India school mission for former deputy head

Former teacher and charity founder Helen Jones
Former teacher and charity founder Helen Jones

A RETIRED Whitby Community College teacher has raised over £90,000 to establish a school for disadvantaged children in India.

Former deputy head Helen Jones (69) travelled around India in 2002 and fell in love with the Darjeeling region, in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Staff and pupils at the Roseberry School in Darjeeling

Staff and pupils at the Roseberry School in Darjeeling

After this life-changing trip, she would return to the region several times, travelling with a young guide called Bijoy and his family.

Upon seeing children walking miles to school each morning, Mrs Jones had the idea to set up a charity, named School Aid India.

The Grosmont resident said: “It was Bijoy’s wife Rachana who really made it work.

“She emailed that she had found a suitable building and we agreed that I would set up a charity in the UK and Rachana would become director of the school.”

Mrs Jones confessed to being horrified when she first saw the building, a semi-derelict hovel, but Bijoy and his team knocked it into shape and Roseberry School, Darjeeling, opened its doors in March 2007.

“There was such a demand for places that they ran out of space after only one year,” she added, “so we had to launch an appeal for funds to build an extension.

“We had no idea where all the money would come from, but after only three years we reached our target of £50,000.

“All kinds of people have been amazingly generous, it is very humbling, but there are a lot of people in the UK who want to help folk worse off than they are, even in these difficult times.”

Although it has been a huge challenge, Mrs Jones insisted: “My reward is to see the eager shining faces of children at the school, and to know that we really are changing lives for the better.

“One of the reasons for our success in fund-raising is that donors can see where their money is going because I regularly bring back photos and reports on progress.”

A new four storey building is currently under construction, and five new classrooms will hopefully be ready by the start of the new school year in March, but Mrs Jones added: “We haven’t got enough funds to finish the fourth storey at this stage, but we hope to get enough fairly soon.

“The dank old storerooms being used for lessons at the moment are awful, and outdoor assemblies are difficult during the monsoon.”

The school had a major scare in September when a huge earthquake struck the region, the first for over 35 years.

Miraculously nobody was hurt and only the old building suffered some minor damage.

School Aid India’s next event is an open day at the Hazlewood Tearooms in Grosmont on Sunday 30 October.

“Sue and John, the owners, have always been very supportive of our work,” said Mrs Jones, “they donate their takings on the open day, and there will be photos of Roseberry School, and a stall selling Indian gifts.”

The cafe will be open from 11am to 3pm.

For more information visit www.schoolaidindia.org.