Dear readers… “eh, is anyone left?” Yes… it has been very quiet for a very long time.. I know. After the 24th September 2013, I had a rest. In fact the shoulder injury sustained during the lead up to the big day and subsequently during the crossing still persists. However, here I am again. Here to talk to you once more. Luckily for you the subject is something far more important than my ‘solo efforts’ to swim large expanses of water.

I am here to tell you about what your most generous donations are doing! I am eternally grateful and privileged to have been included on a recent trip to visit the ‘village projects’ north of Udiapur in Ragasthan, India. I was part of a group hosted by Free The Children (FCT) and Virgin Atlantic sent to see first hand what ‘your funds’ are actually achieving. And the news is good, very good.

I can honestly say that it was one of the most humbling experiences of my life, I am so glad to have been included.

I met a team of Virgin Atlantic personnel and two Free FCT officials in the Virgin Clubhouse at Heathrow airport, a great way to start the night flight to Delhi. Of course, still strictly on a training regime… I had to try several of the delights not to mention a few glasses of bubbly together with the clubhouse curry.

We all compared notes and relaxed. After a long night flight we arrived in Delhi to be escorted to the domestic terminal by our very friendly local Virgin ground staff who managed an outstanding job of ushering us through most of the ‘red tape’ to make an internal flight connection. If you ever travel connecting through India… allow time… lot’s of time. After a 1.5 hour Jet Airways flight we landed on a short runway in Udaipur. A quick change into shorts and our fleet of taxis departed along the pot holed road to make the 3 hour journey to Araveli cottages.

We arrived just as dusk fell, the huge vast mountains looming before us in the fading light. Rajahstan is absolutely beautiful.

Araveli cottages were situated just outside the village of Araveli, within a walled encampment of 17 acres. This tented accommodation was fabulous. Each day was jammed full of visits, briefings, greetings whilst meeting the people involved in the projects. Not just officials and amazing volunteers but the local villagers who live ‘real lives’ which change on a daily basis as the principles of these projects consolidate and begin to take hold. ‘FTC’ have five pillars of sustainability at the heart of their vision:

  1. Clean water and sanitation
  2. Education
  3. Agriculture and food security
  4.  Alternative income
  5. Health

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FCT move into a deprived area and begin by sanitising the water sources together with educating the population concerning waist disposal. Educational improvements quickly follow along with school building projects.

The school toilet facilities:



New school toilet block:



New classroom:




Without education there is ‘no sustainability!’


The children:

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This education is not just for the children, but the whole community. Education for adults may consist of teaching a farmer that their preferred ‘grain crop’, because they like the taste, is not necessarily the correct crop for the region as there are other grain crops that grow better, are more robust, have a better yield and provide better nutrition. It’s hard to change cultural habits. Try taking away a cup of tea or fish and chips from the English!



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Grinding corn:



Our first visit saw us being invited into the home of a remarkable woman whose house consisted of one room with a fire crackling away in one corner and some limited shelving built into the wall. The family had very few possessions. Life is hard for the woman of the household her chores begin in the dark, early in the morning. Food preparation, fetching water up to 7 times a day from the well situated just over a 1km down the hill using heavy clay pots to carry the water and I can tell you that they were heavy! She also forages for firewood several times a day from the surrounding landscape.



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The community well:




Time to reflect:



And now the work:



Once, the villagers are ready the first goats arrive. Goats are important as a source of milk and meat. Hence they are a sign of prosperity and wealth. They cost approximately £60 per goat.



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With more basic necessities like food and water now becoming more plentiful, instead of forming part of a daily struggle, alternative income can now be sourced. Meanwhile education grows stronger and stronger as more generations of children and farmers ‘graduate’ through the system.


Back to school:

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The school longest serving within the project:




The newest school:



The change in these people was remarkable as the confidence built from village to village as we visited the newest FCT project to the oldest established. It was heart warming.

Hope.. is a big word for these poor communities who are so low on the social ladder in India that they do not even belong to a ‘cast’. However, hope is not the only thing on the horizon. With the funds that you donated, positive planning, and the program provided by FCT these communities have a very real ability to change their lives for the future, thus gradually improving all aspects of their lives.

Thank you so much for your generosity.


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