LIKE many around the world, Stornoway residents Iain and Kay Minty were shocked as the worst tsunami ever recorded devastated thousands of villages and townships along Indian Ocean coasts on Boxing Day 2004.
In summer 2005 the couple travelled to India to see the aftermath for themselves – and have returned four times since, making close connections and bringing aid to the Navajeevan Orphanage in Vellanad, in the Indian state of Kerela, situated at the bottom south west tip of the country.
And this year Iain and Kay are scaling the heights of the Western Isles in a bid to establish a scholarship trust to provide the Navajeenvan boys with the opportunity to enter further education once they leave the orphanage at 16 years old.
Established by Roman Catholic priest Father James, who passed away aged 84 last year, the Navajeenvan Orphanage is currently run by three Franciscan nuns, headed up by ‘a wonderful lady’ Sister Anna.
The orphanage is home to between 150 to 300 boys – many of whom are ‘economic orphans’ whose parents can no longer afford to feed and educate them – and are cared for by local women employed as ‘house mothers’.
“There is no welfare system in the state so it’s everyone for themselves,” explains Ian. “One thing that is changing rapidly also is family breakdowns, they are becoming increasingly common and it’s often the women left on their own to bring up the children.
“The orphanage offers a safety net for many – if families are reaching their last resort, it’s a place for the children to go.”
As well as being fed, clothed and looked after, the children are also educated during their time at Navajeenvan, which means ‘new life’ in Malyalam.
The majority received free state provided local language education, but around 10% of the most promising students are taken to English medium education – still provided by the state, one of India’s most educated with around 95% literacy, but carrying a fee.
Yet once the boys turn 16 and leave the orphanage, this lifeline is gone – and for many further education is simply a pipe-dream.
“Education is seen as a passport out of poverty,” said Kay. “Once they leave, they go back to their villages and enter mainly hard labour work.
“Many of the boys have absent fathers as they go into the rubber trees and coconut farms, climbing up trees with no regard for health and safety, and some are killed or injured. Without further education, these are the options left available to the boys.”
And in a bid to aid more young men to enter further education, Ian and Kay are set to take on a fund-raising challenge with a difference as this summer they will scale the highest peak on each Western Isles island to raise £5,000 for a scholarship trust.
The challenge includes: The challenge includes Ben Heaval in Barra (383m); Beinn Sciathan in Eriskay (185m); Beinn Mhor on South Uist (620m); Rueval on Benbecula (127m); Eaval on North Uist (347m); the Clisham in Harris (799m) and Mealisval in Lewis (574m) – meaning the Mintys will climb a total of 3,035metres (or 9,957feet)!
“Annual tuition fees are around £300 for an undergraduate degree, a comparatively small sum in the capitalist economies of the West, but hopelessly beyond all but the wealthy in Indian society, and for the boys of Navajeevan, just a dream,” said Ian.
Kay continued: “We’ve discussed it with Sister Anna as she holds the purse strings, she knows the boys and she knows the system. We’re going on the sum of £500 per child to pay for tuition fees, books, supplies and help with living expenses, so the £5,000 we hope to raise will help 10 boys literally start a new life.”
If you wish to sponsor the Minty’s Mountain challenge and help the Navajeevan boys get an education, you can contact them on 07775027991 or email Kay at email@example.com for further details.
Take a look at Ian’s video of a performance by some of the Navajeenvan boys.