How the film 'Lion' inspired former Sheffield teacher to build a new school in Nepal

Gavin with children at the school before its transformation
Gavin with children at the school before its transformation
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A trip to the cinema proved a life-changing experience for a former Sheffield school teacher, inspiring him to embark on an epic challenge.

Gavin McCormack, who spent several years teaching at Abbeydale Primary School and now works in Sydney, had no great expectations when he went to see the film Lion earlier this year.

Gavin at the school after its renovation was completed

Gavin at the school after its renovation was completed

But he left the cinema in tears after watching the true story of an Indian boy who gets separated from his parents on a train trip and ends up being adopted by an Australian couple before, years later, setting out to find his long-lost family.

The movie, starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, left the 39-year-old Sheffield Hallam University graduate, who previously lived in Hunters Bar, determined to do something to make a difference.

When he was invited to visit a Montessori teacher training centre in Kathmandu and share his experience, he saw it as an opportunity to do just that.

He headed out during the school holidays and was moved to find 100 women crammed into a semi-demolished building enduring 40C heat such was their desire to become teachers.

How the school looked after its makeover

How the school looked after its makeover

But it was his visit to a small Indian village on the Indian border, in the Newalperassi district of Nepal, which really persuaded him something needed to be done.

"One hot summer's day, I wandered into a preschool that looked like a prison cell. The walls were dirty, the carpet old and dusty and it was no place for any kind of education to take place," he said.

"Inside, two teachers taught 20 children with only one book, one pen and nothing else. It broke my heart to see this and, as I left, I put my hand on the teacher’s shoulder and said 'in seven weeks in my next school holidays, I'll be back and I’m going to fix this place up for you!'"

So began an intensive two months of fundraising during which he made almost 7,000 Australian dollars by, among other things, running the Sydney marathon dressed as an old lady.

Gavin with some of the trainee teachers he helped in Kathmandu

Gavin with some of the trainee teachers he helped in Kathmandu

True to his word, he returned to Kathmandu to fix up the school.

Having overcome numerous hurdles, including a landslide blocking roads to the village, and his luggage containing several kilos of teaching materials being lost, he finally got down to work.

He spent three days doing up the school and said seeing the children's awestruck expressions as they first set eyes on their new-look classroom made that hard work worthwhile.

"With the help from my friends, the words of support from my family, the teaching materials donated by Inner Sydney Montessori School and the money donated from people all over the world, we were able to turn a dirty old room into a quality teaching environment that will give hope and a better future to each and every child that passes through those four walls," said Gavin.

Gavin in drag for the Sydney marathon

Gavin in drag for the Sydney marathon

He is already looking for another project to transform educational opportunities for some of the world's poorest children.