Some memories from my recent trip to Nepal as I visited family, friends, and the Rukmini Foundation family in Nepal
Part I

After a four month long trip to Nepal, my husband and I arrived back in Pittsburgh on 12th of February. I wanted to share all of my experiences in Nepal, especially my visits with the students as soon as I got back in the US, but it was difficult to begin writing.  For the first few weeks back, I felt sleepy and tired most of the time due to the very long and tiring journey back from Kathmandu.  My anxiety of flying and not being able to sleep on the planes made me feel like I did not want to take another trip back to Nepal, but as I slowly began to get adjusted back to the cold, wintry environment of Pittsburgh, I began missing the good times with my family and also the lovely weather in Kathmandu.

We left for Nepal in early October 2012, initially for 10 weeks. The main purpose of the visit was to see my 88 year-old father-in-law and celebrate Dasain and Tihar, two of the main holidays in Nepal.  This year we had another big reason to be there as we wanted to meet our new Rukmini Foundation family during the festive period.

Rukmini Foundation was about to celebrate its first year of existence in October 11, 2012.  We had just celebrated in Pittsburgh on 4th of October with friends and supporters of the Foundation. After returning back home in Nepal, we had the opportunity to celebrate again on the actual anniversary date – 10.11.12 in Nepal, which coincided on the observance of World Girl Child’s day by the UN. It was just 2 days after we reached Nepal after a very long journey, but we did not feel any fatigue or jet-lag. We were mostly filled with excitement of meeting our extended family, the Rukmini Scholars and foundation staff in Pharping, Nepal.

1st anniversary celebration with the Rukmini Scholars

Very proud to be able to present a new library to the students.To celebrate the foundation’s first birthday, a small program was held at A School for Community (ASC) with some community leaders, Rukmini Foundation staff, school teachers, the girls we were supporting, and their parents. Our Program Manager, Nabin Aryal opened the event by explaining why and how we started the foundation, what we hope to achieve, the challenges we have encountered, and the progress made during the first year of operation. The headmaster of Shikharapur School, Mr. Shyam Shrestha, RF Program Officer Mr. Niroj Shrestha, RF Regional Director Mr. Shashi Sharma and Selection Committee Chairman Mr. Kedar Acharya all expressed their views on how the Foundation has helped the students as well as the school and the community. Mr. Shashi Sharma’s emotional speech about who Rukmini was and Mr. Kedar Acharya’s tribute to Rukmini via a poem made all of our eyes tear up.

My husband and I had our turn to introduce ourselves.  We tried to explain how we have been working in the US to establish a foundation to help underprivileged girls through education.  I talked about how we started by approaching our friends and seeking their help to get Rukmini Foundation started.  It was a nice opportunity for us to let the community know more about the wonderful friends in the US who have donated their time, money, and other materials and services for the foundation.  It made me feel very fortunate to be able to talk about how supportive our friends have been.

Students really enjoyed exploring the new devices

Students really enjoyed exploring the new devices

A very good example of the generosity of our friends was demonstrated when I talked about how some of our friends had wanted to donatereading materials when they learned about the lack of interesting books in the school library.  Carrying heavy books from the US to Nepal was not practical, but the foundation team in the US came up with an idea of sending electronic book (ebook) readers instead. The foundation purchased a Nook to see how it worked and how it could be used by the students.  I was like a little kid myself once I got the new device because I got to test it out.  I downloaded several children’s book as well as other famous works of literature.  Since we wanted this to be usable by students of all ages, we got children’s stories like Three Little Pigs, famous stories like Aesop’s Fables, and some famous works by prominent female authors like Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.   When a few of our friends learned about what we planned to do, they wanted to help by donating additional devices.  Thanks to their generosity, we were able to take 3 devices back with us.

During the anniversary ceremony, I had the privilege of presenting these devices and this brand new library to the Rukmini Foundation scholars and the entire school. After a small demonstration of how the eBooks worked, the students got their hands on it and already seemed very at ease in opening and exploring the new gadgets. It was quite an overwhelming experience for me to see their happy faces as they played with their new libraries.

Happy faces as they play with their new library.

Happy faces as they play with their new library.

The anniversary celebration ended with a beautiful speech by one of our Rukmini Scholars Sarathi. She expressed her gratitude to the foundation by talking about how it has helped her family by easing the financial burden of paying for school.  She mentioned that her family is able to save some money to pay back their family debts. After a group picture, I had a chance to talk one on one with all of the scholars and their parents. The parents expressed their gratitude and thanked the foundation not only for the financial support, but also for the encouragement and attention paid to their daughters. Some parents seemed to have too high of an expectation for what we would be able to provide the students.  I don’t think they realized how small of a foundation we were and what limitations we have. We were able to clear up some of those misconceptions during our conversation, but we also ensure them that we would do everything in our power to provide the best education we could for their girls.  The girls will have to do their part by studying hard and doing as well as they can, but it seemed to me like all of them really wanted to do well.

A group picture with everyone that came to celebrate our anniversary in Pharping, Nepal.

A group picture with everyone that came to celebrate our anniversary in Pharping, Nepal.

I was very happy for those 10 girls who will be graduating high school with the support of the foundation and the guidance of our Didis (mentors). I began to think about my own time going through school and wishing I had this kind of support while I was in school.  In my heart I felt very happy for these girls because they did not have to suffer the humiliation of not having the course books they needed for school or not having any friends to talk to at school.  Nepal has come a long way, but there is still much more to do.  This made me think of one of my favorite poets, Robert Frost, who wrote:

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

– Robert Frost

The 1st anniversary celebration was a great success. Everybody felt very positive about the accomplishments of the foundation during its brief period of existence. As the school was closing for one month for the holidays, we parted feeling very happy and content. I asked all of the girls to meet me so that I would get to know them personally before the holidays ended. They wanted that very much as well. It was a truly wonderful experience for me personally because I got to see how the foundation has had a positive impact on the girls and their families.  It has also had a very positive effect on the entire community. I felt like the celebrations were a great holiday gift to us all in that community.

I will write more about my visit back to Nepal in future blog posts.  I hope you enjoyed reading about my trip as much as I enjoyed remembering it.

Laxmi Aryal

About Laxmi Aryal

Laxmi was the first female in her family to receive an education. While the education she received was limited, she was able to make the best of it and became the first person from her family and village to complete high school, undergraduate studies and eventually a Masters degree. She eventually earned a Masters Degree from the University of Pittsburgh in Public Policy. Hers is an inspirational story that the Rukmini Foundation hopes to replicate. She serves as an inspiration for the foundation and its leadership.
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