Entrepreneur turned Trustee of Darjeeling Children’s Trust

My name is Hugh Heron. I’m 56 and I’ve been a trustee for Darjeeling Children’s Trust (DCT) for the past 6 years. It’s a part-time voluntary role with a team of nine enthusiastic and capable trustees.

Hugh Heron in the Himalayas
In the Himalayas

Perhaps more than anything it provides me with a sense of purpose, helping to fill the significant gap left after a lifetime running my own business. I imagine that the opportunity to make a difference by supporting others who need a helping hand is what drives most people to become involved in a charity.

Why I became a trustee

I had no thoughts of becoming a trustee with a charity, it really wasn’t something that had ever crossed my mind.

After early retirement in my 50s I decided to do something different. So I headed to Sheffield for a short TEFL course (teaching English as a foreign language) followed by a stint teaching English on a tea estate in North India. The plan then was to go travelling. My trustee journey started when I returned to the hill-station of Darjeeling atop a ridge some 7000 ft high up in the foothills of the eastern Himalayas – a remote region of the world that is serene, stunning and suffering much social deprivation.

Sign for the Darjeeling Railway
The Darjeeling Railway

My idea was to rest for a few days and plan my travels around India. That was until I met Major Pasang Wangdi who said “come and meet these guys”, and introduced me to the boys at the Kripassaran Buddhist Mission, colloquially known as “the boys’ orphanage”.

Darjeeling Children’s Trust

I also met Marilyn and Robert Adams. Marilyn, a founder of a new charity DCT, with Robert acting as treasurer.

DCT is a small, hands-on charity registered in the UK. We have eight UK based trustees and one in Darjeeling – Major Wangdi – our action man on-the-ground. The trust is currently seeking to expand operations in Darjeeling.

We support a number of projects and our mission is to help young people by improving living conditions and providing education, healthcare and vocational training.

The main ways that I am involved and keep in touch are through bi-annual trustee meetings in the UK and visits to India to oversee and develop the projects in Darjeeling. And incidentally, we all pay our own expenses for travel and accommodation.

The Trust is continuously evolving. Like a good small business it takes on a life of its own, develops a culture, becomes shaped and finds direction through the different personalities, experiences and commitment of the team of trustees who become attached. Essentially, you have to maintain belief in what you’re doing.

Being a trustee can be challenging

The trustee meetings provide the platform for evaluation – not only of the projects and trust direction but an opportunity to review roles and responsibilities. Sometimes this is not a comfortable task given the voluntary nature of the work and established friendships, but it’s important to stay on track.

….but the rewards are great

The best part of being a trustee? I love connecting people, working through ideas and inspiring others through talks and presentations. Combined with travel and the opportunity to become immersed in another culture, this has all given me a renewed energy.

Hugh Heron reading with the boys at the Kripassaran Buddhist Mission
Reading with the boys at the Kripassaran Buddhist Mission

There is nothing better than seeing a project through from start to finish and knowing that lives have been changed for the better, whether that’s a child’s education reaching fruition, a vocational course that leads to employment, or a brand new home for sixty boys who can now sleep in peace.

There is also the energy and excitement created by challenges that lie ahead. The success story of the new home for the orphanage boys must now be followed –up to create similar life-changing opportunities for the fifty or so girls who endure desperate conditions. As a team, we’re committed to make it happen.

Girls at the Kripassaran Buddhist Mission
Girls at the Kripassaran Buddhist Mission

For me, the toughest part of the role is anything to do with administration – it’s just not my thing, but thankfully our trust is blessed with people who can do that well, backed up by a hugely capable, conscientious treasurer. From the overall trust perspective the hardest job is ensuring fund-raising objectives are consistently achieved.

It’s not all plain sailing. There are times when I question my own commitment, when I waiver and consider other ways I could be spending my time, when I’m juggling too many priorities. The
regular meetings with the team, the loyal support of many friends and associates…. and the warmth of being back in Darjeeling…singing and dancing with the children pull me back on track.

The role of trustee within a small charity is hugely rewarding. It provides companionship with people who have shared values, a sense of purpose and an opportunity to make things happen.

Hugh Heron
Darjeeling Children’s Trust

Darjeeling Children's Trust logo