Lives Remembered: Alan Jacobsen

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The Independent Online

In 1993, partially sighted and in the early stages of Parkinson's disease, Alan Jacobsen, then 72, made a pilgrimage to Nepal. Out of this odyssey came the birth of the Nepal Trust, dedicated to aiding the impoverished Nepalese of the "hidden Himalayas". His interest in Nepal had begun during the Second World War, when he had fought with Gurkhas in Burma, and had developed through his study of Buddhism.

During this first visit he was appalled by the lack of medical facilities in the mountainous Humla region, north-west of Nepal. A doctor there told him it was quite common to operate on children by candlelight and child mortality was estimated at 30 per cent. This news and his visit affected Alan deeply and later, sitting in his hotel room gazing over Kathmandu's flickering lights, and pondering over what he had seen, it came to him that he had to do something to help the Nepalese. He later told me that a phrase kept coming – "We die that you may live" – and this phrase seemed to him to be a plaintive cry for help from third world countries.

In this defining moment of clarity he realised that what many Nepalese wanted more than anything else was to have some hope for the future, and another phrase, "Crossing the threshold of hope," surfaced – "and I knew that I must use the inheritance my mother had recently bequeathed me to help these people".

He returned to Findhorn, Scotland, and in less than six months the Nepal Trust was born. Things moved rapidly and with the dynamic help of the project manager Jim Donovan and his wife Liz, the Trust's first health post was built in Humla in 1995. More than 39,400 people lived in this district; the nearest hospital was 280km away and there were no roads. The path to the Humla health post winds through terraced hillsides, dense forests, hidden river valleys, over vertiginous mountain passes of 15,000ft and often desperately poor villages of Hindu Chetris, Thakuris, Untouchables and Tibetan Bhotias and Nyimba.

There are now five staffed and equipped permanent health posts in Humla, bringing primary healthcare to thousands. Alan's vision of bringing hope has been firmly anchored, with the Nepal Trust helping create community projects that emphasise local participation and responsibility.

Alan Jacobsen, the second of three sons, was born in Berwickshire on 23 March 1922 to Gerald and Margaret. After leaving school he was called up during the Second World War and served with the Royal Scots in the Raj Putana rifles, fighting what he called "a hard war" alongside the Indian Army in India, Burma, Malaya and Java. He achieved the rank of Major.

Post-war he returned to India and lived there for several years. Back in Scotland, in 1956 he married Eleanor and their son Jeremy was born in 1958. He started a career in business, working as a Management Consultant for many years. In 1977 Alan and Eleanor divorced. His lifelong spiritual search led him back to his native Scotland, moving to Findhorn and the Findhorn Foundation in 1981. Here he remained until his death, a much loved and respected community elder.

Though blighted by semi-blindness and Parkinson's his mind was sharper than a Gurkha's blade and he brought a gimlet and often mischievous eye to every detail of community affairs, serving as General Secretary for a time and even, in his early 80s, answering a call to help out in PR. He enjoyed himself immensely. His cultured and indomitable spirit enriched the life of the community.

Though he never talked about it much, the Gurkhas had saved his life during the War. His work with the Nepal Trust repaid this not only with medical aid for the thousands in the mountainous roof of the world but, more dear to him, through offering that most precious human and divine gift, hope. He died on 5 December 2008 and is survived by his son.

Michael Hawkins

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