Tony Henderson reports on one student's heart-warming 10-year personal journey from the mountains of Nepal to Newcastle.
LIKE something from the plot of a detective novel, a varied bunch of people assembled at a suburban home on Tyneside this week.
Many of the 50 or so present were unknown to each other, but they all had one thing in common – their paths had crossed that of 30-year-old Tshering Lama.
They had been invited to mark the end of Tshering’s barely-believable 10-year journey from his mountain village in Nepal to another world in Newcastle.
Retired clergyman Peter Dodd and wife Rosemary, who had befriended the young man when he arrived in the North East, had organised the gathering at their house in Benton.
It celebrated the culmination earlier in the day of Tshering’s decade in the region, when he was presented with his doctorate at Northumbria University.
Each individual at the celebration had played a part, a link in a long and complicated chain, in helping Tshering to become the first of his Nepalese ethnic group to study at a British university.
Now equipped with his PhD, Dr Lama is embarking on the latest chapter of his remarkable story by using the knowledge, confidence and vision which was hard won in the North East to help children in his native country.
It was in 2002 that Tshering, who grew up in the village of Sermathang, a five-hour bus ride from the capital Kathmandu, arrived in Newcastle.
He vividly remembers his first impressions, including coming up against the Geordie accent.
Now a master of the Tyneside turn of phrase, he will always carry a piece of the North East with him wherever he goes.
He has already distributed a smattering of Newcastle United bits and pieces in Nepal.
On a research trip back to Nepal as part of his PhD, he recalls spotting a youngster working with oxen in remote fields, wearing the black and white shirt. As a boy in his village of 80 households, Tshering had his share of such tasks.
“It was physically hard. We all helped in the fields and the kitchen garden, chopping firewood and gathering fodder for the buffaloes,” he says.
“But I was happy to be born and brought up there.”
The seeds for what would be a momentous change were planted when British students began making annual trips to the village to carry out voluntary work, teaching English and other subjects.
“I was about seven when they first came,” says Tshering.
“They gave us a wider exposure to the world. Living in an isolated village, it was a wonderful opportunity.
“There was a lot of curiosity about what it would be like to go to these places we were told about.”
The student visits ended when, during the civil unrest in Nepal, the village school was destroyed by Maoist guerillas. It remained closed until Tshering helped reopen it four years ago.
But the young Tshering had been inspired and began to look beyond the village.
With the backing of his carpenter father, he took out a loan to go to Kathmandu to study.
As a boy he had been given a book by the student volunteers called Where There Is No Doctor, which contained first aid advice.
That kindled an interest in health care, and in Kathmandu Tshering enrolled for voluntary work in the children’s hospital.
“That changed my mind forever,” he says.
“A lot of people who need medical help had to travel to Kathmandu for up to 10 days or so.
“I realised that a lot of diseases and medical problems could be prevented.”
The volunteering also helped Tshering settle in the capital.
“The biggest culture shock of my life was moving from the village to Kathmandu,” he says.
But there was much more to come.