An Expanded Mission for the New Life Center

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

children (faces blurred to protect privacy) color together on the floor of a cheerful classroom. One adult woman looks on from above and another crouches near the children to offer feedback. the expanded mission still includes these services
The New Life Center was designed to be an inviting, comfortable home-away-from-home for children recovering from life-threatening opportunistic infections. Children received personalized tutoring, cultural celebrations, and opportunities for play & creativity. And of course, they received loving attention from nurses who know mental & emotional wellness are critical to healing. Children at the NLC will continue receiving these services. (In this 2019 photo, we blurred the children’s faces to protect them from the stigma against HIV in Nepal.)

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.

Many of these children have also received NYF scholarship support in grade school and beyond!

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.

the cover of a book in the Nepali language. the main cover is light blue with a red HIV awareness ribbon. an illustration in the center shows a group of Nepali people in colorful clothing seated in a circle under a tree while a  Nepali woman gives a presentation about HIV. The NYF logo appears at the bottom of the cover.
In early 2022, NYF’s health teams created an informative Nepali-language booklet about HIV. This booklet busted common myths and misconceptions about HIV and provided information on caring for individuals living with the virus. This is the cover of this booklet, which has been received with great excitement from the communities we serve.

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

An AI-generated illustration of a young Nepali man being welcomed to the NLC by a smiling nurse. "Bikram" received the NLC's original services and now he is receiving the expanded services as well.
The NLC staff were surprised to see “Bikram”, 18, arriving for a medical recovery stay in August 2023. They knew Bikram well, because he spent much of his childhood receiving care here while growing up with HIV! This time, he was visiting Kathmandu for an ear surgery, following a years-long history of chronic ear infections. Bikram and his mother were delighted to be welcomed by the NLC, who they already loved and trusted. “NYF always thinks about the needs of families like ours and designs programs accordingly,” Bikram’s mother said happily. “We’re so grateful that the New Life Center still exists and is offering shelter to people needing medical care in Kathmandu.” (This illustration was generated by AI in September 2023, helping us protect Bikram’s privacy).

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.

a young Nepali woman in a bright green dress holds a smiling, wiggling toddler to pose for the camera
“Priya” (30 months old) & her mother, “Rani” (24) were the first medical recovery patients to visit the New Life Center when Priya needed cleft palate surgery in summer 2023. Priya and Rani belong to the Dalit community (traditionally seen as “untouchable” under Nepal’s caste system). Due to their caste identity, Rani expected extra challenges accessing healthcare for her daughter. This loving young mother was thrilled to receive the support of NYF.

Learn more about this program (and some early impact stories!) on the updated New Life Center – Medical Recovery Home program page.

Dhanyabad!

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

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!

Nepal Youth Foundation launches Phase II of Caste Equality Project!

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!

Watch our launch video on YouTube:

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).
Sunita Rimal, NYF's Nutrition Coordinator, with a community member in Saptari District during a nutrition outreach camp earlier in 2023.

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 – 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!

We’re so grateful for the wonderful friends and volunteers who supported us at Founder’s Day this year! Thank you to Jackie F. and Normandie R. for helping our staff during check-in this year.

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!


Pledges are still being fulfilled; we expect our fundraising thermometer to increase to over $260,000 by the end of the summer!

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!

If you have not yet fulfilled your Founder’s Day pledge, or if you would like to make another thoughtful gift in honor of Olga’s 98th birthday, please do so here.

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!

Dhanyabad!

More pictures from the evening:

Celebrating International Tea Day with Nepali Tea Traders!

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!

Learn more about our Sustainable Agriculture and Entrepreneurship Training (SAAET) program here.

Staff Spotlight: Lalit Gahatraj

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.

“The people are facing many problems in Nepal, especially the Dalit,” he says. “I’ve had a chance to get a good education. I want to do something for my society.”

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 was involved with the Nutrition team for his first 11 years at NYF. In the above photo, he is teaching school children about nutrition. When the 2015 Gorkha earthquake hit, Lalit headed NYF’s various earthquake response programs. Some highlights of his work include the reconstruction of 51 community schools (and 225 rooms) in five districts and the creation of 10 nutrition kitchens in community schools.

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.”

Lalit (at center, in red and black) helps local men carry a large rainwater tank to a central location in a village in Sindhupalchowk District. Following the Gorkha earthquake in 2015, Lalit led initiatives like this one, restoring clean water to villages whose natural springs had been destroyed. He’s always excited to work alongside those he is helping.

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.”

NYF President Som Paneru (left) with Lalit (center) and NYF Founder Olga Murray (right) in Saptari District in December 2022.

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.

“I’m always thinking in a positive way. So, [my Dalit identity] makes me stronger, to be a good example for my Dalit society.”

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.”

Lalit (left) with NYF Founder Olga Murray (right) during a community visit to Saptari district in December 2022.

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

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.  

Children at Olgapuri Children’s Village enjoying snack time. Visiting our programs and seeing, in person, the impact we are making was the highlight of my Nepal trip.

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.

We’ll be sharing more about the Caste Equality Project in the coming months.

Learn about Nepali Fairy Tales!

Learn about Nepali Fairy Tales!

A love for storytelling unites us as a human family. All across the world, human beings have been entertaining one another with stories—comedies and romances and tragedies and more!—for thousands of years.

Folklorists know that even in very different cultures, many of the world’s stories share familiar elements and themes. That’s because stories travel quickly, because they weigh nothing at all and can be shared an infinite number of times.

For example, did you know that the Cinderella tale-type—“The Persecuted Heroine”—is one of the oldest and most widespread fairy tales in the world? There are thousands of versions of this story, from ancient Greece, the Tang Dynasty in China, versions in the Thousand and One Nights, the German version collected by the Brothers Grimm… And even versions unique to Nepal!

Each gives a fascinating look into the culture behind it, including ways we are all different, as well as ways we are very similar!

The Fairy Tellers

In 2020, The Fairy Tellers podcast featured three Nepali stories to raise awareness for NYF and the programs we were running in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The stories (and fairy tales within them) are well-worth a listen!

1. Soonimaya

“Soonimaya” (Ep. 20) tells the story of a kind young girl who endures the unfair treatment of an evil stepmother. She enlists the help of talking animals and ends up marrying into the royal family. If you think that sounds familiar, you’ll be shocked by what happens at the halfway point! There are so many fun twists and turns along the way. Listen to Soonimaya on Podbean here.

2. The King Who Rides a Tiger

“The King Who Rides a Tiger” (Ep. 21) is an epic tale about a humble farmer who saves a talking cobra from a mongoose, finds himself living in a golden palace, and faces a series of challenges from a king who wants to steal his wife. This story tells a lot about Nepali values when it comes to leadership and power in society. Listen to The King Who Rides a Tiger here.

3. Dhon Cholecha

“Dhon Cholecha” (Ep. 37) is as familiar to Nepali children as Cinderella is to American kids—and the two stories share some similar themes! Listen to learn about a kindly goat, a magical pastry tree, a greedy stepmother, helpful mice, and treasure stolen from demons. One of NYF’s Nepali staff members suggested this tale to the podcasters!

Kids at Olgapuri Children’s Village love to read!

Industrial Tailoring at Olgapuri Vocational School

Industrial Tailoring at Olgapuri Vocational School

Industrial Tailoring has quickly become one of Olgapuri Vocational School’s most popular courses for women. The average monthly wage for our graduates is 30,000 rupees per month ($260), with room to grow. Those with more experience are making as much as 45,000 rupees ($390)—over three times Nepal’s minimum wage!

Over the past year, our team has had conversations with uneasy supporters about our new Industrial Tailoring vocational training course, which is held exclusively for women.

We’re hearing two main concerns:

  • “Sewing is traditionally undervalued as ‘women’s work’. Shouldn’t we be trying to encourage young women to break free of these sorts of industries, rather than continuing this pattern?”

  • “Isn’t the garment / textile industry particularly dangerous and exploitative? I don’t want my donations to go towards placing these bright young women into sweatshops!”

Maybe you’ve had similar concerns! In fact, people on the global team and on the board have discussed these same worries. At NYF, we deeply appreciate how thoughtful our supporters are, and how engaged you are in looking out for the children and youth we serve.

Our Commitment to Women’s Empowerment

First and foremost, our global team is committed to empowering women to follow their dreams. This is especially the case when their options are limited because of entrenched gender roles and hierarchies. We believe every girl and every woman should be free and safe to choose her own destiny!

We’re also appalled by the conditions within many of the world’s factories—not just garment factories. No one on our team wants to see any one of our beneficiaries trapped in an oppressive, unsafe working environment.

Between May 2021 and June 2022, OVS trained 100 young women in Industrial Tailoring—four batches of 25 trainees, including the graduates pictured above. Almost all of them have opted to work in Kathmandu’s growing garment industry, with a few choosing to open small tailoring businesses of their own.
 

All Olgapuri Vocational School courses are openly advertised as available for all genders. At the orientation presentations where young people are given application options, women are always strongly encouraged to apply. Some of the instructors for these courses are women, giving potential students clear evidence that women are welcome.

However, despite all this, NYF has struggled to interest young women in signing up for these opportunities. As a result, enrollment in these programs is overwhelmingly male (a staggering 90%).

Our team has been working for several years to understand this phenomenon and to provide good solutions. Young women know they are welcome to apply for these courses in male-dominated career fields.

But many of these young women still don’t feel safe in those industries.

NYF can place female construction graduates in positions where we know they will be hired, paid equitably, and respected by their employers. Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee that they will not experience sexual harassment and other sexist aggression in the workplace.

Many young women don’t want to walk that challenging path, even if it pays more. They just want to make a decent living, gaining personal economic freedom without entering a career where conditions simply won’t feel safe for them as women. We can’t fault them for that.

Former Kamlaris Propose Industrial Tailoring Course

Olgapuri Vocational School’s Industrial Tailoring course was proposed by a group of former kamlaris. This initial group of young women met one another in a women’s empowerment group run by the Former Kamlaris Development Forum (FKDF). (The FKDF is a community-based nonprofit NYF helped found in the Tharu communities impacted by the traditional kamlari practice.)

In a group discussion, several of these women shared that they wished NYF offered a course in Industrial Tailoring. It seemed strange to them that this course wasn’t available. After all, they reasoned: clothing is one of Nepal’s biggest exports, and the job market in this area is growing. Careers in this field are stable, well-paying, and have room for growth and flexibility.

Even knowing that women were encouraged to apply for the construction training programs, some of these women almost felt left out by OVS because we weren’t offering trainings in the career fields most likely to attract female engagement.

The freedom to choose among a set of only male-dominated options just didn’t feel like real freedom.

Fortunately, these empowered young women knew they could ask NYF directly about such an option. They also had a growing group of women behind them who all agreed they’d leap at the chance to earn their certifications in Industrial Tailoring.

When this group approached NYF, our team let them know the common concerns about workplace dangers in the garment industry. The young women responded that construction trades are also dangerous. They all knew someone who had experienced an electrical accident or been injured by a power tool. And as far as exploitation was concerned, these young women had already survived kamlari bondage. They know better than most that bad actors exist in all industries.

Thanks to NYF and the FKDF, though, they also possess the extraordinary inner tools that empower them to defend themselves from exploitation—and motivate them to defend their sisters as well.

Their request was so powerful and enthusiastic that our team had to find a way to provide this opportunity.

The Curriculum

NYF’s team made connections with local high-quality garment factories known for their fair practices and safe working conditions. They asked for their guidance in creating an ideal classroom and for help developing a specialized curriculum. These experts shared a list of skills all their employees needed to master, as well as a list of “dream skills” that made tailors especially competitive in the workforce.

Being highly skilled in a trade is a major safeguard against exploitation in any industry. This is because it allows workers the flexibility to seek out better workplaces without risking financial ruin.

Our team designed a six-month course which would prepare trainees to create high-quality garments for local consumption as well as for international export. Importantly, the training also includes the information needed for a student to establish her own small clothing business.

The curriculum covers industrial machine operation and maintenance, different kinds of stitches and their uses, measurement skills, fabric types and their uses, clothing design principles, and how to take items from printed designs to fabric cutting to assembly and through to the finishing touches. Safety is always an important topic as well.

Trainees are given specialized life skills and group therapy sessions (and, where needed, personal therapy as well) through NYF’s Ankur Counseling Center.

They also participate in motivational sessions on women’s empowerment!

During the entire six-month course, trainees live in the Olgapuri Girls’ Hostel. This is a space created especially for young women in vocational training courses (many of whom are not familiar with city life) so they can feel safe and secure during their training.

The first four months of the training consist of classroom instruction, followed by two months of paid On-the-Job training in one of the city’s high-quality factories. This is a paid apprenticeship period, with pay being nearly double Nepal’s minimum wage.

Meena Kumari Chaudhary (left, Asst. Trainer) is a former kamlari—and she was also one of the earliest graduates of our Industrial Training program! She’s thrilled to be using the skills she learned here to empower more women to enter this growth industry.

Here, she is pictured with Lead Trainer Anju Thapa. Both women have become role models for the young women hoping to build a sustainable career in tailoring!

Workplace Safety

Unfortunately, sweatshops do exist in Nepal. These cramped factories regularly ignore laws and regulations, have extremely poor and unsafe working conditions, and have unscrupulous bosses who demand inhumane working hours and withhold pay. NYF would never partner with these organizations, let alone intentionally place a trainee in such a working environment.

Kathmandu is also home to factories where workers are treated fairly, paid well, and conduct their work in well-lit, airy spaces that are kept tidy, with wide paths for evacuating in an emergency, ensuring safety for everyone. These are the workplaces our graduates enter, as a group of empowered women determined to build their futures—and continue working towards a more equitable world.

Bindu’s Story

Bindu* has survived horrific ordeals over the past two years. During the COVID pandemic, she started dating an older man, against her parents’ wishes. Soon, this man convinced her to run away with him to start a new life in India. Dreaming of a beautiful future, Bindu followed him across the border. Bindu quickly learned that the man’s intention all along had been to traffic her.

Betrayed and heartbroken, Bindu relied on her inner strength to survive her situation—and she somehow managed to escape her captor and return to Nepal.

But the nightmare wasn’t over. When Bindu finally reached her home village, her parents rejected and disowned her.

Fortunately, Bindu found an organization working with women who have survived sex trafficking, and they helped her file a case against the man who trafficked her. Thanks to Bindu’s courage, he’s now in prison, where he can’t hurt any more girls and women.

Bindu found housing in a women’s shelter in Kathmandu as she prepared for her next steps. One of the staff members there heard about NYF’s new Industrial Tailoring program—and immediately thought of Bindu.

Bindu has taken to the Industrial Tailoring skillset extraordinarily well. For the first time since she ran away from home with a heart full of hope, Bindu feels like her dreams are truly within reach.

“I never thought I’d be able to acquire a skill that would pay me this much,” she says, adding, “Economic independence is very important to me, as I have no family to support me. The work environment is also safe and pleasant. The other girls and women that I work with have become like my family—and my greatest support system. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet them and work with them.”

A long waiting list…

In the first year of its existence, the Industrial Tailoring course quickly became one of OVS’s most sought-after options. Our team has already trained 149 women—and there’s a long waiting list. Most of these women are former kamlaris from western Nepal, but we’ve also received numerous referrals from Kathmandu women’s shelters and other aid organizations. This training has already empowered single mothers, survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse, and women who have escaped trafficking.

We are so grateful for the support that allows us to offer these women this remarkable opportunity. We hope to be able to continue offering it as long as young women are interested.

The Empowering Freed Kamlaris program is one of NYF’s greatest achievements. For more information on the former kamlaris and the FKDF, please visit https://nyf.news/efk