A Steyning resident is raising money to fund a retirement home and school facilities in the slums of India.
From providing solar power to tribal villages in the Western Ghats to sending out a mobile library to bring literacy to the streets, Helen Hitchcock has been supporting the poverty stricken areas of India for the last nine years.
Also running ‘The Gallery’, a non-profit shop in Cobblestone Walk, Helen is celebrating her first year in business and says she has raised more than £5,000.
“All the money we make here goes back to the projects we run in India,” said the 51-year-old.
Working alongside colleague Tracey Gaton, 55, the two sell genuine Indian products like saris, lanterns and jewellery to raise funds for ‘Helping Elsewhere’ a charity which Helen launched after falling in love with a little village called Mandrem.
“I live six months out of the year in Varca (south of Goa). I stepped off the plane in Deli ten years ago and it was like coming home.
“What started off as buying a few local books in the school, we’ve now created a monster that needs feeding, which is why Tracey and I are here everyday of the week,” she laughed.
Now focussing on two major projects, Helen and Tracey hope to help the children and the elderly of the slums.
“We’re sponsoring three rooms in one of the smallest and poorest areas in Panjim called Chimbal.
“One is going to be a classroom, one is going to be a library and one will be a room which the kids can play in.
“If you’re a street child you’re an economic asset to your family and so you never get to play.”
Another issue that Helen is trying to tackle is retirement homes.
“Older people have always been taken care of within the family. They are now realising a lot of the younger people are having to go outside of India to work.
“They now have the same social problems as we have where the older people have nowhere to live and they need help.
“So we’ve just taken on an old age home which we’re supporting like buying them a food grinder, which grinds all the masala spices for 120 people.”
Continuing to support the village school in Mandrem where Helen’s journey started, this year saw all 25 pupils pass their exams with distinctions.
She said: “Yes India has problems, we can’t fix all of them, but the sense of community there is something we’ve lost in this county. It’s a very special place.”