The Katja Foundation was established in 1998 after groups of Hong Kong teachers and students on treks in Nepal noticed the dangerous and difficult lives that the street children there lived. “What began as spontaneous demonstrations of support for a lucky few, turned into a humanitarian project” explained Paul Harries, Island School Maths Teacher and Trustee of the Katja Foundation. The project gained much traction when a businessman raised funds to build a sanctuary for 50 Nepalese children. This eventually led to the official formation of the Katja Foundation in 1998, named after one of the main donor’s children.
Paul Harries has a strong connection with Nepal: upon first joining Island School, he attended the Nepal trek trips and quickly became “captivated with the country”. Soon after, he was given the opportunity to become a Trustee of the Katja Foundation, a position that he still holds today. Paul believes that his appointment was based on the fact that there is a marked similarity between Island School and the Foundation’s core values.
With Art and Textiles Teacher, Claire Tait, Paul is a Quest Week Katja House trip leader. The Katja Foundation supports the children who live there in various ways. Much of this involves renovation of the house to create better living and learning spaces for the children. Each year, Island School students are given a different task – these include of renovating bedrooms, living spaces, bathrooms or even resurfacing playgrounds. “This rolling programme of decoration is vital to the maintenance of Katja House” Paul said. The successes of Katja House are seemingly simple, but immensely rewarding – some of the students are able to enter tertiary education and undertake jobs in specialist fields such as nursing or radiography.
However, the trip benefits not only the children at Katja House but also Island School students themselves. According to Paul, “Spending time at Katja House gives [students] a different perspective on life and perhaps forces them to reconsider many things that they take for granted.” He describes it as a transformative experience for them: the Island School students and Katja children find they are able to share similar hopes, dreams and passions, despite having different walks of life. The trip leaves the students with new values and determination. “For a number of students their Katja House experiences lead to a lifelong commitment to addressing issues such as inequality and poverty,” said Paul.
One notable example of this commitment was the aftermath of the devastating Nepal earthquake in 2015. “The students that had visited Katja House in November 2014 were determined to do something,” Paul explained. The students were immensely successful in raising money and collecting and sending over necessities such as clothing in order to help alleviate some of the issues Katja House was facing. Paul believes that the students’ determination was largely driven by the connection they had formed with the children and the area itself during their own trip.
One future project the Foundation is working towards is building a guesthouse on the premises of Katja House. This would allow alumni to return to Katja House for volunteer work, whether it be for an extended period during a gap year or shorter stays. On a more personal note, Paul commented that he would like to see the Katja project extended to different districts in Nepal. He noted that this would be difficult, as “the issue here is not only the funding but finding those people on the ground that can oversee the project.”
By Julia Mulrooney, Communications and Information Officer