Geographically, it’s a long way from Nepal to Portadown but for pupils at Bocombra PS it’s set to be just a mouse click away.
The school is embarking on what it hopes will be a mutually rewarding relationship with two schools in the remote eastern country - and it’s all thanks to the legacy of former pupil Neal Turkington.
Neal, a member of 1 Royal Gurkha Rifles, was killed in Afghanistan in July 2010, and in his memory family and friends established the Neal Turkington Nepal Project.
As well as rebuilding schools, one of its aims has always been to create a cultural web link between pupils here and in Nepal.
Last Thursday, retired Gurkha Major Krishna Gurung visited Northern Ireland for the first time and spoke to Bocombra pupils at morning assembly.
Major Gurung, a third generation Gurkha and member of the Gurkha Welfare Scheme, has been working closely with the school and the Turkington family to get the schools linked up.
He explained that progress had been slowed by the earthquake and subsequent aftershock - and now the monsoon season - but told Bocombra pupils that they would be able to speak to their Nepalese peers “quite soon”.
Principal Mark Vallelly said the school didn’t want the project to be about the “east helping the east” but that pupils would be involved in curriculum-type projects, such as making rain gauges out of plastic bottles and learning about the monsoon season.
Bocombra pupils have already learnt a Nepalese greeting, ‘Namaste’, and are looking forward to putting it into practice.
Before leaving, Major Gurung presented the school with a replica of a kukri, a knife synonymous with the Gurkhas, and urged pupils to “study hard, work hard and play hard”.
Also attending the special assembly were Neal’s parents Ivor and Marie. Ivor said, “Neal’s vision was to bring about a more peaceful society by creating a more knowledgeable and diverse society.
“The idea is that the relationship that children develop with their peers in Nepal will be carried through to secondary school and college.”
To date, Neal’s Project has transformed a school in the west of Nepal, adding on six classrooms and refurbishing the remainder. Work is also under way on another school in the east, which will see tin huts with earth floors replaced with a new, earthquake-resilient structure.
Meanwhile, Bocombra PS will be holding a ball and charity auction in the autumn term as part of its 40th anniversary celebrations, proceeds of which will go to Neal’s Project.
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