A message of gratitude from Olga Murray and Som Paneru!
This time of year, we’re giving thanks to our NYF Community.
Just last month, Olga was honored to host NYF President, Som Paneru and his family in her home in California to carry on their tradition of celebrating Dashain together. Dashain is a vibrant, beautiful 10-day festival in Nepal that incorporates rituals and gatherings for expressing gratitude for abundance and prosperity throughout the year. This year, Som and Olga gathered to reflect on all the work in 2023 made possible by your generosity.
Families in Saptari District who have already received transformative support in our nutrition program give thanks for the health of their children. The region’s Dalit community looks to the coming year with hope as we launch the Caste Equality Project. Our most recent Olgapuri Vocational School graduates celebrated this year’s Dashain with certifications in hand. Many of them are already employed in their new fields. And the list of reasons to be grateful goes on!
As the season of giving thanks continues, Som and Olga take a moment to share this message of gratitude to our extended NYF family. We celebrate the remarkable impact that, together, we have generated among thousands of Nepali children and young people. And thanks to you, that impact is only growing.
We look forward to your continued support and commitment to our mission of creating brighter and healthier futures for the rising generation in Nepal.
On behalf of the entire team, Som and Olga wish you all joy, good health, and prosperity as you come together to celebrate this season of giving thanks. Dhanyabad!
Thank you again to our NYF Community! Here are some ways you can support our work this end-of-year season:
Staff Spotlight: Laxmi Ghimire
Laxmi Ghimire, NYF’s Career Counselor & VECC Program Manager
Ten years ago, Laxmi Ghimire had a solid job in office administration and HR at a Kathmandu IT company—but the sector just wasn’t the right match. “Every second day I would feel like switching jobs,” she recalls. Her coworkers were very supportive, but, she says, “I was not enjoying it at all.”
Her one favorite part of the position was the Corporate Social Responsibility fund. The company matched one percent of each employee’s salary. This fund provided scholarships to 13 students, including future software engineers. Laxmi helped identify and manage these scholarship recipients. “These students attended a very big university in Nepal,” she says. “They had not even dreamed of that university if the company had not given the scholarship. This was the beautiful part of my job. This was the thing I wanted in my life.”
Laxmi & NYF
Laxmi Ghimire began exploring job opportunities focused on social work, and she sent in an application for an “Associate Career Counselor” position at NYF. Her work and education background made her an incredibly strong candidate, and in July 2014, she joined the Vocational Education & Career Counseling team.
“I took a risk,” she says about swapping careers. “But it was wonderful taking a risk.” Laxmi has been on the NYF team ever since, and she is now both a Career Counselor and the VECC Program Manager. Since joining NYF, Laxmi has pursued additional qualifications, including a Master of Technical Education & Vocational Training degree from Kathmandu University, allowing her to grow her own impact for each of the students she reaches.
Laxmi matches young adults with career paths that allow them to reach their unique goals. Her work emphasizes technical education programs, but sometimes these programs are stepping-stones for students in special circumstances.
She shares one memorable example of a young man named Jivan*, who came from a hilly region in western Nepal where the terrain made agricultural work so difficult that most young men took migrant labor jobs in India or Saudi Arabia. Jivan wanted a career in government, to improve conditions for villages like his. So he put himself all the way through a master’s degree in sociology—and then was devastated when he was unable to find any job at all.
Jivan eventually accepted a teaching job near his village, where he was paid less than $80 a month. His relatives, neighbors, and peers pressured him to seek a higher-paying job abroad, so he became a migrant laborer in Saudi Arabia. Conditions were terrible. After two years with no improvement in sight, unable to meet his basic expenses, and profoundly homesick, he reached a point where he preferred being unemployed in Nepal than remaining stuck where he was.
Jivan meets Laxmi at Olgapuri Vocational School
Fortunately, soon after returning to Nepal he attended an Olgapuri Vocational School presentation in his area. Jivan connected with Laxmi for a career counselling session. He thought if he completed a vocational training course, he’d at least be able to take on skilled work, even if he wasn’t using his degree.
Jivan completed the three-month Olgapuri Vocational School (see page on Facebook) electrical course and quickly found a solid job in Kathmandu earning enough to cover not only his basic expenses and support for his family, but also the tuition for a government prep course that he hoped would finally open the door to his dream.
He worked hard for 11 months, performing electrical work full-time by day and attending evening classes. Then, Jivan sat for his government exam—and passed. He is now working at the officer level in the Nepali government. His nontraditional career path has provided him with a wealth of experiences that help him understand the plight of so many others throughout his country, and he’s a better representative because of it.
Laxmi admits that this impact story is unusual. Most of the young adults she works with stick with their new vocational trade, building thriving small businesses in their home villages, establishing themselves in a 9-5 job in one of Nepal’s cities, or using their new skill as an extra source of income when they’re not needed on the family farm. No matter what path each graduate takes, the positive impact on their life trajectory far exceeds the cost of the training.
“We see thousands of lives transforming,” Laxmi says. “Very small things, very small contributions we do, and their life transforms. This really brings goosebumps within us.”
Challenge & Opportunity
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Laxmi and her team had to think creatively to continue offering technical education opportunities during lockdown. They finally decided to try taking Olgapuri Vocational School trainings outside of Kathmandu, with trainers isolating in rural villages and then offering the three-month courses to local young adults. This new approach to vocational training was much more successful than anyone at NYF expected.
“And now I would say this pandemic has created an opportunity,” Laxmi explains. “[These students] never would have gotten access if we were only limited to Olgapuri. And now because we were not limited to Olgapuri, many people have access to that training. That was the challenge as well as the opportunity during the pandemic.”
There’s now a waiting list of rural municipalities hoping to bring NYF vocational training courses to their areas. “Satellite” plumbing and electrical trainings are in especially high demand. The presence of locally based plumbers and electricians instantly makes both amenities much more affordable and accessible to these communities, drastically improving the quality of life for everyone living nearby.
Laxmi is excited about the potential for expansion in this area. Many young adults in Nepal aren’t aware of how lucrative technical careers can be, believing their only options are college, subsistence farming, or migrant labor.
For Laxmi, there’s special joy in watching prospective students begin connecting the dots between one of our three-month courses and the potential to build forward with power. During orientation presentations, she scans the crowd for “hopeful eyes”—that moment it dawns on someone that they’ve found a viable, expansive path.
“When they come to the training, they come with lots of dreams,” she says. “It’s a short-term training, but they come with big dreams. That’s a wonderful part of my job. That is the best part, I think.”
Laxmi Ghimire wishes all of NYF’s generous supporters could witness each of these transformations the way she does. “Just a small donation makes a big transformation,” she says. “A big change in somebody’s life. It’s something beyond satisfaction.”
An Expanded Mission for the New Life Center
An expanded mission for the New Life Center (NLC) began effective July 2023, thanks to tremendous progress made in Nepal’s fight against pediatric HIV/AIDS!
The New Life Center has become a medical recovery home, not only for children living with HIV, but for kids and expectant mothers visiting Kathmandu for any critical medical treatment or surgery.
We are so grateful that a loving & enthusiastic NYF supporter has fully funded the New Life Center through June 2024! To support health and wellness for Nepali children this year, please consider supporting our Nutritional Rehabilitation Home. This facility, right next door to the New Life Center, serves hundreds of children per year.
Before: Empowering Kids Living with Pediatric HIV
NYF established the New Life Center in 2006 as a specialized care home for children (aged 0-14) living with HIV/AIDS. Our young patients, whose fragile immune systems were already under attack from this aggressive virus, spent time in our care frequently as they grew, receiving special, loving, personalized care from our nursing staff.
Once a child’s immune system finished developing at age 15, our team connected them with their local HIV/AIDS organization for adults. This ensured strong continuity of care. Meanwhile, these local organizations referred families to the NLC whenever they learned of a child living with the virus.
Between 2006 and 2023, the NLC became a premier resource in Nepal for families impacted by pediatric HIV. Our team has saved hundreds of lives and empowered their families. Their work has also helped lower both virus transmission and the stigma faced by Nepalis living with this challenging diagnosis.
Nepal has made tremendous progress in slowing the rate of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. This has resulted in a reduced need for a specialized facility exclusively for children living with the virus.
Changing Health Needs
In March 2020, NLC patients returned to their home villages to avoid exposure to COVID-19, leaving the NLC almost empty. During the worst of the pandemic, the NLC cared for mild-to-moderate COVID patients who were unable to isolate at home. We offered remote care for our HIV patients, with great success. Thanks to these innovations, in 2022, the NLC received the smallest number of in-person HIV/AIDS patients since opening in 2006. Most beds remained vacant.
NYF spent 2022 and the first half of 2023 engaged in an ambitious HIV/AIDS Awareness & Advocacy Campaign. We proudly partnered with several grassroots organizations in districts with high rates of HIV. These organizations—Makwanpur Women’s Group (Makwanpur District), Bara Plus (Bara and Parsa Districts), and Lumbini Plus (Nawalpur and Parasi Districts)—allowed us to make quick, strong connections with local changemakers and beneficiaries, which maximized our impact. Creating a unified action plan, without interrupting the existing services each organization offered, allowed us all to serve these communities with efficiency and strength. It also created a cohesive, powerful message about HIV/AIDS Awareness & Advocacy.
You can learn more about the original mission of the New Life Center, as well as the HIV/AIDS Awareness & Advocacy Campaign, on our historical New Life Center – HIV/AIDS program page.
Between 2022 and 2023, we printed 14,000 copies of our HIV/AIDS guidebook (view the flipbook here). We originally only planned to print 500, not expecting demand to be so high! Our team distributed copies to families living with HIV, students and their teachers, women’s groups, hospitals, doctors and nurses, organizations intersecting with issues related to HIV, government offices, and community representatives. Access to this information is making tremendous headway in educating the public. NYF will continue distributing this resource as long as demand continues.
NYF has a particularly strong reputation in Nepal, for integrity, longevity, and effectiveness. Partnering NGOs reported that our project led to greater trust from the local governments, schools, and even community members living with HIV. Many of the individuals living with HIV in these areas had already intersected with the NLC, either through their own children or from having been a young NLC patient themselves. NYF’s public trust in smaller local organizations strengthened the impact of these grassroots resources.
Raising the profile of these locally-led organizations has already made their services more effective. We also trained these passionate local teams with learnings from our 17 years of experience.
Now: An Expanded Mission for the NLC
With the need for a specialized pediatric HIV/AIDS facility on the decline and the strengthening of local HIV/AIDS organizations, NYF realized that our beautiful New Life Center could now offer an broader service to the children and families of Nepal.
In 2023, the New Life Center’s mission expanded to include children and families traveling to Kathmandu for all kinds of life-changing medical care, including HIV, but no longer limited to it.
This resource allows children from some of Nepal’s most remote regions to access their right to healthcare.
Most of Nepal’s hospitals—especially those offering specialized treatments—are centralized in Kathmandu. A recent study showed that 57% of Kathmandu patients have traveled for treatment from more rural areas. This is a devastating expense for many families.
The New Life Center empowers children and families to access life-transforming medical care, to heal thoroughly without dangerous complications, and to live full, rich, joyful lives free of the long-lasting burden of crushing medical debt.
Children and their caregivers stay at the New Life Center for an average of 15 days. This is the typical duration required for follow-up and recovery from the acute medical conditions and procedures we typically see. They receive individualized, supportive care free of charge, including monitoring from nurses, nutritious meals created under the recommendation of our dieticians, emergency support and ambulance service where needed, psychological counseling as-needed, and practical, supportive advice from our staff on how to understand and implement their doctors’ discharge instructions at home.
Learn more about this program (and some early impact stories!) on the updated New Life Center – Medical Recovery Home program page.
Thank you for the loving support that has made the New Life Center’s expanded mission possible!
NYF has been an important part of Nepal’s remarkable progress in the fight to end pediatric HIV/AIDS. We’re continuing to put our knowledge and resources to use in supporting individuals and families who are living with this challenging diagnosis. All of this is possible thanks to loving supporters like you.
Now that the New Life Center is serving a wider audience, our impact is expanding more than ever. Thank you for sharing our mission, bringing Health access to children all over Nepal!
Finding hope through NYF’s Nutritional Rehabilitation Home (NRH): Meet Rinof
In 2008, young mom Rijana sat wide-eyed in a Kathmandu hospital, cradling her 10-month-old son Rinof while the doctor gave her a set of seemingly impossible discharge instructions. Her heart sank as she listened.
Rinof had had a terrible infection and had undergone major intestinal surgery. He weighed only 11 pounds (about half the weight of a healthy 10-month-old), and Rijana was incredibly grateful that he had survived the procedure—but for Rinof to be truly healed, he would need a second, more intensive surgery within the next few months.
The surgeons would not risk performing this second operation on a child so small. Somehow, Rijana would need to bring the boy’s weight up to at least 22 pounds, ideally by Rinof’s first birthday. Since the weight gain was not considered a medical matter, the hospital was discharging them, with instructions to return when he was ready for surgery.
Rijana could not imagine how she could accomplish this weight gain—especially with Rinof’s digestive system so fragile that it required surgery.
But then, something truly life-changing happened. As Rijana prepared to leave, she met an NYF staff member. The staff member was arriving with a nutritious meal for another child staying in the hospital. He noticed how frail and weak Rinof was, and how heartbroken Rijana seemed. He quickly told her all about the nearby Nutritional Rehabilitation Home (NRH).
Rijana and Rinof went directly from the hospital to the NRH, where NYF’s loving staff members quickly began developing a special diet for Rinof. “At the NRH, my son got such good treatment that he started gaining weight. I also learned so much about nutrition and how to take care of my malnourished child,” Rijana says now.
“I learned so many things that I never knew. In school health classes, we are taught only theoretical things that we don’t know how to apply in real life. The NRH teaches very vital things with hands-on practice that one can apply in everyday life.”
Over the next 28 days, Rinof steadily gained weight and Rijana absorbed as much information as she could. When Rijana felt confident, she brought Rinof home to continue their progress. She excitedly shared what she had learned with her husband, Naresh. Soon, Rinof’s surgery went forward, with great success.
Today, Rinof is a strapping, vibrant young man, taller than both of his parents, and preparing to enter college.
He recently earned a certification in Computer Applications, and he spends some of his free time volunteering as an art teacher for grades 1-5 at a local school, where he is quite popular.
Top row, left and right: Rinof’s artwork; top row, center: Rinof holding his certificate of excellence in Computer Applications. Bottom row, left: Rinof’s artwork; bottom row, right: Rinof enjoying the outdoors!
“The NRH not only saved my son’s life but also taught me so much,” Rijana says. “Since my time there, I have been involved in a lot of work, mainly to do with women and children. I have worked with mothers’ groups and I have been a member of the municipal committee for child protection. Every time, the first thing I tell people is about nutrition and about the NRH.”
Rijana hopes to share this knowledge with 28 thousand people in the community—one thousand people for each day she and Rinof spent in the Nutritional Rehabilitation Home (NRH).
Rinof’s father, Naresh, also quickly became committed to NYF’s mission. Today, Naresh is the NRH’s on-staff driver, managing both the ambulance and regular transportation for children visiting the hospital. Whenever he has an anxious parent riding along, he shows them photos of Rinof, and tells the story of his son.
Rinof’s success story is one of thousands. And it’s all possible thanks to supporters like you!
- Learn more about NYF’s Nutritional Rehabilitation Home (NRH)
- Watch an NRH transformation story on YouTube
Nepal Youth Foundation launches Phase II of Caste Equality Project!
We are beyond excited to share that earlier this month, NYF officially launched Phase II of the Caste Equality Project (CEP) in Saptari District! (For more information and updates about Phase 1: Educating Dalit Lawyers, click here.)
Saptari District is a region of Nepal where Dalit populations (those historically called “untouchable”) face particularly complex barriers between themselves and crucial resources like education, good nutrition, safe shelter, and more. NYF is finally beginning the work of turning the tide for children living in Saptari District, bringing 30+ years of expertise—and the promise of longevity!
Phase II will bring specialized versions of our existing, proven programming into the Musahar Dalit villages of Saptari District. We’ll also be working with 2-3 villages first before gradually expanding to reach more. Over a generation (or more!), NYF will work to empower these communities to break cycles of inequity and foster community-led growth and achievement—just like we did with the Tharu communities in western Nepal between 2000-2020†.
† In early 2000, NYF learned of the practice of kamlari bondage, in which young girls from the Tharu ethnic minority were being sold into kitchen slavery by their fathers. This was happening due to systemic oppression of their communities, including patterns of predatory lending, which were making this practice necessary for family survival. During the next 20 years, NYF embedded a team in the regions impacted by this practice, intervening on behalf of the girls and providing the community supports needed to obliterate the practice legally, in actual fact, and even on the level of community acceptance. Click here to learn more about this remarkable success.
Between the summers of 2023-2024, NYF has plans in Saptari to:
- Drastically improve the daily midday meal in schools, using learnings from our Community Nutrition Kitchens during our earthquake response and our COVID-19 response. The meal will meet each growing child’s core nutritional needs. This will improve school attendance and will improve the nutritional status of the children themselves.
- Organize town meetings to help teachers, local government officials, and parents create a joint, cooperative strategy where K-12 education is concerned.
- Establish a safe “study hall” environment as a space for preschoolers (all day) and older children (after school) to receive educational support, allowing parents to focus more on working without worrying about childcare.
- Provide vocational training for 20 young adults in construction trades like plumbing, electrical, welding, and carpentry. These young adults will then return to their villages to begin their first trade jobs: improving the school buildings back home!
- Bring school infrastructure to usable standards, including bathroom improvements, safety, and more.
- Establish a local co-op/savings group among the women, beginning by providing livelihood training and business start-up support to 20 mothers.
- Begin establishing a peer counseling program.
- Launch a large-scale awareness and prevention campaign about topics related to women’s health: menstrual hygiene, early marriage, nutritional health, and the traditional dowry system, for example.
- Hold adult literacy classes.
- Organize disaster preparedness programs and establish emergency response resources within the villages themselves, including forming an action group for disaster response, plus environmental protection and hygiene (for example, protecting water safety).
Pictured above: Sunita Rimal, NYF’s Nutrition Coordinator, with a community health worker in Saptari District during a nutrition outreach camp earlier in 2023.
How you can help:
Our team on the ground in Saptari District will pay strict attention to the successes and pain points of each of these programs, always ready to adjust where needed. But for our programs to have lasting, sustainable effect, NYF needs strong support from friends who know the power of healthcare and education in the lives of children, families, and communities!
Founder’s Day 2023 – A Record-Breaking Celebration!
Founder’s Day 2023, held on June 1st, 2023, was an incredible, inspirational, record-breaking success! We are so grateful to everyone who attended our celebration in person at the Spinnaker in Sausalito, CA, as well as those who tuned in over Zoom to enjoy the event virtually. The energy in the room was invigorating, after several years of separation during the COVID-19 pandemic, and your enthusiasm for our shared mission was palpable. Dhanyabad!
If you were unable to attend Founder’s Day in person (or if you would like to share the celebration with a friend or over social media), the full event is now available through our YouTube channel.
Thank you to everyone who registered, attended, participated, and donated. Thanks, too, to anyone who invited a friend or spread the word on social media—we were delighted to welcome many new friends to our NYF community, all thanks to supporters sharing their love for NYF with their own communities.
A very special thank you goes to our emcee, Amanda Jones; to videographers Roy Cox and Robin Mortarotti; to the volunteers, board members, advisory board members, and staff working behind the scenes; and of course, to Olga Murray and Som Paneru for their incredible remarks—and for giving us so much to celebrate!
Olga’s 98th Birthday Goal: Founder’s Day 2023
We set an extremely ambitious fundraising goal this year: $198,000 in honor of our Founder Olga Murray’s 98th birthday, more than we’d ever raised at Founder’s Day before.
We are thrilled to share that, including donations (before, during, and after the event), pledges, and silent auction funds, we have surpassed $260,000!
NYF’s global team is deeply moved by the warmth, love, and kindness of our incredible community. We are honored by the deep trust you place in us with each thoughtful contribution to the causes we share.
Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, to each loving supporter who donated in honor of Founder’s Day 2023. Early gifts took us beyond the halfway mark before the day of the event, and U.S. Executive Director Ryan Walls still hasn’t recovered from the tremendous generosity on Founder’s Day itself (see his moment of stunned gratitude starting at 46:32 in the video above)!
Your gifts will make a transformative difference providing Education, Health, Shelter, and Freedom to children in Nepal, empowering us to expand access to these proven, transformative programs!
The Caste Equality Project Phase II: Saptari District
Funds raised at Founder’s Day 2023 also allow us to launch into the Caste Equality Project: Saptari District from a position of strength and stability, building early momentum and achieving sustainable results right away.
A highlight of Founder’s Day 2023 was our premier of a beautiful film about this phase of the Caste Equality Project—and, most importantly, the children and families we will serve starting in Summer 2023. Please share the link with your friends and family!
The film traces the foundational stages of this remarkable work: NYF team members listening to community members discussing the realities and “felt needs” they are experiencing. This holistic community-led approach to social change sets NYF apart from many other international NGOs—and it’s the secret to our success.
The deep trust NYF builds by fostering cooperation, leadership, and ownership in the communities we serve has allowed us to break complex systemic barriers for over 30 years. We are determined to build upon that reputation with the work we are beginning here in Saptari District.
Please keep an eye out for updates right here on our blog about all our programs—we’re so excited to share more with you soon about the impact your support is having on the lives of so many!
More pictures from the evening:
Celebrating International Tea Day with Nepali Tea Traders!
International Tea Day, from https://www.un.org/en/observances/tea-day
“The day will promote and foster collective actions to implement activities in favour of the sustainable production and consumption of tea and raise awareness of its importance in fighting hunger and poverty.“
May 21st is recognized by the United Nations as International Tea Day. To celebrate, the Nepal Youth Foundation’s U.S. Team sat down with Sunita from the Nepali Tea Traders to chat (over a cup of tea!) about tea culture, our partnership, and our shared values.
We hope you enjoy the below video of our warm discussion, where we get into stories about Sunita’s childhood, Ryan’s recent trip to Nepal, and NYF’s vocational training programs.
Happy International Tea Day to our entire NYF Community!
Partnership with Nepali Tea Traders
NYF’s partnership with the Nepali Tea Traders (NTT) began over a discussion of shared values. Sustainability. Connection. Community power. Empowerment of women and families in Nepal. NTT’s focus on “trade, not aid” and the associated benefits complements NYF’s mission of providing healthcare, education, and shelter to the country’s youth.
We both believe in the power of economic empowerment for families and communities. And that the best solutions are those that allow individuals to build their own futures and chase their own dreams!
Staff Spotlight: Lalit Gahatraj
Eighteen years ago, when Lalit Gahatraj was still in school for social service, he signed up for a volunteer teaching opportunity for kids in western Nepal who had limited access to K-10 education.
When he arrived in the area he would be serving, he faced a disappointing reality. Many parents refused to send their children to Lalit’s classes when they learned he was part of the Dalit community. “I went to them to help their kids,” he says. “But they would not accept me as a teacher.”
Soon thereafter, at age 18 and still working through school in evening classes, he joined the NYF team as a field worker for the Nutritional Rehabilitation Home. He’s been with NYF ever since, developing his career through a series of positions.
Now he’s about to begin the tough work of leading the Caste Equality Project: Phase II launch in Saptari District.
Lalit, now 36, grew up on a farm in Dhankuta District, a hilly region of eastern Nepal (north of Saptari). He is still one of the only people from his village’s Dalit population to have completed college. He’s also the only one who has earned a master’s degree (he focused his studies on anthropology). Lalit is very excited to be playing a role in creating programming especially for the Dalit community.
He’s bringing tremendous insight to the role, both professionally and personally. Though the practice has been formally outlawed since the 1960s, Lalit grew up experiencing “untouchability.” As a child, he was part of a particularly strong soccer team that competed in a tournament away from his village. Higher-caste teammates were invited to sleep inside the homes of other competitors. “But they didn’t allow me to enter their house because they knew I’m from the Dalit community,” he explains. He couldn’t touch water or food intended for the whole group, either. If he did, higher-caste people would refuse to eat or even touch it again.
Despite this, Lalit felt more impacted by discrimination when he arrived in Kathmandu for college. Finding a room to rent was an unexpected challenge. The first question—his full name—always announced his caste status (Nepali surnames are linked to caste). Even though he could prove he was able to afford the rent, landlords refused to rent to him once they learned his caste. “It hit me a lot,” he says. “I thought that Kathmandu is a city area, with civilized, more educated people living here. But the thinking is traditional.”
Lalit’s time with NYF has been a much better experience.
From the beginning, NYF has worked to ensure casteism had no place in its hiring practices. Leadership had also always cultivated a culture of respect and warmth among staff members. Lalit has always felt like family on the NYF team. “When I joined NYF, I was just 18. I never thought I would work here so long, in the same organization. But the work culture prevalent in this organization and the programs run by NYF are directly connected to the core of my feelings. I’ve learned so many things here. Olga, she’s amazing. I’ve been impressed by her contribution to the Nepali children for a long time. Som, Raju, our whole team is a very good team for humanitarian work in Nepal. So I’m lucky I’m here.”
Lalit’s strong role managing NYF’s Earthquake Response
For Lalit’s first 11 years at NYF, he stayed with the Nutrition team in various capacities. Then, in 2015, the Gorkha earthquake hit. In the immediate aftermath, Lalit became the In-Charge for the humanitarian assistance NYF offered to those injured in the disaster. Four months later, when it became clear how long earthquake recovery would last, he was placed in charge of NYF’s relief work in Sindhupalchowk District. This was one of the worst affected areas, high in the treacherous Himalayas.
Here, for almost 18 months, Lalit oversaw a complex array of projects: safe housing for displaced children; the establishment of ten Community Nutrition Kitchens in community schools; a daycare-style program allowing parents of young children to focus their energy on rebuilding while their kids were under the watchful care of trustworthy, loving educators. Lalit also managed a campaign that brought running water to villages whose natural springs—their only water source—had been destroyed or shifted by the earthquake.
“Finally and most importantly,” he says, “we reconstructed 51 community schools, building 225 rooms in five districts.”
During this time, Lalit and his team lived among those they were serving, in rough conditions with very few amenities. Lalit led the project team, managed reporting and admin, navigated government red tape, handled logistics for construction projects, and coordinated community members, political leaders, local NGOs, and others to ensure each project supported the recovery of the communities as smoothly as possible. The project was very difficult at times. But Lalit is proud of the ways it allowed his leadership skills to blossom.
When he returned to Kathmandu in 2017, Lalit’s success in Sindupalchowk earned him a promotion to NYF Operations Manager. He’s been handling operations and logistics on a day-to-day basis since then, with his skills stretched and strengthened again during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spearheading the Caste Equality Project
Lalit is eager for his newest challenge, and is preparing to relocate his family (himself, his wife, and their two children) to a village in Saptari District where he says the conditions are even worse than those he grew up with.
He’s especially enthusiastic about the improvements planned for educational resources in the area. Many members of the Dalit community aren’t even aware of the rights they are guaranteed under Nepali law. “They are deprived from the fundamental right,” Lalit says, “and human rights. So the education is very powerful.”
“Education is a very, very powerful thing to avoid discrimination,” he explains. “If the children get a good chance for better education, and they’re able to find a good job, they can earn good money. And if they have good money, they can build their nice house, they can send their children for good school, they can easily fulfill their basic needs. So education is very, very important.”
It’s an ambitious vision.
Even now, Lalit is still encountering the cruelty of casteism in his own life. When he recently returned to his home village for his mother’s funeral, local Brahmin priests outright refused to carry out her last rituals because of her caste, leaving the family to manage the heartrending services on their own. Denied the profoundly human comforts of shared grief and spiritual community during this difficult time, Lalit describes this indignity as one of the most painful of his life. After living so far from home for so long, he had not realized casteism was still so alive—so open and so ugly—back home.
But the experience spurs him forward in his hopes for Saptari District, where the situation is such that a family’s “main focus is to work for survival rather than to send the children to school.” These communities have been so neglected by the society around them, and even by other well-meaning NGOs, that they are hesitant to trust the hopeful promises of outsiders who may not understand the realities they face each day.
But Lalit, with his existence as part of the Dalit community himself, is optimistic. “Sometimes I ignore which caste I belong to,” he says. “I’m a human being. I have to do some good work for society, for the people.”
Higher-caste parents don’t often refuse to allow Lalit to help their children these days. But some still comment on his caste when they hear his full name, generally with surprise at the level of education he’s managed to attain.
In Saptari District, the tone is different, with Dalit community members reacting with admiration. There’s a big difference between knowing that a Dalit child can attend college and meeting a Dalit man who has actually done it—and is now using that education to empower the community.
Lalit’s first order of business in Saptari District will be to establish trusting connections within the community. “My main role is coordinating the people and the government authority, because without their help, we cannot do anything. So I’ll live with the community. I’ll visit the school day-to-day and monitor the school. What is the education system? Why are the children not going to school? What are the factors? I’ll try to find them.”
We’ll be sharing more about the Caste Equality Project (CEP) at this year’s hybrid Founder’s Day celebration on June 1st. If you haven’t registered already, please click here!
Visiting Nepal as NYF’s new U.S. Executive Director
Written by Ryan Walls, U.S. Executive Director, regarding his recent two-week trip to Nepal to visit our Nepal Country Office, programs, and NYF staff. Above photo by Sanjoj Maharjan.
Namasté from Nepal! Last month, I took a trip to Nepal for the first time in nearly 20 years. This time, I was there to spend time with Som, Olga, and the rest of the NYF family.
I first visited Nepal in 2001 as a wide-eyed 20-year-old student. My program was grounded in anthropology and from day one we were immersed in Nepali language and lived with local families in Kathmandu. My Newari host family lived on what was then the western edge of Kathmandu’s urban sprawl beneath Buddha’s benevolent eyes atop Swayambunath Stupa. We studied Nepali and engaged in discussions and lectures on Nepali history, ethnic groups, economic development, environmental issues, women’s rights, and more.
Although Kathmandu has changed in many ways since my first visit, the essence of the city remains, along with the kindness and gentle curiosity of its people. The scents and smells were as I remember – a heady mix of wood smoke, incense, and car exhaust. The intricate choreography of the ceaseless street traffic is also the same.
Little shrines still pepper the city, often where you least expect them. Kathmandu is filled with homages to religious deities from grand to tiny and barely perceptible. One morning my taxi swerved around a small offering plate in the middle of a busy intersection and it reminded me of how faith pervades many parts of life there.
The most noticeable change is the sheer density of Kathmandu. I vividly recall my first entrance to the city in 2001. After landing at Tribhuvan International, we were whisked away to Pharping, a village in the hills of the southern valley rim for an orientation. Days later, we trekked into Kathmandu, traversing the edges of expansive dayglow green rice terraces. Many of these same terraced fields are now filled with housing for the capital’s burgeoning population.
The auto rickshaws, a thrilling way to explore the city 20 years ago, are long gone, now replaced with more scooters and motorbikes than I remember.
Olgapuri Children’s Village
I spent several days at Olgapuri Children’s Village and the NYF offices during my Nepal trip, getting to witness the magic that Som and his smart, caring team create.
Olgapuri, in many ways, strikes me as a self-sustaining ecosystem. Each moving part supports the others. The staff cultivate a safe, nurturing environment where the children thrive and grow. The industrial tailoring students craft clothing for the children at Olgapuri and the Nutritional Rehabilitation Home. The vocational students make furniture for the residential homes, the community center, and the NYF offices. The gardens produce organic vegetables that nourish the children and the staff. The cows offer up their fresh milk while their manure returns to the crops as rich fertilizer. And, of course, the children infuse the community with a vibrant undercurrent of life and love. It’s a perfectly balanced system.
I engaged in deep conversations with the Nepal NYF staff who manage and lead the education programs, the scholarships, the vocational training programs, the counseling center, and the finance and accounting department. I now have a more nuanced understanding of how each program fits into the broader holistic NYF model. It’s difficult to fully understand the sophistication of these programs without seeing them in person. The genius of NYF really is in this multi-layered, systematic approach to breaking the cycle of poverty by empowering Nepali children to fulfill their dreams.
Trip to Saptari District in Nepal
During my second week, Raju Dhamala, NYF’s Nepal Executive Director, and I flew to the southeastern city of Biratnagar. We were to visit the villages where NYF will launch the Caste Equality Project, our most ambitious project to date. We met with local leaders and teachers, spoke with parents and children, and visited schools. The villagers are part of the Musahar caste, the lowest of the Dalit sub castes. They’re barred from owning land and therefore cannot even grow their own food.
The schools are in poor shape with crumbling, cracked walls. They’re vulnerable to heavy rain, wind, and any hot or cold weather. Snakes and other animals crawl into classrooms while school is in session. There are two or three usable classrooms in each village but they have limited student capacity. Other classrooms sit vacant, falling apart and lacking doors or sometimes even ceilings. The teachers we met often received only a three day orientation before being thrown into classrooms that combine two or three grades into one. Attendance rates are low – typically less than 15% of children in this community go to school.
Despite innumerable challenges, Som and his team have devised thoughtful objectives and strategies for addressing these inequities. This summer, NYF will launch a comprehensive program, compiling the best practices our Nepal team has developed over the years in education, nutrition, vocational training, mental health counseling, community development, and other areas, to uplift the entire socio-economic status of these communities.