10:51 - 07 September 2004
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The FULL Story...


By Nicola Jolly

THE future looks brighter for 100 Indian girls who have started at a new school built thanks to kind-hearted Cumbrians.

Joanna Harma, from Thursby near Carlisle, began her Free Schools India quest to raise more than 10,000 almost two years ago.

She held fundraising events, set up a student sponsorship scheme and opened a charity shop on Abbey Street, eventually raising more than 20,000.

The school opened last Wednesday in Chakarsi, Uttar Pradesh, around 80 miles north east of Delhi. There are six teachers, including headteacher Gopal Singh, and student numbers are likely to rise to around 120 as word spreads among neighbouring villages.

It means that girls will be encouraged to learn to read and write and continue into high school instead of working on farms and industry to boost the incomes of their poor families.

In larger towns children are forced into low-paid adult jobs which include stitching footballs for around 20p a day.

Joanna, who is 26, and her Indian husband Gaurav Siddhu originally planned to build four rooms but the project expanded to 10, including eight classrooms, an accommodation block and a toilet block.

Now Joanna, who did a masters degree in international human rights, will finally get to spend some quality time with Gaurav. He has spent most of their 17-month marriage co-ordinating the work in India and is due to come to Carlisle for the first time at the end of the month.

Joanna said: At one point we thought opening was impossible as we had a lot of problems recruiting quality teachers. It was hard to attract them from out of the area which is why we added the accommodation block.

Wed like to thank everyone for their support which has made it all possible.

Running costs will be covered by the student sponsorship scheme but Joanna and Gaurav will continue fundraising to pay off loans they took out to complete the work.

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