Bring back The Smile To Nepal started life as a one off fundraising effort, by Anna Gurung and her friend Liz Holmes, in reaction to the huge earthquake that shook Nepal on April 25th 2015.
Just four months later, following weeks of hard work and furious fundraising, Anna was rewarded when official charitable status was given to her campaign by OSCR ( the official charity regulator for Scotland).
Anna’s energy and determination had meant, in a just a few months, her campaign had raised enough money to allow her to travel to Nepal and began to help rebuild homes and lives, in a country she cares so much about.
With a team of volunteers and trustees for the new charity, Bring Back The Smile To Nepal hopes to make a real difference for many years to come.
Whilst the charity is relatively new, Anna’s affection for Nepal and it’s people, dates back much further:
When news of the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake, that shook Nepal on April 25th, reverberated around the world, the reports were even more distressing for the Gurung family from the quiet village of Kenmore, near Aberfeldy in Perthshire. Sanu and Anna Gurung had moved from Nepal to raise a family and to enable Sanu to work in the rafting and outdoor adventure business. Although Anna’s family live in Aberdeenshire, the couple settled on Perthshire. “ The rivers, mountains and terrain make Perthshire very much like the areas of Nepal that Sanu worked and grew up in. We knew we would feel at home here”. Anna explained.
They first met in 1993, when Anna travelled to Nepal. Although she had to return to the UK, the following year she made the arduous trip across the border from Bangladesh – where she had been working as a volunteer. A chance meeting brought them together again, they fell in love and married in 2000. Although they had always hoped to raise a family in Nepal, the political unrest in the country, which followed the 2001 massacre of King Birendra and nine members of the Royal family at the Narayanhity Royal Palace in Kathmandu, persuaded Sanu and Anna to uproot and settle in the tranquillity of Highland Perthshire.
With their three children, Sanu and Anna had visited Nepal as recently as October 2014. Their family and friends still fresh in their minds, the news of the largest earthquake for 80 years, meant an anxious and nerve racking wait, as they desperately tried to contact their family in the Darachok district of Nepal. With phone lines down and power supplies sporadic, it was a fretful 72 hours spent trying to contact their loved ones. “Eventually”, Anna said, “we confirmed that Sanu’s parents had survived but their house was unsafe and they were having to live in tents”. Further calls helped them discover that although Sanu’s Aunt had witnessed her house reduced to rubble, she had escaped unscathed. His sister, who lived in Kathmandu had also been lucky. They were able to breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Although their own family had been comparatively lucky, the couple’s deep affection for the country and it’s people meant they felt the need to try and help, in any way they could. Anna, together with one of her close friends, immediately hit on the idea of a parachute jump to raise funds for Mercy Corps relief efforts in Nepal. Anna quickly realised that rebuilding of Nepal would require substantially more than a single skydive, however.
Other fundraising projects were undertaken, a brand name was added, and charitable status was applied for.
“Nepal is a beautiful country”, said Anna, “ the first thing everyone notices when they visit, is everyone’s amazing smile. We want to do whatever we can to help bring that back. The monsoon season is coming, communications are difficult and there are problems with the drinking water. We decided we had to act now”
In late July 2015 ( with courtesy of a grant to assist with her travel costs ) Anna travelled to Nepal and began to help deliver aid personally.
September saw the charity gain the backing of TV personality and well known Nepal campaigner Joanna Lumley OBE. In addition the charity became members of the Scottish Council Of Voluntary Organisations ( SCVO ) and was included, for the first time, on the largest charity database in the UK ( www.charitychoice.co.uk ) and on the largest global charity database ( www.charitylibrary.co.uk ).
STV News also interviewed Anna about her campaign and her trip to Nepal ( available on Youtube to view). Anna has also found popularity as a guest speaker, discussing her charitable visit to the country in Summer 2015.
In December 2015, the touching story of the charity’s endeavours to help Bhakta and his family were featured in the Scotsman Newspaper and trended on MSN’s news page. The building of two new houses in the village of Fishling was the charity’s most ambitious project to date and showed their effectiveness in reaching those in need, even in remote villages.
By the end of 2015 the newly formed charity had assisted nearly 100 families to rebuild homes and had formed useful links and contacts to enable many, many more to be helped in the near future.
The beginning of 2016 saw the charity host a series of fundraising activities, as the first anniversary of the tragic earthquake approached. Collection Boxes were placed in various shops and businesses, a triathlon was completed, Anna continued her series of talks and the charity hosted it’s first pub quiz.
At the beginning of April Anna set off for Nepal to help oversee the continued rebuilding projects, to supervise payments, negotiate contracts and the purchase of materials.
By the first anniversary of the earthquake, the charity had been able to announce its largest project to date – the rebuilding of the entire village of Archanbas. The first house was completed in time to mark the anniversary and proudly fitted with one of the charity’s name plaques.
Within days Bring Back The Smile To Nepal also ventured into it’s first joint project ( with the American charity Sathi Nepal ). Two classrooms, at the village school in Jamune VDC, were completely refurbished and the children provided with new educational and classroom materials.
STV also marked the anniversary, by inviting Anna back on air to discuss the Archanbas project and to tell viewers about the charity’s first year and its plans for the future. In addition the leading charity news website, Charity Today, published a special item in recognition of Bring Back The Smile To Nepal’s first year of campaigning – http://www.charitytoday.co.uk/charity-is-bringing-back-the-smile-to-nepal/
At the end of May 2016 Bring Back The Smile To Nepal became members of the Foundation for Social Improvement ( FSI ), which enabled the charity to participate in Small Charities Week ( June 13th – 18th 2016 ). This gave the organisation a shared platform, on a national scale, with other smaller UK based charities.
The end of May also saw the first pictures arrive from Nepal, of the ongoing village rebuild in Archanbas. These received widespread media attention for the charity, helping to enhance its reputation, as it entered its second year.
The charity continued to work on a local level too, involving itself with the local school’s Scarecrow Festival, holding local after dinner talks and distributing its first annual newsletter, among its supporter base.
June brought some exciting news for the charity. Anna and Sanu received an invitation, from Her Majesty The Queen, to the Royal Garden Party in July. News of their charitable work had reached the Royal Household! The charity also received its first award nomination, when it was nominated in the Charity Times Awards 2016, as “best new charity”.
These flattering distractions did not distract from the main task at hand, however, as Anna organised an fundraising abseil from the Forth Rail Bridge, as part of the Charity’s involvement in Small Charities Week. The abseil raised just over £1200, more than twice the target Anna had originally set. These successful fundraising events, at the beginning of the charity’s second year, meant that Anna was able to bring forward her next planned visit to Nepal.
The Royal Garden Party, on July 5th, was to provide a very flattering and unexpected honour for Anna and Sanu. The couple were chosen from the guests to chat exclusively to her Majesty. The length of their chat, the obvious interest shown by Her Royal Highness and the enjoyment of all parties, led to a photograph of the occasion being used on news sites all around the world, even on Australian TV! The picture also became the banner for the official Buckingham Palace website.
However, within 48 hours of this pleasant distraction Anna was, once again, on her way back to Nepal, to oversee the completion of the the reconstruction in Archanbas.
The charity were able to announce the completion in Archanbas in early 2017. There was to be no rest though, as the next round of fundraising began in earnest.
Anna was already planning her next journey to Nepal, scheduled for July 2017. This time the charity’s target was a remote village called Ruplang. Again, the plan was to rehouse the community in newly constructed homes. This ambitious project was made possible, thanks to generous support from The Rotary Club Of Pitlochry and the guests at Fisher’s Hotel in the town. Two large donations came just in time to enable the charity to, not only, push ahead with their scheme in Ruplang, but to also commence the planning stage for their next project.