Monday, November 18, 2019

Back to school means building a school for kids in Nepalese village

Namkha Sherpa raises funds

By Kristy Acuff

It is back to school across America, which means teachers are busy making name cards and lesson plans, and decorating their rooms to welcome this year’s crop, so to speak. For Crested Butte resident and Nepal native Namkha Sherpa, back to school means breaking ground this week on a new school in eastern Nepal for students with disabilities. Sherpa and fellow Crested Buttian Ian Hatchett are raising money to complete the project. They have already raised $10,000 of the estimated $25,000 needed.

When fundraising and construction are finished, up to 40 kids, girls and boys alike, will have a new home in which to live, learn and grow. Right now, the kids share a small, 800-square-foot space where they sleep, go to school and live out their days under the tutelage of two caregivers/teachers.

Sherpa’s vision is a larger space with separate living spaces for girls and boys, dedicated school rooms and a covered courtyard for outside time protected from the elements.

His quest to build the new school began when his own child, his daughter Tshering, was born with a disability that demanded constant care and eventually led to her death at age ten. His daughter’s short life opened Sherpa to the world of children with disabilities in his country where government services are limited to a few schools and assistance centers mainly in Kathmandu.

“Imagine the time and effort it takes to raise a child with a disability here in the United States, and then try to imagine raising that child in a third-world country like Nepal, the poorest in all of Asia,” says Hatchett. “It is difficult to understand the hardship that a family faces because children in Nepal are meant to earn income at an early age. A child with a disability not only cannot usually earn income, but requires constant care from a parent, which means even more of a tax on the family.”

As a result, many Nepalese children born with disabilities are given to orphanages, where they rely on the kindness of others and the limited help of their government.

“The government in Nepal is riddled with corruption and not many services make their way through to these children. They truly have nothing,” explains Sherpa. “I could help my own daughter by working hard here, but who is going to help those kids there? They have nothing and no one to help them. I know how hard life for their parents is from my own experience and I want to help them. I know we have a community here in Crested Butte that can help.”

“Sometimes people ask, ‘Why Nepal? Why devote these resources to a small school in a remote corner of Nepal?’” says Hatchett. “And I guess the answer, in part, is that Namkha and I are united in a way because we are both Buddhist. A core value of Buddhism is compassion and because of Namkha’s connection with his daughter’s experience, this kind of flowed into our hands, if you will. We were called to act on behalf of these children who literally have nothing.”

The current school is located in eastern Nepal in the village of Dhankuta. Sherpa’s own village, Chheplung, sits along the Everest trekking route along the north border of Nepal, where his wife and son still live. He learned about the Dhankuta center for children with disabilities during a trip to Kathmandu when he was distributing wheelchairs to people who needed them—wheelchairs that he purchased with his own money and imported from India.

“My country has very few resources for people with disabilities,” explains Sherpa. “There are no wheelchair ramps in public or government buildings, not even in the capital of Kathmandu. There are no buses with wheelchair access, or even restrooms. It is beyond difficult for a person with physical disabilities to have any freedom of movement or independence, but having a wheelchair is a first step.”

Sherpa began purchasing and distributing wheelchairs in Kathmandu essentially on his own a few years ago. When he visited the school for children with disabilities in Dhankuta he brought five wheelchairs to donate.

“The teacher tells me the kids are so happy with the wheelchairs they aren’t sleeping as much anymore. The wheelchairs are like toys to them and they wheel them around the school building and outside. It is a completely new freedom for them,” Sherpa explains.

“This is pure human empathy,” says Hatchett, explaining Sherpa’s connection to Dhnkuta. “He has no direct family or connection with this village, but he has taken it under his wing, so to speak because of the experience with his daughter.”

Together, Sherpa and Hatchett hope to replace the current facility—a cramped building made of corrugated tin with few windows. It houses 20 boys and 15 girls with a wide range of physical and cognitive impairments, including three girls who are deaf. Some of the children require full-time care, some need wheelchairs or other adaptations, and others have language impairments.

“Those girls are as smart as you and me,” Sherpa explains. “Smarter than me, actually,” he laughs. “And they are learning sign language. Their future is bright if they can learn the language. But they deserve a new space, a better space. Right now they have one room—they sleep there, eat there, learn there.”

Sherpa’s efforts are already making a difference to the children and teachers.

“For a lot of the kids and volunteers at the school, Namkha is a source of hope,” says Hatchett. “They know that someone cares about them. Someone else is paying attention to them and giving them love. He is already making an impact on their lives and we have just begun.”

Sherpa already has architectural plans for the new building and has a trusted confidante in Nepal who is acting as a general contractor overseeing the work on the ground. It is a cash-only affair that demands intimate knowledge of who is paying whom and for what.

“People should understand that if they want to help the effort, their money will go directly to people on the ground,” Hatchett explains. “There is literally no overhead in this effort. Namkha’s plane flights to Nepal have already been funded by another donor so that all of the donations go to the new building. It is not like donating to a big enterprise where you are not exactly sure where your money ends up. This is a very small operation.”

Sherpa is also contributing his own funds, essentially devoting the wages from his night job to meet the $25,000 goal.

“He runs his painting crew during the daytime and uses those funds for himself and his family back in Nepal,” says Hatchett. “But he is essentially self-tithing, using the money from his night job to go towards the school effort.”

Before this effort to build a new school, Hatchett and Sherpa teamed up to raise money to rebuild Chheplung after a 2015 earthquake leveled many of the village’s homes and structures. Sherpa oversaw the rebuilding efforts, using funds from Crested Butte donations. In addition, he distributed new coats and sometimes cash to families in his village who were in need. He kept a log of all distributions and documented the efforts through a photo essay that he shared this summer at the museum.

For more information about the school project, or to help bring the project to fruition, contact Ian Hatchett at (970) 290-0001.

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