Belfast Telegraph

Friday 27 May 2016

Bangor man John on top of the world to put roof over mum's head thanks to your generosity

Bangor man is back in Nepal to start ball rolling on new house for long-lost mother

By Stephanie Bell

Published 30/01/2016

John Hodge with his mum in Nepal
John Hodge with his mum in Nepal
John as a child and baby with his mum in Carrickfergus
John Hodge and his mum when he was a baby
John Hodge with his wife Emma
John and his mum with family
John and his mum in her village

A Bangor man who found his long-lost mother living destitute in Nepal is back in the country this weekend laying down plans to build her a new home.

Thanks to the generosity of Northern Ireland people, John Hodge has raised £10,000 since his first visit to the Himalyan country just over a year ago, when he was overjoyed to meet his mum but horrified by the squalor she was living in.

Hundreds of people, including actor Jamie Dornan, backed the father-of-two's appeal to raise funds to build Maile Limbini (58) a home.

John (36), who plays bass with local band The Big Kahuna, travelled to Nepal with his wife Emma (35) last in April to look for his mum, who he hadn't seen since she left Northern Ireland when he was just six.

John, whose children are Reggie (4) and Danny (1), had never forgotten her.

His dad had met her while working in the mountainous Asian nation and had brought her back home with him.

The couple settled in Carrickfergus, but the relationship broke down and Maile returned to Nepal.

John said: "I have bits and pieces of memories here and there. I remember her walking me to school and I remember one day she burnt her skirt on an electric fire.

"After she left I would daydream about her, especially at school. When people talked about their mums it hit home because I had no real point of reference.

"I always thought about her and wondered where she was. When I had my own kids it really triggered it in me, and it was Emma who encouraged me and supported me in trying to find her."

John did not know if she was alive or dead when he set out to find her last year, so he could not believe his luck when people in Nepal helped reunite him with her.

However, he was devastated to find her living in a makeshift hovel on a riverbank with no walls and a mud floor.

On his return home he launched an appeal on Facebook to raise £7,000 to build her a new, more comfortable home. Within days of his story appearing in the Belfast Telegraph, thousands of pounds flooded in to the fund and within just a few months he had exceeded his target.

This week John made the long journey back to Nepal to see his mum again and begin preparations for buying land and building the dwelling.

She had been suffering from mental ill health prior to the reunion, which family explained was because she had been separated from him for so many years.

John was told that she would spend her days standing on the roadside hoping that he would come and find her.

Just seeing her son again led to an immediate improvement in her health, and before John left for home, her English from the short time she spent living in Northern Ireland as a young woman, had started to come back to her.

Mum and son have kept in touch by phone and John left Northern Ireland last Sunday for the journey back to Nepal, where he arrived on Wednesday.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph from Nepal yesterday, he said he was preparing to travel to his mum's home village of Phalamater today to discuss the best options for building her a new house.

He added: "I travelled out this time by myself and was made to feel very welcome by my family and friends that I met last time I was in Nepal.

"It was very good to see my mum again, of course, and I have been talking a few times with her over the past months on the phone. Khel Bahadur, my relative who helped find my mum, would go down to her house and call me from his mobile.

"He has remarked on how much better she is getting mentally. My cousin Santosh would send me some photos via Facebook messenger and I could see from them how much healthier she is looking as well.

"My Nepali is improving slowly and her English is coming back to her as well, so we are communicating a bit more clearly now. I brought a photo album again for her - she was very keen to see pictures of my children, and to hear about how they're getting on."

John plans to spend nine days with his mum, and as well as getting the ball rolling for construction of the new home, he will also be trying to arrange a passport so that he can bring her to Northern Ireland for a short holiday to meet her grandchildren.

Today, when he travels back to her village, he will meet other family members to discuss options for improving his mum's standard of living.

"What wasn't made clear to us the first time due to the language barrier was that my auntie Kanshee, husband and their youngest son live in that house as well," he said.

"She won't leave that area of land because her livelihood is there, and Kanshee is the one who has been supporting my mum for the last 30 years while trying to raise a family.

"One of the reasons to hold the family meeting is so that we can have her and her husband's blessing about what is going on.

"In total, we raised just over £10,000. But, unfortunately, we still can't be sure of an exact price for building the house yet.

"I anticipate that one of the effects following the earthquake (of April 2015) and the following fuel crisis is that prices for building and for labour will continue to fluctuate."

John is keeping all his supporters back home up to date with his progress via his Facebook page, 'House for Maile'.

He feels indebted to everyone who supported his appeal and who has helped make it possible for him to give his mother a better future.

"I would like to thank everyone who helped with the GoFundMe page, everyone who donated prizes for the raffle, Methodist College Belfast and Bangor Central Primary School and everyone who played at and attended the fundraiser that our band had," he said.

"I hope that they share my enthusiasm that we're helping not just my mum, but a whole family as well."

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