Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Adversity unhinged

Little Sisters Fund reroutes future for Nepalese girls

Express Staff Writer

Trevor Patzor’s Little Sisters Fund received the Unsung Heroes of Compassion Award, given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama for its work.
Photo by Debby Ng Potato Productions, Singapore

    With his Little Sisters Fund, Trevor Patzer has created a training center in overcoming adversity.
    “Every single girl that we keep in school and away from child labor, child marriage and child trafficking is our biggest triumph,” he says of his program in Nepal. “Every day that our girls are in school is a huge success. Not to mention that our girls are doing incredibly well both in school and out of school fairing amazingly well after they complete their schooling as nurses, engineers, accountants, teachers, non-profit workers and private sector workers.”
    Patzer was in town this week to spread the word and raise funding for the program, which most recently celebrated the success of Kriti Hada and Sapana Ohja, who in early August arrived in Virginia to start their four-year, full-tuition scholarships at Shenandoah University.
    The Wood River Valley native fielded some questions about the program in advance of his appearance, but the story had to be delayed because of the Beaver Creek Fire. Here are some of his remarks.

IME: What was the moment that sparked you into action?
Patzer: I went to Hemingway and Wood River Junior High School and was given the gift of education by a family friend who offered that if I got accepted into boarding school for high school in Concord, N.H., St. Paul’s School, he would support my education there. In the fall of 1989, I left Ketchum for St. Paul’s School and that
experience changed my life profoundly. He gave me the second greatest gift of all (love being the most important gift of all). Ric gave me the gift of education. The saying comes to mind that if you give a person a fish, they eat for a day. If you teach a person how to fish, they can feed their family for a lifetime. Ric taught me how to fish and at the Little Sisters Fund we strive to do the same.
    I did not realize it at the time, but the seeds for my work with the Little Sisters Fund were planted back in 1989 through Ric’s generosity. From my first day at St. Paul’s I wanted to “pay it forward” by helping someone else in the future go to school at St. Paul’s. This desire to give the gift of education ended up manifesting itself in Nepal.

That seed took what form then?
    In 1998, I took a trip to Nepal and trekked to Everest Base Camp. Upon my return to Kathmandu, I stayed with a Nepalese family I had met years before in New York City. As it turns out, the wife, Usha Acharya is one of if not the world’s expert on the rights of children and education in Nepal. Usha has written multiple books and articles on the state of education in Nepal and today she runs our efforts in Nepal. She is the authority and she is remarkable.
    In the fall of 1989, I asked Usha if I could sponsor the education of a child and she said I could sponsor a girl and introduced me to the plight of women and girls in Nepal. Usha introduced me to Bindhaya and I committed on the spot to supporting her complete education, as my sponsor had done for me. That was in October, 1998 and Bindhaya was the first Little Sister. Today we support the long term education, guidance and mentoring of 1,250 girls in Nepal. Today, Bindhaya is a nurse and makes more in a month than her father makes all year.

What have been the biggest hurdles so far?
    There have been a couple of challenges. The first is fundraising. We run an incredibly dynamic, efficient and effective program and to date we have helped over 1,500 girls in Nepal. We have a remarkable team of six talented and compassionate education specialists in Nepal. Our only limitation in what we can accomplish as an organization boils down to finances. We can break the cycle of poverty and ignorance in 10 years through the gift of education. Our model has the potential to change Nepal and other countries assuming we can find the funding.
    Another challenge was the 10- to 12-year Nepalese civil war, or Maoist insurgency. During that time, the majority of NGOs in Nepal shut down. We on the other hand increased the number of girls on scholarship ten-fold. We did this through tremendous grass-roots support in Nepal on both sides of the conflict. The government liked us because we help those most in need. The Maoists liked us for the same reason. Thus, we were able to continue our work, not without challenges, but to continue nevertheless because of our broad-based support.

What’s been the biggest
    A huge triumph is that through education when you ask our girls if they want to get married they will say “Yes, someday.” When you ask them when, they reply, “When I am 25 of so—after I complete my education and have a job.”
    That is a huge change in a country where in rural areas up to 40 percent of girls are married by the age of 14 and over half of girls in rural Nepal are either pregnant or have children by the age of 16.
    Additionally, if you ask our girls if they want to someday have children, they will say, “Yes.” If you ask them how many children they want to have, they will respond by saying one or two, depending on their career and situation. This is a huge transformation and step forward in female rights and empowerment for a developing world nation like Nepal.
    Finally, this year, 50 of our girls took the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exam upon completion of the 10th grade. All students in Nepal take the SLC and less than half pass and only 36 percent of girls pass.
    We had a 100 percent success rate and what’s more, nationally, only 10 percent of test takers scored “Distinction.” The LSF had a 34 percent “Distinction” rate (17 of 50 Little Sisters). Forty-five percent of test takers scored 1st Division. The LSF had a 58 percent 1st Division result (29 of 50 Little Sisters). Thus, 92 percent of Little Sisters taking the SLC scored either Distinction or 1st Division.

What’s been the biggest unanticipated result?
    Beyond this year’s SLC results highlighted above and the fact that we have over a 99 percent year-on-year continuation rate, in 2012 we received Nepal’s highest award of recognition for our work. We did not see that coming.

Why not do something
    The reason we work in Nepal is that for a tiny fraction of the money, we can save and change the lives of Little Sisters in Nepal. My boarding school currently costs over $50,000 a year. For that same $50,000, we can educate and keep over 250 Little Sisters in school.
    Plus, if I had not gone to St. Paul’s, I still would have gone to college. If Little Sisters are not helped, their alternatives are child labor, child marriage and child trafficking for sexual exploitation. This is not to say that we don’t have our challenges in the U.S. That said, I believe everyone chooses their passion and path in life. For me, that passion and path is female education in Nepal.

Where do you get your drive?
    I get my drive and inspiration from multiple places, first and foremost from the Little Sisters in Nepal. Secondly, I am so grateful and so inspired by our supporters, from Emily, an 8-year-old selling lemonade in Oakland to help sponsor a Little Sister, to our partners in Sun Valley and Los Angeles and France and Singapore and everywhere in between. Our donors are the true unsung heroes—they are the ones who make our work possible. Our Nepal Team and I only serve as catalysts. What we are able to accomplish is only possible through the generosity and compassion of our supporters. And, of course, my family and their never-ending love and support fuel my drive.

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