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Tell us about your background…
Originally started off as a teacher, I came to the university in 1990 as a lecturer and I’ve had the most fabulous career here, I ended up as the Head of School, I decided I’d like to retire but didn’t quite work – so I’m still here and doing various things within the School
A passion for education – is it fair to say you’ve helped shape the way the School works now?
I like to think so. I’ve always had a very deep commitment to education. I wanted to be a teacher from as long as I can remember and influencing education, helping to shape it in a University like ours has been an enormous privilege.
In the UK, we’re obviously extremely fortunate to get the education we get but not everyone around the world is that fortunate – which leads us to the Malagiri school – could you explain some background…
There were three people who were quite influential in the development of the school. Somebody called Carin Soderlind from Sweden who’s a philanthropist, a member of the School of Education staff called Kevin Fossey and a monk called Pema Dorjee. The three of them had a vision to create a school in a rural part of Nepal, very poor, subsistence living only, to try to give the children in that area firstly an education and secondly, a chance to lead a difference kind of lifestyle and bring some prosperity to the region. Kevin came and spoke to me and said ‘do you think we could raise money to build a school?’ – and that’s really the origins.
We started to raise money, a charity was set up in Nepal in 2009 and the School of Education did all sorts of funding activities and in 2011, the school was opened and I was lucky enough to go to the opening ceremony in Nepal and see those children going to school for the very first time.
Why the area? Why Malagiri? It’s very remote and would seem from the outside a random area.
Absolutely, the school is actually on the Rajpath – a road to India. Many of the children were sold for the sex trade so they were unsafe and in Nepal, only about a quarter of primary school children ever get a chance to go to school – there was no school in the area. It was felt that a) it was important for children to have an education and b) it would protect them from being sold and taken to India.
The villagers without a school have very little opportunity. What happens is, the very few crops that they have that might be spare, they travel into Kathmandu, which is a long, long bus journey and often very young children were left to take care of their siblings. No quality of life, no education, often when they were selling their crops because they didn’t understand any mathematical concepts, they may charge too much for them – it was just terrible for everybody in that whole area.
And hopefully the school will create the opportunities for children to go on and do something else if they wish…
I travelled to Nepal last November to see how the school was getting on and they have a young teacher-helper there, who is a villager himself, who they are training up to become a teacher. That for the village is tremendous, because it’s given employment to somebody from the village, he has credibility, he’s got enormous talent that otherwise he probably would have moved into Kathmandu and they would have lost that talent. Equally, the staffing at the school, so the cook, the guard, the cook’s helper – they are all local villagers, so actually, not only do we have a school there but we have a hub for the community and we’ve got hope for many of those families who otherwise probably wouldn’t have any income, or they would have moved to Kathmandu.
The fundraising does keep going – could you give us some context regarding how much money translates to what can be provided for the school and the students?
It costs us about £25,000 per year to run the school total to maintain the school, to pay for the staff salaries, to provide uniform for the children and to provide food for the children. That’s why they look so healthy because they are given a good lunch at the school every day.
In terms of what that means broken down, it costs about £7.60 to feed a child for a month, so that’s all of their lunches, which is not a great deal of money really. It costs about £11.40 for a school uniform for a year, for one child. It costs about £9.20 for one child to have all of their stationary for a year. A head teacher will earn about £131 a month and a teacher-helper or a junior teacher would be paid about £83 a month – so that gives you some idea of the breakdown of the costs.
On the 6th December, there’s a big Falmer fundraiser going on – could you tell us about it?
We are having an extravaganza, from 12pm-3pm (Checkland building, Falmer campus) and we’re having a kind of a bake-off. So we have three categories: savoury food, cakes and ‘cakes that didn’t quite work out as expected’. We’re hoping that people won’t be put off by the competition and if they have a go, and their cake isn’t quite what they expected it to be, it can still be entered for a competition.
We’ve got a tombola and we’ve got some crafts that people can buy, so we’re hoping very much that we raise some money. This is an annual event, it’s a great feel good factor for the School of Education and everybody gets involved.
I’ve made some little table decorations (pictured) which I’m hoping people might want to buy instead of
Christmas crackers. They’re home-made, they’re knitted, they’re Christmas trees, Christmas puddings and Santa hats and inside each of them there is a chocolate. If people bought four of them, there would be giving us enough money to feed a child for a month in the school – so I’m hoping that people will come and have a look and see if they’d like to buy something.There’s also going to be a Festive jumper campaign, also raising money for the Malagiri school, set-up by the Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement team…
Bring the festive jumpers on the 6th as well! We could have a really engaging event.
Away from work – some quickfire questions…
Favourite place in Sussex?
Cuckmere Haven. My background is a I’m a geographer, I very much love the sea and Cuckmere Haven has that wonderful combination of the most glorious landscape, coupled with the sea and it’s peaceful.
What are you currently reading, watching and/or listening to?
I’m watching Masterchef: The Professionals – I’m hooked. I’d dearly like to be able to cook like some of the professionals.
Describe your perfect weekend…
Definitely walking in the countryside, without any traffic involved – quite challenging walking to make you feel like you’ve put a bit of effort in. Followed by some kind of live music event, and then dinner with friends and a couple of good bottles of wine.
If you could invite three people to dinner, past or present, who would they be?
Michael Morpurgo (author of War Horse) – children’s author. I’ve got a real love for children’s literature. Michael also runs a charity called City Farms where he gives children from urban areas the opportunity to go and spend a week in the countryside and that for me, being a geographer, is a very important thing to do. He could tell a good story but he and I could share some geographical experiences.
Katherine Johnson – she was one of the three black women in the USA who supported the first manned trips into space. She was really the brains behind the mathematical calculations and they called her a human computer. I just think what an interesting person to have a chat with and somebody who really put her head above the parapet.
Finally, I’d like to invite my father-in-law because I never ever met him. He’s an interesting character, he was born in Le Paz, he was educated in Germany, lived for much of his life in France and then finally spent the rest of his life in England and sadly he died before I ever got to know him. Spoke five languages – I’d be quite interested in learning about some of his life stories.