This January, Dubai mama Harsha Makhija will trek an ice river in the Ladakh region of India, tracing the footsteps of 50 children who must take this journey every day to get to school. Together with Australian Charity ‘Lille Fro’, Harsha’s walk will help raise funds for programs to build facilities so that no child ever needs to cross the frozen river again. This is the amazing story of Harsha and ‘her 50 children’ – we wish them all the luck in the world.
Can you tell us how you got involved in Leh?
Accidentally! In August 2010 I was at quite a low point, and was questioning several aspects of my life. A big question being “who am I?”. I felt lost, and couldn’t remember all the things that brought me joy. In this frame of mind, I happened to visit the aftermath of a flash-flood, 21 days after the cloudburst had hit Ladakh – destroying homes, killing thousands and displacing hundreds more. My personal state of mind was quickly made irrelevant, as I realised the gravity of what others had lost. It really put what I was moping about into perspective. I had walked in this village called Choglamsar, dead bodies search had been given up. I walked over debris that shook me, and left me thinking that there might still be bodies still under there.
The next stop was a Red Cross Relief Tent that had been set up, I had juice and tea with them and overheard conversations of how this baby had been crying looking for his family and this lady was pregnant and in agony and a list of unclaimed children was made. I then went to the Druk Padma Karpo School and Spoke with the Principal there. Finally, I went back in December to claim my 15 children, pay for their school and hostel fee and secure their hostel spaces… I haven’t looked back since. We are now 50, some even go to Lamdon School.
What challenge will you be attempting and why?
Seven of my children come from the Zanskar Valley. This is one of the worlds most uninhabitable places. Ladakh is a land of valleys and high mountain passes – at an altitude of 11,400 feet! The only access point to this valley is to walk over the river in peak winter in 20 degrees celsius, when the Zanskar river is frozen. So, every year the parents bring their children over the river to drop them to the town, Leh, where they go to school, and then the parents travel back to collect them at the end of the school year.
I will walk this route, to raise awareness as to how a daily task need not be a death trap. Education is important, we value this, Zanskari parents value it too. They brave landslides that break the ice river, they get trapped for days without any human contact and no evacuation possible – as there is no other option for them!
Can you tell us about the conditions in Zanskar?
High altitude, semi desert, and completely cut off from the rest of the world – due to the harsh long winter. Padum, the main big town has 700 people, and approx population of the valley is 14,000. Buddhism is the main religion followed, and cattle rearing is the main occupation, nowadays tourism too. It is one of the world’s least inhabited places due to its tough weather conditions.
What date is the challenge set for and how long will it take?
Arriving into Leh on the 30th of January so that I can acclimatise to the high altitude for two days before walking on the 1st of February and returning on the 10th.
Who will accompany you on this challenge?
Milan Moudgill, the group leader and his trek team of 5. From Dubai, there is also another mum, Ninorah Brookshire. A child of mine who lives in Zanskar might be walking with us too, in which case his journey will be filmed and shared to show the rest of the world that this should not be a part of young children’s lives. After all, it’s only money that we have to raise!
What do you aim to achieve with this challenge and how much funding support do you need?
Awareness… and 350,000 USD.
You have collaborated with a non profit organisation called Lille Fro. Can you explain in more detail about this organisation, and what they do?
Lille Fro, founded by Tamara Cannon, works at the grass root levels to eradicate poverty in Ladakh. They have set up green houses in villages so that farming in the winter months can be sustained. They also fund education for 150 children in Ladakh. Tamara Cannon is reportedly the first non-Indian to have been granted access to many of the isolated communities located in restricted areas in Ladakh. Lille Fro is in the process of finalising the plot of land for this project with the authorities.
You say you support 50 children from Ladakh – can you explain how and if people would like to do the same how can they get involved.
I support 50 children from all parts of Ladakh, 7 come from Zanskar. My kids live and go to school at the Druk Padma Karpo Institute in Shey and the Lamdon School in Leh. People can get involved by sponsoring a child. People can get involved by volunteering time in the medical unit that is underway in Shey. People can get involved by direct funding, and by spreading the truth of the reality. These children and their families should not have to take this journey just to get to school!