A dramatic Carrow Road conversion and a call to an unknown country are part of the back-story of a family charity with its roots in Gorleston and its heart in Kathmandu. ROWAN MANTELL reports.

Like many newly retired people, Harold Blake was looking forward to travelling when he left his job as a college lecturer.

But for Harold, and his head teacher wife Barbara, the travel was to poverty-stricken Nepal and they were embarking upon a new life as missionaries.

Their work in Nepal – as the oldest missionaries ever sent out by the Baptist Missionary Society – led to them starting a home for street children, and a charity to pay for it.

Sadly Harold, of Lowestoft, died on Boxing Day, but not before he knew the charity he and Barbara founded 20 years ago, had been chosen as this year's official Lent Project for the whole Norwich diocese.

Today the Morning Star children's charity is run by Harold and Barbara's daughter, Wendy Bircham, from her Gorleston home.

She hopes that fundraising by church congregations across Norfolk and Waveney will pay for new Nepali nurses to be trained, in Nepal, and for an ambulance to act as a mobile clinic.

Harold and Barbara first went out to Nepal to set up an engineering college. Harold had been an engineering lecturer in Lowestoft and Barbara was a primary school head teacher. Then, in 1984 they went to a rally led by American evangelist Billy Graham at Carrow Road, Norwich, and became Christians. Soon Harold felt he was being called to work in Nepal.

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Wendy said: 'I went to visit and dad was on his knees on the floor, crouched over a world map, trying to find Nepal. He had no idea where Nepal was!'

But the couple were accepted to train as missionaries and sold their home and possessions to fund their work. During their six years in Nepal they began helping homeless orphans and when they had to retire they promised to send some money to help the street children.

That money helped set up a children's home and today their charity, Morning Star, funds the home and an education and medical care for 50 destitute children. As the children grow up, some, despite their tragic early lives, have gone on to become nurses, teachers and carers themselves. But training is expensive, which is why Wendy wrote to the Bishop of Norwich, asking for Morning Star to be considered as the official Lent charity.

'I was absolutely astonished, absolutely amazed, when I heard we'd been chosen,' said 58-year-old Wendy. 'It is a real honour and privilege that together with the people of Norfolk we can make a difference which will help save lives in Nepal.

'There are so few nurses in Nepal and it costs approximately �1,500 per year, per nurse, to train for three years. �10,000 would secure the funding for two nurses plus study books, uniform, exam fees and travel to the training college in Nepal. I would love to get �20,000 but if we get �2,000 it would be a blessing too.

'Last year a little boy was bitten by a rabid dog. We were able to pay for his treatment. It's so different over there. Medical care has to be paid for and people are often carried on stretchers for miles, across rope bridges and up and down mountains, to get to a clinic,' said Wendy

She took over running the charity four years ago and is also a licensed lay minister at St Andrew's church in Gorleston, a calling she came to after a career as a hairdresser. She and her husband, Brian, have two grown-up children and either Wendy, or their son Simon, visits Nepal each year. The charity is overseen by a team of trustees.

'I had no idea when I took over from mum and dad how my life would change and how much I would become involved and grow to have a passion and love for the children and Morning Star Home,' said Wendy. 'It was either this project finishes and all these children go back on to the streets, or I continue the work my mum and dad started and cherished and loved.'


<blob>Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and has no national health service. This means many poor people have no access to medical care.

<blob>The Nurses for Nepal project aims to train nurses and equip a mobile health-care clinic.

<blob>Lent covers the six weeks leading up to Easter and many people raise money for charity by giving up a luxury for the period.

<blob>The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James, said: 'Even in our secular age Lent is still associated in the public mind with self-denial. It runs counter to our consumer culture. We're reminded that true fulfilment is not only found in pleasure and plenty, good though such things are.'

But he added many Christians often take new things on in Lent too – including giving to the Lent Project.

<blob>A website for this year's Lent Project includes lots of information about Nepal, recipes for fund-raising lunches and details of how to donate.

<blob>For more information about the Morning Star Children's Charity and to find out how you can help the Lent project visit www.mscc-nepal.org.uk and www.norwich.anglican.org/lent