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Fundraising drive develops into a labour of love for former pupils

A fundraising exercise in support of young under-privileged children in a tiny village on the other side of the world has developed into a labour of love for two former pupils of Bryanston school near Blandford in Dorset. Last year, Teagan Galloway and Mini Mitchell played key roles in helping to raise funds through Bryanston’s A2 Charities Weekend in support of the Happy Kids Kindergarten in a small village on the south west coast of Sri Lanka. Today and now in her gap year, Mini is founder and head of the Kindergarten for Akurala (KFA) charity and is leading a major volunteer programme in the Sri Lankan village, while Teagan continues to raise funds in between her studies at UCLA in California.

More than sixty children under the age of 5 have benefitted from Mini’s and Teagan’s remarkable dedication and the earlier success of the charity drive by Bryanston pupils. In 2021, this annual event raised over £22,000 in support of the nominated charities – the Akurala project and the TREADS Youth Advice and Information Centre in Blandford.

“The kindergarten has been a really fulfilling community project and it’s so gratifying to be making such a difference for so many youngsters in the village as well as their families,” says Mini.

“Closure of the kindergarten presented a real dilemma for young families in the area as childcare responsibilities compromised the parents’ ability to secure employment and the children were not being given the early introduction to English that is so important for their future education. As a result, there was little prospect of breaking the cycle of poverty and the lack of opportunity in the local community. The kindergarten has helped to change all of that and the smiles on the faces of the children and their parents are wonderful to see. It really does make all of the hard work so worthwhile.”

Akurala has never fully recovered from the devastation of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and the Sri Lankan government confirmed it was unable to continue funding for the kindergarten in this poor and remote coastal community. Thanks to KFA’s fundraising, the kindergarten has reopened in temporary accommodation while a new building is constructed and furnished by the charity thanks to the success of the fundraising by Bryanston’s pupils. This new building is right in the heart of the village and is due to open in March.

Teagan, a former Head of School at Bryanston, has also just completed an Iron Man endurance programme as part of her continuing support for the charity. This raised a further £800 to help fund stationery supplies, uniforms, masks and shoes for youngsters at the kindergarten as well as Grade 1 pupils at the local village school. Although she was forced to cancel a planned visit to Akurala at Christmas because of travel restrictions, Teagan has kept in regular contact with Mini and the children at the kindergarten.

“The number of children enrolled at the kindergarten has more than doubled over the past few months which shows just how much the local community value such a facility,” says Teagan. “It also shows that young families recognise the importance of education for giving their children the best possible start in life. It truly has been a pleasure to be involved in this project and I have been keeping in regular virtual contact with everyone in Akurala.

“I can’t wait to visit the village and to meet parents and children from the local community, and I’m really looking forward to seeing and taking part in classes in the kindergarten’s new building. The Charities Weekend at Bryanston is always an inspirational and engaging time at the school, but it’s great to see how last year’s fundraising really is helping to overcome hardship and transform lives so many thousands of miles away from the school.”

Each year, Bryanston’s Charities Weekend is led by the Heads of School - who also decideon the charitable causes – and involves pupils, parents and staff. Last year the initiative was led by Teagan and fellow Head of School, Sam Tonge.The new kindergarten in Akurala sits alongside a local turtle sanctuary where Mini spends her free time providing a helping hand as part of her work for The Mighty Roar volunteer programme. This wide-ranging programme also includes medical and stray dog projects as well as a broader English teaching initiative for the local community.

“The English language is really important for local families as tourism provides the best employment opportunities and reduces the reliance on unreliable and poorly paid jobs in agriculture,” adds Mini. “What’s more, projects like the turtle sanctuary are helping to promote greater awareness of the importance of environmental conservation and the urgent need to address issues such as the microplastic crisis that has devastated so much of the Sri Lankan coastline.”

This year, Bryanston’s Charities Weekend is supporting the local Willdoes charity and a United World Schools’ project in Cambodia and is being held on 5th and 6th of March. There will also be a Silent Auction where proceeds will be going to those affected by the crisis in Ukraine.

Former Bryanston pupil, Mini Mitchell (centre) with some of the staff and children at the Akurala Kindergarten.

Former pupil and Head of School at Bryanston, Teagan Galloway

Some of the children at the Akurala Kindergarten receive their stationery supplies for the new school year prior to moving into the KFA charity's brand new building.