This week’s speaker is Dr. Rosa Matherson who lives in Highworth when she is not visiting Nepal. We are delighted to share here the amazing work that she has done to make the lives of these Nepalese ophans filled with hope.
John: Dr Rosa welcome to our Speakers Corner and can I start by asking you to tell us a little about yourself.
Rosa: Well, most of my working life was spent in education. I taught all ages from little people in nursery, ran my own Primary school in Abu Dhabi, created classes for Further Education, finishing up with teaching Women’s Studies and Women’s History at university. I have also worked in commerce, running my own Consultancy PR and Project Management business, and was lucky to have worked a lot with Arts charities and therefore lots of artist and performance artists. I love the arts and creative artists of all kinds and especially live performance – we do a lot of this in our fundraising. Now I write railway history books and run the two charities, and help with local community events such as IWD Swindon and the ‘RESPECT not violence’ Men’s campaign.
John: I know you are involved in the Angel’s Orphanage Please tell us about it .
Our charity, Friends of Angel’s Orphanage (6 years old in May) came about when my husband and I went, at the request of our then medical student son, on a expedition to Nepal in March 2009. Whilst in Kathmandu a man came to our son looking for help. He said he had ‘a big family’ (it was those words that drew us in and have changed our lives) many were sick and he had no money for food or medicine. My husband, a retired Swindon GP, and I went to see and found that the ‘big family’ was actually a small orphanage of 21 children – who believed they were a family. We did what we could then and came back home, told family and friends and then set up the charity.
We went back in the October moved the children to another home as the house they were living in was so unhealthy, entered them in full-time education at a good, caring school and have been going back and caring for them ever since. We are proud to boast – ‘every penny raised is spent on the children’. Everyone is a volunteer and pays their own way.
‘The Friends’ pay the rent for the house, the fees and expenses for education, send money for food and living expenses each month, gas and electricity, pay for health care and fun-times too.
In fact virtually everything. We could not do this without our Monthly Supporters, our fundraisers and those who generously give donations – such as our local Rotary.
John: I read in your Newsletter that families were often unable to afford basic healthcare and education and I just wonder if there is any Birth Control advice given to the women which might help in preventing this situation continuing. To use a “health” saying; Prevention is better than cure.
Rosa: Hmm..now in actual fact Nepalese families do not have very large families – 2 is probably the norm, or maybe 3/4 in the villages. Usually the larger number is until have they have a boy – a son. Access to Health Education is extremely limited in general, even in the towns. Traditional practices still hold sway in rural communities and remember Nepal is more rural than urban. Nepalese women could not afford birth control as they mostly cannot afford the bus fare to the town to get to the shop to get it. This we learnt when we did the medical missions in the villages. It was no point in saying – go to the hospital for follow-up – or buy the child more of this medicine – as they did not even have the money for the fare – most of them are ‘dirt poor’ as the Americans would say – they are subsistence farmers. Most live on around $80 a year.
One of the BIG problems for Nepal is that Nepal men will not marry widows. It is a cultural thing. Traditionally widows are seen as bad karma. It creates all kinds of social and economic problems. This is one of the reasons there are so many abandoned children, many given up by their widow mothers as they have no skills to earn an income and feed them, in the numerous orphanages in Nepal – ours included.
John How do you feel an organisation like Rotary can help?
Rosa I know Rotary well John. I worked with many Swindon branches in my Arts Charity work. I think it is an amazing organisation – with loads of ‘street-cred’ worldwide – and that has been very helpful to us as ‘The Friends’ are wonderfully fortunate to have the Rotary Club of the Himalayan Ghurkas as our friends and supporters. They manage our money for the orphanage so we have a very transparent paper-trail. Telling people this lifts our ‘street-cred’ too.
We also worked with them on their first all-women, mountain-region, micro-finance project…
the BOOK PROJECT (our charity that supports economic programmes to enable women, give them skills to become independently economically viable) provided the £1,000 they needed. We raise these monies through the sale of the book – a day in the life of 100 women in Britain (it is literally written by 100 women and is a brilliant read – the best £10 ever spent – the100womenbookproject.com
Our Rotary Club (as I like to think of them) does amazing work in the very isolated rural, mountainous regions, especially in IT in schools and is now developing their/our micro-finance programme to the next tranche of women.
Rosa: Well, I would take my ‘brown bag’ dinner and sit on that bus seat beside Rosa Parks ,
the African/American civil rights activist. She was an ordinary woman who made an every-day ordinary act – sitting on a bus seat – into something extra-ordinary, and helped change the world by it. I would love to have had the courage to sit with her and chat. Maybe she could help me find my simple, everyday act that would make such a big difference to people’s lives.
I also love that we share the same name.
More information can be found here www.angelsorphanage.com