I wrestled with these thoughts while I made a bid to volunteer as a photographer with the Nepal Youth Foundation – NYF, an organization that focused on providing help to needy children in Kathmandu, Nepal.
I made the call and well, they said, “YES!” That one phone call set a cascade of events that changed my life path and the lives of thousands of others in Nepal.
It was 1997, the first time I stepped foot in Nepal. I was excited, nervous, uncertain, and didn’t know what to expect my first volunteer trip as a photographer for NYF. It was on this maiden journey to Nepal I met some remarkable people that have played a crucial role in laying the foundation for The Rose International Fund for Children (TRIFC.) Nirmala Gyawali was a 15-year-old student at the time, who happened to be blind. What struck me most about her was that she was just as capable as everyone else and thrived in her environment despite her lack of vision, the negative social stigma associated with her condition, and lack of proper support services. Her abilities really left quite an impression with me. On this trip I also was introduced to Mr. Rabendra Raj Pandey aka R.R., a like-minded Nepali man. We bonded over that fact we were both Rotarians and our mutual passion to help those in need.
When I returned back home to Bellevue, Washington I could not help but think about my experiences in Nepal and how it created a fundamental change within me. Upon reflection I realized that I wanted to do more than volunteer and take photographs. So with my new friend R.R., I began traveling further into my life path of helping children in Nepal.
I remember our first project clearly. We had heard about a boy’s orphanage in Kathmandu where the children were getting sick constantly. Through further investigation we discovered that the children were contracting water borne illnesses. These illnesses were being transmitted through water where a drainage issue was contaminating the water source. R.R. and I knew we had to do something to improve this situation and we sprang into action. With our connections to the Patan Rotary Club, R.R. and I were able to raise $14,000. With this money we were able to fix the drainage problem and as a direct result we were able to significantly decrease the cases of water-borne illnesses at the orphanage during the rainy season. That was our first success; R.R. and I knew that we wanted to contribute more especially within the space of individuals with developmental disabilities. Since our first project, we have hosted and organized a series of successful fundraising campaigns and projects through Rotary matching grants focusing on individuals with disabilities.
By 2006, our efforts and scope of projects had grown considerably. I was confident that with our past project successes and experiences we were ready to embark on bigger challenges that would have a larger impact. Having worked with individuals with disabilities in Nepal, R.R. and I were aware of the social stigma associated with having a disability and we realized that there was a significant lack of support services and resources for these individuals. This inspired me to create The Rose International Fund for Children (TRIFC), an organization that focuses on children with disabilities. At TRIFC we foster hope, compassion, and opportunity for individuals with disabilities in Nepal. Since launching we have built a braille book library, provided funding for orthopedic surgeries, prosthetics and medical support, nutritional (food) support, educational support and sponsorship and empowerment programs for individuals with disabilities. Since then we have aided in starting a sister organization, The Ability Development Society of Nepal (ADSoN) in Kathmandu, Nepal. Nirmala Gyawali, the student who was blind I met 15 years ago is now ADSoN’s executive director! We continue to provide funds, opportunities, and pilot and launch new programs in Nepal. One of our goals is to expand and continue to provide services and support to those in need throughout Kathmandu and eventually throughout Nepal. It is my hope that one day that individuals with disabilities in Nepal are seen as independent people who are not defined by what they lack but by what they have. We are slowly getting there.
It has been 18 years since I made that fateful phone call. I never imagined that a single phone call could change my life path so dramatically. Since that call I have made lasting friendships, created and launched multiple projects, and two major non-profit organizations TRIFC and ADSoN, which has made a difference in thousands of lives. To this day I remain excited and nervous, like the first time I stepped off the airplane in Nepal, but this time I am certain that our work will have a positive impact in the realm of disability in Nepal and I look forward to seeing where my life path will take me next.