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December Stories: Kids of Kathmandu
December Stories, Where ONA Goes

December Stories: Kids of Kathmandu

The December Stories are a series of first-hand accounts of our community’s work on important causes and issues around the world. This fall, we were proud to support Kids of Kathmandu's "Childhood Everyday" photo contest to raise funds for building schools in the wake of Nepal's 2015 earthquake. En route to Nepal, Jami Saunders, co-founder and president of Kids of Kathmandu, shares the organization's story and an encouraging update on their progress. All photos courtesy Kids of Kathmandu.

I took a life changing trip to Nepal in 2010. It wasn’t planned that way. It was a trip I took for pleasure, my honeymoon actually, and though we are no longer married, we co-founded Kids of Kathmandu and continue to run it together. We volunteered to work at an orphanage for 2 weeks. But the kids and the experience were anything but ordinary. And I came home feeling that becoming aware of those children and their circumstance was enough to know I wanted to DO something about it. Less than a year later, in late 2010, Andrew Raible and I created Kids of Kathmandu.

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We started by using our first funds raised to move the children we had met at the orphanage to a better performing private school. After realizing that without enough food or warmth or clean water, they aren’t even healthy enough to go to the new school we were paying for, we realized funding education is more than just tuition. So we continued to expand our support, including installing a solar light system at the orphanage so that the children could read and study after dark, could cook and wash dishes in the light, and have home safety generally increase, without 49 children running around with candle stubs.

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Then, in 2015, an earthquake hit Nepal, taking the lives of over 8,000 people and leveling over 5,000 schools. We immediately took to social media and raised enough money in a week to get us in a good position to partner with groups in Nepal to collectively make a difference. We partnered primarily with AFN (Asia Friendship Network), who we had worked with for 5 years already at the orphanage. They have built over 80 schools previously, and together with them, we were granted permission by the Ministry of Education to build 50 schools. An amazing opportunity and daunting at the same time!

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And I’m proud to say, that as I write this, I’m in Kathmandu attending some of our school inauguration ceremonies with our incredible team! We have 6 schools opening before the end of 2017. These schools are built high in the hills, on bumpy roads up to 4 hours from Kathmandu, in communities hit hard by the earthquake. I'm so proud of my team and of this gift of education we are able to give to the beautiful children of Nepal. This is just the beginning. There is so much left to do.

We partnered with SHoP Architects of New York to create safe and inspiring places to learn, with libraries, clean water systems, digital learning tools, and solar lights. These are 21st century schools and they are to serve as symbols of hope and of progress and of love to the villages and communities they are being built in, where people lost family and life on a horrendous level to the earthquake.

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I am also so excited to see the kids I have known for 6 years now at the orphanage. From a distance, it may look like they are lacking so much. But from the inside, they have so much to share, and they teach me something every time. They teach me about perspective that is easy to lose track of in the New York mindset. They teach me about compassion, as they look out for their “brothers and sisters” always making sure, for example, if new shoes come around, but not enough for everyone, that the kids with the most beat up shoes get them first. Not just the kids who arrive first or who get in line first.

They inspire me with their hunger for learning. Their eyes are so big and their minds are so open. They inspire me with their resilience. They fall down and get back up sometimes without any support, as there is not always someone there to say, are you ok? You live with 49 children, you don’t get a band aid every time you fall down. And they inspire me to do better for them. To build a community of support and belief in who they are and what they can become. Andrew and I committed to these children in 2010 and we are not backing down.

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The more the merrier! Get involved and build your own campaign and we will put a plaque at the school with your name on it. $1500 builds a school library. $2000 builds a clean water system. $6000 provides all the school interiors like desks and chairs. And $10,000 provides everything for 1 school. Email us to discuss more, visit our website, and keep up with us on Facebook and Instagram. Namaste. It all begins with education!

Learn more at kidsofkathmandu.org and support their work by donating today.

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