In 2008 Caroline and I stepped out of the relative tranquility of the Kathmandu Guest House and into the pandemonium of Thamel, the famous expatriate neighborhood that is the traditional haunt of mountain climbers, trekkers, hippies, and counterculturists of all stripes.
As soon as we hit the pavement, we encountered Rubi, a four-year-old wearing a red dress and an attitude that belied her small size. She was little, but her energy level was a fair match for her environs. Rubi was in constant motion, darting about like a mosquito, seemingly everywhere at once. Just by noticing her we attracted her attention and she latched onto us. We fell into a conversation, or what might pass for one between two people who spoke only English and a three year old who didn’t. Despite the language barrier, Rubi talked incessantly and led us to her mother, Nissa, who made a living selling souvenirs to tourists. Nissa’s place of business was the sidewalk and her wares were spread out on the ground, just out of the way of the street traffic. One thing led to another and we soon established a routine of spending a little time with Rubi and Nissa before we left Thamel for the day and when we returned in the afternoon.
Anyone who wanders through Thamel can’t help but notice that there are a lot of unaccompanied children. At that time, only half the children of Nepal went to school, the rest were left to their own devices and the expectation of future life of poverty and hardship.
One day I was working at the hospital and got a call from Caroline. She had decided to approach Nissa and offer some money so that Rubi could start preschool. As it turned out, Nissa had already enrolled her daughter in school and was spending half her monthly income to pay for it.
Caroline went with Nissa to Everest School, spoke with the principal, and arranged for us to sponsor Rubi’s schooling for that year. We have stayed in touch with Nissa ever since that day have sponsored Rubi’s education.
Rubi’s story became the inspiration and model the Ripple scholarship program. It all started with a dinner conversation we had with our close friends Rabi and Sudha Malla. Caroline told them about Rubi and our encounters with other poor children in Kathmandu. Rabi asked Caroline what she would choose to do for Nepal if there were no limitations. She said she would build a school. There were limitations, of course, so Rabi suggested to instead consider a scholarship program, connecting children in Nepal with sponsors in the US. That is what happened.
In the beginning, the program consisted of just Caroline in America, finding the sponsors, and Sudha in Nepal, keeping track of the children. Credit goes to Sudha–her’s was the bigger job. From just a handful in the beginning, the program has grown to the thirty children and we have enlisted the administrative help of First Presbyterian Church in Jefferson City and Aaahish Presbyterian Church in Kathmandu. Pastor Mahendra Bhattarai and Elder Phurba Tamang have been a vital and ongoing help to us.
Rabi and Sudha
Prashna and the women of Nepal
Life can be difficult and everyone is fighting a hard battle— nowhere more than in Kathmandu. Caroline and I ask ourselves how they do it, working so hard when just getting to work in the first place would wear us out. We don’t do that much, but are usually exhausted by lunchtime.
The desk clerk at Inn Patan, Pranesh Ganeju, rides a bus for ninety minutes from her house in Bhaktapur before she even starts her workday, then the does the same thing to get back home. Caroline and I got close to Pranesh in the week we spent with her. She is twenty years old and has worked at the Inn for two months. Pranesh has an education but had to drop out just a year before graduating from secondary school because her mother got sick and had to stop working. Now the family partially depends on the money Pranesh brings in order to survive. Her income also helps pays for school for her fifteen year old brother. Pranesh loves her family, but we know she has dreams of her own and doesn’t know when or how she will ever realize them. She was tearful when she was telling us her story.
Life can be hard for everyone in Nepal but it’s harder for girls and women. We are told that things are getting better. That’s what out friend Sanjeev said at dinner one night and it was confirmed by Rabi and Sudha. Child marriage is actively discouraged by the government and practiced only in the villages. It has been a custom in Nepal to ostracize women as unclean during their menses, but that,too, is becoming less common. Divorce always goes harder on the women. Rubi’s father left Nissa years ago and she has never received any help from him or even her own family.
Nissa is thirty- eight years old (look again at her photo). She has done a remarkable job in raising her daughter as a single parent. Her income is limited, if it exists at all, but she has always been committed to her child’s education. Rubi, now a pre-teen, has grown from a wild child into a poised, polite young lady, whose English is so good that she can help her mother with the translation when we are talking (the first words In English I recall hearing from Rubi when she was little were, “I don’t like monkeys!”). When I look at our current “family” photos, what I see is Rubi as a fine young woman. Nissa, God love her, just looks tired.
“You cannot so a kindness too soon because you never know how soon will be too late.”
Caroline and I were talking to a waiter about his country and about ours. He asked us, “Do you love Nepal?” We said, “Yes, we do.” He smiled and just said, “Thank you.”
We have gotten to know many people in Nepal over the years. They come from a variety of life situations, but are all making their way in the world as best they can. They each have their human frailties and sometimes struggle to figure it all out. Sometimes they fall short, but it’s the same for all of us back in my home country.
In the end, what I see in each of these people—Nissa, Rubi, Sanjeev, Prashna, Pastor Mahendra, Elder Phurba, Rabi, Sudha, Anup and Indira, the administrators at Rubi’s school—is a deep, abiding goodness. Which makes me think that, even though it can sometimes get buried very deep, there is the same goodness at the core of all the Nepali people. Same as for us back home, same as for all people.
Carol spoke to the congregation at Aashish Church and to the Ripple children and families. I have included her remarks below:
Namaste to all of you and to Pastor Angela. The peace of Christ be with you.
Jeff and I have been coming to Nepal for more than 10 years now.
No matter how many times we come to Kathmandu it takes a few days for us to the adjust to the harsh environment. We are reminded of what a difficult life the average Nepali is living. It is good for us to get outside our JCMO bubble and be reminded of how a large part of the world is living and how fortunate we are to have been born into the life that we have.
We’ve witnessed again and again that an education is the only way out of poverty and a better life.
Thank you so much for believing in this program. The support that you are giving the children has the potential to be life changing. It’s so good for the children to see us in person. We are building a relationship of friendship and trust. It is good for them to hear that we value education. We feel that is a key to their success, beyond the educational gift. Your prayers and letters do make a difference to the kids. One girl, Alisha (who was one of the first kids to in the program) shared with us her dream of becoming a doctor. She is a strong student and is applying to college this year. We have every reason to believe that she can do it! The fact that any of the kids have a dream is music to our ears!
We met with our partners, Mahendra and Phurba, and approximately 16 Ripple children and their families yesterday. The children are growing up! They all looked healthy and greeted us with smiles and a namaste.
We visited with Rubi and her mom. Over the past ten years we have formed a strong bond. Rubi was was the inspiration behind the Ripple program. We’ve watched her grown from a wild preschooler to a poised and lovely preteen. She is devoted to her studies and to her mother who walks a tight rope of survival. Life is hard here for most.
FPC church and its congregation are part of the World community and we are so happy to be part of this congregation.
Praise be to God!
We are in Tibet now but I wanted to get this part of the Nepal story out. It is hard to write a travel blog in real time, while actually doing the traveling, and the situation in China doesn’t make it any easier. I won’t try to publish anything about Tibet until I leave it. This Dispatch is not as polished as I would like but you’ll have to forgive any grammar or punctuation errors (apologies to Jennifer Milne).
We are told the weather at Kailash is cold and “dicey.”