Lynn Hirshman, Black Hawk. Many of our readers will remember Ken Ladouceur, who was superintendent of Gilpin Schools from 2001-2009. Some may even remember that he and his wife, Marlene, were passionate trekkers, one year climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
The Ladouceurs now live half the year in their home in Golden and the other half in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, where Ken is Director of Education for most of Northern Saskatchewan – 4,500 students in 17 predominantly First Nations (Native Canadian) communities. While that in itself is interesting, Ken and Marlene have also continued their high country trekking, which took them a few years ago to Nepal.
While there, they encountered a small child who directed them onto the correct path when they has taken a wrong turn. The child spoke no English, but was clearly intelligent and involved. Talking with others in his tiny village, the Ladouceurs learned that this area of Nepal, the Solokhumbu, or Lower Khumbu region below Mt. Everest, was home to two ethnic groups: the well-known Sherpa, who often speak English and therefore are often guides on the mountain; and the Rei, whose lack of English leads them to lives as physical laborers – the porters on those mountain treks.
According to Ladouceur, there is a “bleak future for Rei kids. There’s no industry, only service jobs, heavy labor for low pay. With English, they can work for tourists and make a living wage without their body breaking down. And it’s worse for girls – they’re likely to end up in the sex industry in northern India.”
The Ladouceurs were talking with the Peak to Peak Rotary Club last Thursday, July 9, where they showed a PowerPoint presentation of their attempt to change that terrible dynamic for the Rei. Together with Deepak Rei, whose English enabled him to be their guide as they trekked Annapurna, they created a foundation to help the kids of the Solokhumbu learn English.
In their own words, from the Nepal English Education Foundation website: “We sat down with Deepak in Annapurna base camp and created a business plan to provide quality English instruction for the children of the village of Sotang.
“We intend to generate $5,000 per year of sustainable funding under the structure of the Nepal English Education Foundation. When we are sure of the success of this model we intend to take it to other elementary schools in the Solukhumbu who are also interested in quality English education for their children.
“All administrative costs will be incurred by us allowing every dollar raised to be spent directly at the desktop to provide a quality English education for the children of the Basuki Elementary School in the village of Sotang.”
By April 2015 they had hired three teachers and begun the program in Sotang. Then in May, the earthquake struck, destroying the school. Fortunately, none of the children were hurt.
The Foundation is now sending food, shelter and medicine to the village. “Because we’re small, we’re under the radar,” Ladouceur stated. Their money is not sidetracked by the rampant corruption that has characterized so much of the relief effort in Nepal.
Sotang is “two days’ hike” from the end of the road, which definitely limits what supplies can be brought in. For that reason, the new, temporary school Deepak Rei has built is made from bamboo, with metal roof panels that were carried in on the backs of young men from the village, who were being paid $7 per day by the Foundation. Ladouceur said that he and Marlene had to force Deepak Rei to take a salary of $100 a month for all the work he is doing in rebuilding Sotang. Eventually there will be a new, earthquake-proof school in the village.
The Foundation’s friends and supporters are from all over: Rotary Clubs in Kathmandu; the Interact Club (high school Rotary club) from the Randolph Union High School in Randolph, Vermont; The Kiskahikan School in Saskatchwan. Members of the Foundation Board include Jane Yerkman, Food Services Coordinator at the Gilpin School, and former Gilpin County Commissioner and Mayor of Central City Ron Slinger, as well as school officials from Randolph, Vermont and Swift Current, Saskatchewan.
Those interested in learning more about this international effort are invited to go to the Foundation website at www.NepalEnglishEducationFoundation.com.