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Group offers a helping hand in slums

HELPING HAND: Tweed residents Jon Stephenson, Pam Zions and Steve Bellamy are heading to India with local charity The Pencil Tree to help children in need.
HELPING HAND: Tweed residents Jon Stephenson, Pam Zions and Steve Bellamy are heading to India with local charity The Pencil Tree to help children in need. Nikki Todd

WHAT started as a passion for travelling to India and Nepal has become more of a mission for Cabarita's Steve Bellamy.

Since founding his charity The Pencil Tree in 2014, Mr Bellamy has returned to the sub-continent six times, on each occasion taking a growing number of locals with him.

On October 7, a group of 10 Tweed locals aged 15 to 81 years will travel with Mr Bellamy to the slums of Dharamsala in northern India, where they will visit underprivileged children.

Using funds collected from the sale of old mobile phones donated by the Tweed community, the group will deliver much-needed goods like clothes, pencils and books.

"These people have got nothing,” Mr Bellamy said.

"They live under bamboo and black plastic shelters. Their parents have got no skills, no education, so they beg or do a bit of labouring work or they steal. So if we can help their children, and get them into education, maybe we can break the poverty cycle, that's the plan.”

Starting off in Delhi, the group will travel to the remote village schools around Dharamsala over a two-week period, delivering supplies and spending time with the children there.

Pottsville grandmother Pam Zions, a retired registered nurse, is taking her 15-year-old grandson with her, in what she believes will be a life-changing experience.

"I am hoping to show him that life is pretty good in Australia after all and how some children have to survive and how they appreciate what they are given so much,” Ms Zions said.

"I hope he can give them some skills and they give him some skills of perseverance.”

Kingscliff GP Jon Stephenson, who first visited India in the 1980s when he worked at a mission hospital, is joining the group on a bit of a "fact finding mission” to see what he can do to help.

"The things that Steve is doing remains a fixed investment in the children's future,” Dr Stephenson said.

"Going over as a doctor and setting up clinics doesn't really help. Rather it is better to teach them how to take over rather than you be responsible for it.”

The Pencil Tree will return to Nepal later this year with a group of local schoolies.



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