A CUMBRIAN woman determined
to educate poor children in India is appealing
to her home county for help.
Twenty-five-year-old Joanna Harma, from
Thursby near Carlisle, went to India in March
intending to stay for just a few months.
But after seeing the plight of local
children, she decided to stay and set up a
school offering free education to young girls
who would otherwise go without.
Now she is looking for sponsors to help her
achieve her dream.
Joanna, whose parents, Risto and Rosemary,
live at Curthwaite Road in Thursby, and whose
grandmother lives in Carlisle, is now living in
New Delhi and working for an organisation called
Global March Against Child Labour.
While travelling in rural areas around the
city she met local youngsters.
"We started talking to four children about 12
years old, who were not able to go to school,"
she says. "One started crying because she was so
upset about her situation in life. They all work
stitching footballs at stitching centres and
earn about 20p a day.
"The fact is that their families could have
supported them while they went to school, if
only the school itself was affordable to them."
Schools charge a variety of fees which,
though amounting to only £10 per year, are too
expensive for most rural families.
Now, with the help of her Indian boyfriend
Gaurav, and two local teachers, she plans to set
up a charity school in the village of Chakarsi
about 130km from Delhi.
They are close to completing the legal
process which will see them registered as a
charity under the name Free Schools India.
"We hope to start building work on the school
next month and it should take around five months
to build, costing about £4,000 in total," said
The school will cater for girls, at the
villagers' request, because girls most often
miss out on education.
"We are going to have as broad a curriculum
as possible including art and sport," said
Joanna. "We also want to have a free clinic
provided once a week by a visiting doctor and we
will be education our pupils on things like
health and hygiene, family planning and about
AIDS and HIV.
"We want to achieve literacy and broaden
their minds, as well as teaching them practical
things like why open sewage in the village
street is bad."
She says in future they hope to open more
schools across the country for both sexes, and
send girls to university.
The running costs for the school are £10,000
per year, catering for around 60 children. They
have already raised £6,000, but now Joanna is
hoping some of her fellow Cumbrians will
She said: "I've seen how terrible the
conditions are in schools all over India. I want
to make a small difference, and to do that I
need contributions from the general public.
"It's going to cost me around £100 to buy 300
"Every penny will go to the school.
Contributions from people in Cumbria can make a
real difference in the lives of these children
and their families."
l If you want to help, contact Joanna on
joanna 01228 711651.
l You can also visit her website at
l Joanna will stage a display in Carlisle
Library, in the Lanes, from 16 to 30