a good life,’ he would say. He would take me and I would see my friends in the fields looking after the yaks and playing and having fun and I just wanted to be like them. I was about 5 or 6 years of age.
“In Humla there was was no concept of girls going to school. The parents just didn’t consider it. It was fine for the boys, but not for girls. Nowadays there is quite a lot of change, and there are many more girls at school. Although I hated it I now know that education gave me a lot of advantages. I learned English, I had further education and I travelled. My childhood friends in Humla, who didn’t go to school, are still herding yaks and cows and generally have a very poor standard of living.”
Not long after they settled in Tain Hugh and Shanti set up a charity, the Bootstock Association, which organises an annual music festival to help fund educational opportunities for disadvantaged children in the poorest and most remote regions of Nepal. In partnership with The Himalayan Innovative Society, they have provided and installed computers, and a trained teacher in the High School in Humla. They’ve also set up Bootstock scholarships to support children whose education has either ceased or been severely disrupted due to economic hardship, gender or ethnic status.
“The charity is a small one, we don’t seek a lot of publicity, but it’s a way that we can help what we believe are deserving causes, particularly in Shanti’s home area. I guess it’s a way of giving something back to a people who have given us so much.”
Hugh’s brother David is a fine artist and he has painted a dozen of Scotland’s Munros. Hugh asked me if I would write a few words to accompany each painting and so the Bootstock calendar was born.
This Saturday I will be with Hugh, Shanti and David in Go Outdoors in Inverness, from 10am, selling and signing the calendars. I’ll also have a few books of my own including the Scotland End to End book. We hope that some of you can come along and support the charity by buying a calendar. It’s for a very, very good cause. Check out the website at www.bootstock.org