Having settled by the seaside following a career in teaching across Yorkshire, John Cotterill could be described as a Scarborough man – but perhaps only for half of the year.
The retired headteacher is currently on a six-month stint doing voluntary work in Nepal. It’s become a familiar 5,000-mile journey over the past four years.
John volunteers with a charity called Kidasha, which despite being relatively small and unknown to many, is making huge strides in helping to change the lives of thousands of young people in Western Nepal.
The journey began for John “by accident”, he says, when he was in Australia and met members of a medical team who’d been out in Nepal.
He told the team he’d been helping someone install a computerised irrigation system and they said his skills would be very useful in sanitation work.
“They wanted me to get involved in water purification work and sanitation education in local communities,” explains John.
“So I went out there and it was really exciting. There were things I’d never seen before.”
While in Nepal, John learned of Kidasha, previously CWS, and that they needed someone with his skills, so after flying home he went back out to work at a vocational training centre for disadvantaged youngsters.
The country is still suffering the consequences of civil war and unrest due to the collapse of the monarchy. Many children are orphaned and neglected.
And because many organisations only work with children up until the age of 16, thousands of vulnerable young people are left with nowhere to go.
“All of these kids have been let down by adults – every one of them,” John adds.
“There are problems with child labour, conflict, sexual trafficking. You have to try and develop a caring environment and encourage them to do things, and when you do, they respond really well.”
The centre where John volunteers, in Pokhara, provides opportunities for teenagers and young adults to learn trades, such as plumbing, electrical work, computing and care giving.
It also provides a safe haven, with food and accommodation, which has been scarce for many of those who end up there.
Due to John’s background in education, he is involved in the vocational training and also helps manage the centre.
As well as working at the centre, John is also part of a street kids scheme, called the Jyoti Street Project.
This helps youngsters who have often survived on next to nothing, picking up rags or rubbish to sell on the street, and gives them shelter, access to healthcare and opportunities.
“In this country, we think of street kids as kids who hang about in the street, but these children actually sleep on the street,” John adds.
“Many get drawn into drug abuse and glue sniffing is common.”
Over the past four years, John has seen how the project has helped change many young lives for the better. “They appreciate the time and attention, and the fact that you’re not a threat.
“They also realise you’re not there to judge, or to make them into little Westerners.”
John adds: “We’ve had some wonderful success stories, which are quite stunning sometimes.
“We’ve seen people and they’re working, they’re married and they’re off the street.
“Some of the staff have been through the system and come back to work on the project.”
John says he plans to keep volunteering for Kidasha “as long as they’ll have me”.
He adds: “Some days you wake up with no electricity, no water, and you walk to work and think ‘what am I doing here?’
“But then the kids will come out waving and shouting, and you think how can I not smile?
“They’re just really glad you’re there. And they know that you care.”
l To make a donation, you can text KIDA13 plus the amount - e.g. KIDA13 £10 - to 70070 or donate online on the Kidasha website, www.kidasha.org
Just £10 provides a safe place to sleep and a nutritious meal for seven street children. £50 provides business training for two street children. £100 pays the salary of a social worker to support 80 children for a month. £1,000 provides complete educational support for 10 children for a year.