ORGANISERS of Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod have sent a heartfelt message of sympathy and support to a troupe of young dancers from Nepal.
Many of the group have seen their homes destroyed and their school friends and relatives killed by the massive earthquake which hit their country at the weekend as they prepared to attend this year’s festival.
More than 30 members of the Rising Culture Group from the World Heritage site of Bhaktapur had hoped a major fundraising drive would enable them to travel 5,000 miles from their country on the roof of the world to compete at Llangollen 2015 in July.
But Todd Lochhead, the 45-year-old New Zealander who has been helping to co-ordinate the trip to Wales, has received the shattering news from Nepal that the 7.8 magnitude earthquake badly damaged the Rising English School.
Ten people have died in neighbouring properties and the whole area has been left without water or electricity and desperately short of food and tents.
Todd has been told a number of the pupils have been killed but it’s unclear whether any members of the dance troupe have died or been injured.
However, Todd says that although the plan was to come over to Llangollen this has obviously had to take second place in the aftermath of the disaster.
Eisteddfod Musical Director Eilir Owen Griffiths said: “Myself and all the organisers of the festival have been deeply shocked and distressed to hear what has happened in Nepal.
“We send our sympathy and very best wishes to members of Rising Culture and to everyone else who has been affected by this terrible natural disaster.”
Todd Lochhead, a financial consultant from Bristol, first came across the dancers when he journeyed to Nepal in 1995 to work as a teacher at the school where the group was formed.
The school, about 10 miles from the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu and around 100 miles from Mount Everest, was founded by a man named Kapil Banepali and his wife Chandika, who is now the principal.
It offers lessons to children aged three to 16, with about 120 on some form of financial assistance to be able to attend.
Kapil also started the dance troupe to preserve their culture. This group performs traditional and highly colourful routines, one of the most striking of which is the stunning masked dance that has its roots deep in Hindu culture.
Todd saw them perform and was so impressed that it became his dream to see them compete at Llangollen to provide inspiration for other children in Nepal about the possibilities now available to them in life.
He visited the Eisteddfod office in Llangollen Pavilion a few days before the 2014 festival and arranged for them to register for the Children’s Folk Dance, Traditional Dance and Cultural Showcase competition categories.
Todd then set about the mammoth task of asking business contacts and friends to help him raise the estimated £40,000 to bring 34 people, including 20 dancers aged eight to 16, and musicians and support staff over to Llangollen.
He said: “The fundraising was going extremely well with most of the UK land costs being able to be covered and in Nepal the group having raised flights for 15 members.
“However last weekend came the heartbreaking news of the earthquake, which had its epicentre between Pokara and Kathmandu.
“With the help of the wonderful Eisteddfod team I hope to keep aiming in the direction” of the Eisteddfod as they and the rest of the country fight to rebuild their lives.”
As the death toll passed 4,000 and the United Nations launched a massive relief programme, Todd heard the grimmest news from his friend Kapil in Bhaktapur.
Todd added: “He told me the area had no lights, no water and there were 20 families living in the school grounds as there was nowhere else for them to go and more neighbours looking to him for help daily. Kapil’s distress was compounded because he had nothing more to give, but was still giving.
“Worse still, I’ve learned from a facebook chat with Kapil that some of the children from the school have been killed.
“I don’t know how many or who or if any are from the dance troupe due to come to Llangollen.
“The front of the school building fell down during the earthquake. It was still semi structurally safe because it’s built of concrete but they have since been experiencing many after-shocks – about 200 up until then, each of up to 6.8 magnitude.
“Kapil said they had just three sacks of rice, which was all they could get.
“One of the young men who had been helping me with the trying to get the group to the Eisteddfod had had his whole house collapse around him and his neighbours got him and his family out.”
“These people have been through so much in recent years, including a civil war, but they have resilience and faith by the bag-load.
“As far the troupe coming over for the Eisteddfod, that has now taken second place to what’s happened.
“However, I’d still like to see at least some of the troupe – even if it’s just one – come over for the Eisteddfod.
“It would be just for a break, like during the Blitz in the Second World War when children were taken out of the bombed cities.
“Before the earthquake struck last week enough money had been raised in Nepal for about 15 members of the group to come over to Llangollen and money was still being raised outside the country.
“I think we’ve got to keep aiming in the direction of the Eisteddfod.”
Eisteddfod Musical Director Eilir Owen Griffiths said: “Of course, we would love to welcome this group to the Eisteddfod this year but that is very much in the future.
“For now myself and everyone connected with the festival would like to send a message of sympathy and support. Not just to the Rising Culture group but to all those whose lives have been so deeply affected by this dreadful disaster.”