JOANNA LUMLEY - A DAY WITH THE GWS
After a hectic couple of days meeting VIPs and thousands of grateful ex-Gurkha servicemen and their families in Kathmandu, Dharan and Birtamod in East Nepal, Joanna Lumley and her entourage arrived in Pokhara early on 29th July in two chartered aircraft. Pokhara’s small airport was swamped by enthusiastic, and some rowdy well-wishers from GAESO, NESA and ordinary ex-Gurkha servicemen and their families. Airport security couldn’t cope with the crowd and, after some negotiation, it was agreed that GAESO would lead Ms Lumley through the hundreds of supporters and well-wishers present. Twenty minutes or so later, submerged in phul-mallas and khadas, Ms Lumley was rescued by Col Jeremy Ellis, Director Gurkha Welfare Scheme (GWS) and
Deputy Field Director GWS to start her long planned visit to the GWS. Before leaving England, Joanna Lumley had said how much she wanted to see the work of the GWS and a whole day had been set aside in her programme to do just that. She was joined by her husband and son, her ‘Chief of Staff’ and his wife and a large group of national and international radio and TV media. After the banner waving and raucous crowds at
the airport the welcoming party that greeted her at AWC Kaski were rather more organised but no less enthusiastic and pleased to see her! The path leading into AWC Kaski was lined with eager and excited welfare pensioners, service pensioners as well as AWC Kaski and HQ GWS staff, everyone craning their necks to catch a first glimpse of Nepal’s newest Goddess’ arrival. Ms Lumley was greeted first by HE Dr Andrew Hall (the British Ambassador), Lt Col Adrian Griffith (Deputy Field Director GWS), Mrs Hall, Fiona Ellis and Anne Griffith, followed by AWC Kaski staff and the pensioners.
She gracefully accepted khadas from everyone, spending a few moments speaking with each of our welfare pensioners and widows. She was delighted to meet and speak with some Burma veterans from 3/6th Gurkha Rifles, who had served alongside her father during the war.
Reception party at AWC Kaski
After refreshments, Ms Lumley, her team and senior media correspondents were given a comprehensive brief by Field Director GWS on the GWS’s organisation, mission and
objectives as well as its past, present and future programmes. In support of this brief, Director GWS emphasised the benefits for Service Pensioners remaining in Nepal. The tour of AWC Kaski began with the visit to the AWC clinic where in average of 80 patients are seen everyday by the AWC Doctor and his team.
Ms Lumley showed keen interest in the quality of the services provided to ex-Gurkha servicemen and their dependants and was especially pleased to see the well stocked pharmacy and that a gynaecologist was available to support female patients.
Ms Lumley was then shown the site of the GWS’s first Residential Home, under construction for our most vulnerable welfare pensioners. She was briefed on the progress of the project by Capt(Retd) Khembahadur Thapa, Staff Officer Residential Home. She seemed delighted by the new project and looked forward to seeing the first group of residents in the Home.
With the whirlwind tour of AWC Kaski over, Ms Lumley gave an impromptu press conference to the international (BBC, ITN, Sky and others) and Nepalese national media to say how impressed she was with the work of the GWS in its support of ex-Gurkha servicemen and their families. She also said how much she was looking forward to seeing other work being carried out by the GWS in the field.
Her next visit was to Pumdi Bhumdi village where the GWS had completed a major school project for Shree Sukraraj High School in 2002, funded by Trailwalker money. Here again, the students, teachers and members of the local community showered their appreciation with garlands, bouquets and khadas on Ms Lumley. She was surprised to see the ‘Trailwalker’ marble tablet on the wall of the school, so the Deputy Field Director explained the history behind the ‘Trailwalker’ charity event and the work of Queen's Gurkha Signals and Oxfam in Hong Kong to raise money for schools in Nepal. After further filming opportunities for the media Ms Lumley departed for AWC Syangja .Her welcome at AWC Syangja by Maj(Retd) Krishna Gurung BEM, the Area Welfare Officer (AWO) and his team was every bit as warm and enthusiastic as elsewhere. As importantly, many welfare pensioners had walked and bussed for hours in the hope of seeing the "Nepali Cheli" (daughter of Nepal) and Goddess in person.
After the pensioners had made their offerings of flowers and khadas, the AWO gave Ms Lumley a comprehensive brief on the role and work of a busy rural AWC. This was followed by a well deserved and relaxed lunch for the whole travelling party and the accompanying media around the AWC 'chautara'. The BGP Master Chef excelled himself by preparing first class vegetarian ration packs. After lunch, she toured the AWC complex and was thrilled to visit the AWC pig farm and to see newly born piglets – the AWC staff were very surprised that the mother pig did not interfere when Ms lumley handled the piglets!Then it was off to Chaura village to see the RWSP’s newly completed drinking water project there.
Here again, crowds from the local community had gathered for a chance to see and meet the most famous person in the World for Nepal that week. After greetings with garlands and khadas, Ms Lumley and her team were briefed by Capt(Retd) Bhaktabahadur Rai, Project Director of Rural Water and Sanitation Project (RWSP) on the water project.
I think the climb was worth it ! What a lovely reserve tank!After a short uphill walk (with breaks for breath) to the reserve tank and seeing the completed tap stands at individual houses, Ms Lumley spoke of the importance of access to clean, safe drinking water and added that her mind was now filled with ‘water, water and more water’.
Wives of GWS Staff Officers with Joanna LumleyHaving returned Ms Lumley and her party to her hotel at the end of the afternoon to the exact minute in her programme, preparations were well underday at AWC Kaski for an evening function in honour of Ms Lumley and the GWS’s other visitors that day.
The function was attended by HE Dr Andrew Hall, Mrs Hall, Director GWS and Fiona Ellis, Field Director GWS and Anne Griffith, Deputy Field Director GWS and a host of GWS staff and their ladies.
Councillor Peter Caroll with GWS & RWSP staff At the end of a memorable day, Director GWS thanked Ms Lumley and other the other distinguished guests present for giving the GWS the opportunity to explain to them what the field arm of the Gurkha Welfare Trust (GWT) really is about, what it does and the impact it has in Nepal.
He highlighted the importance of the support of the Ministry of Defence, the Department for International Development, the Kadoorie Charitable Foundation and, above all, the enormous contribution made by the British public in ensuring the success of the GWS on the ground. He then presented Joanna Lumley with a memento photograph taken earlier in the day during her visit.
In response, Ms Lumley said that she had known something of the work of the GWS in Nepal before before leaving home, but having now seen just a small part of it at first hand she admitted it was far more impressive than she had ever imagined. She ended her short speech by thanking everyone involved and promising to return to Nepal as soon as she was able.
In conclusion, the visit was a great success. The GWS was given an excellent opportunity to demonstrate to Ms Lumley, her team and the media the scope, scale and importance of its individual and community aid work in Nepal. As the day wore on, the real story of the day came out, that the interests of ex-Gurkha servicemen, their dependants and their traditional communities in Nepal are deeply cared for, supported by resources raised by the GWT from small and large, government, non-government and private donors in the UK by a dedicated team of professionals, who continue to deliver an outstanding service, despite the turmoil and uncertainty that plagues the rest of the country.