Many people have asked us about how we came to sponsor Resmi. The short story in our travel blog just gave a summary of the facts, and since we know we’ll be asked again and again as more wonderful people support “Jackets for Jasper”, here is a little more ‘behind the scenes’ information.
When we first left for Nepal, it was to make a personal dream come true: see and hike in the highest mountains in the world. Other than Nepal’s famed geography, we both knew very little about the place that was to become so important to us.
But, in our two long treks during the 2 months we spent in the country, we spent as much time as possible in the kitchens of the lodges and tea houses along our route: these are the hearth and heart of each place, the location where the entire family socializes and cooks, for their guests and for themselves. With the company of our Nepali-speaking guides (one of whom is Kamal, Jasper’s dad), we spent many entertaining hours surrounding by the whirlwind of constant food production. We enjoyed bantering with lodge owners and their families and other visiting porters in a crazy mixture of English, Nepali and charades. And of course, the kitchen always had a fire lit, so as the season crept from autumn into winter, the kitchens were the only place to be warm!
It did not take long for us to become aware, through observation and some some simple conversations in broken English, that the education and support of Nepali children is not being handled by the Nepali education system. Although there are schools in many of the hill-country villages, most have neither desks, supplies nor even a teacher, especially during the monsoon season when travel is severely restricted due to landslides and impassable roads. Rather, many children – especially those lucky enough to live along popular trekking routes – have their educations supported by foreigners who passed through the region and said “yes” when asked by the child’s parents if they would become a “sponsor”.
It is important to understand that there is nothing official about this network of spontaneous generosity: these foreigners are dealing directly with the family they agreed to support, and there is no “system”, “charitable status” or “formality” to any of these arrangements. But in almost every lodge we visited, we saw photos placed in prominent positions of foreigners smiling into the camera, sometimes with the very Nepali children that were running around the lodge while we were there!
As autumn progressed, the festival season of Dashain and Tihar came to an end, and all of a sudden, villages that had been so full of children running around, helping their parents, laughing and testing their rudimentary English out of any passing tourist…. were empty of youth. It was odd. Where did all the kids go? Well, as we were on popular trekking routes, most families had found foreign sponsors for their children, and so the kids were off to attend school. And the schools are mostly boarding schools down in the valleys closer to major population centres, like Banepa, Kathmandu or Pokara. The children that remained in the villages helping their parents with the harvests, food preparation and animal-care were all those who were not getting the opportunity to obtain an education other than the kind they receive from their extended families in the subsidence agriculture that supports them.
So… fast forward to the end of our second trek, which was guided by Kamal. It was after this 3-week trek that we were invited to Kamal’s wife’s village. We rearranged our plans to take advantage of this lovely opportunity, and it was on this short trip that everything changed.
Resmi was being raised by her grandparents while her mother was gone from dawn to dark foraging for animal fodder in the far-off hills and her father worked in Kathmandu to raise funds for the family. And it was with her grandparents, and cousins and brother and uncles and aunties that we spent our time in the village, laughing and dancing and trying our best to communicate despite a language gap. And, so when Kamal translated for us that Resmi’s grandfather would like for her to be able to attend school and that he would like to ask us to be sponsors, it did not seems like an odd request. We’d seen foreign sponsorship of children all through the middle hills on all our treks and now the same was being asked of us.
I’m going to leave out all the parts of our decision-making that had us grappling with the ethical questions that arise from boarding school educations for young children away from their parents. We still grapple with these hard questions, but in the end it came down to this: Resmi’s grandparents, her primary caregivers, want this for their grand-daughter, and we are in a position to be able to make their wish come to reality.
So, we went to Nepal to make our own dreams come true, but we ended up helping to make dreams come true for our guide’s extended family and for Resmi. And now it’s as if half of North Vancouver is helping us help, too! It’s funny, but wonderful, how the world works.