About 30 people found themselves in KSC Interim President Melinda Treadwell’s living room last Monday. They squeezed in shoulder-to-shoulder and sat on folding chairs, old furniture and piano benches. They confined themselves to claustrophobia to celebrate two young Nepali girls and the partnership they represented between Keene State College and the Little Sisters Fund of Nepal.
KSC Professor Emeritus Len Fleischer is one of the individuals who is responsible for KSC’s partnership with the Nepali Scholarship fund. “We envision an international partnership of reciprocity between our Keene community and the incredibly vital work of this organization,” he said.
Fleischer’s vision began when he was in Nepal during a massive earthquake in April of 2015. The earthquake was devastating. According to The Atlantic, around 9,000 people were killed and more than 600,000 structures were destroyed.
Fleischer said 10,000 of the destroyed buildings were schools, and the destroyed schools led to a rise in an already prominent rate of sex trafficking of Nepali girls.
Fleischer then got in contact with the Little Sisters Fund, a scholarship fund based out of Nepal that helps underprivileged girls go to grade school in the country.
A girl going to school in Nepal is a big deal. Benajil Rai, one of the first KSC Nepali exchange students and direct beneficiary of the Little Sisters Fund, explained in a presentation the pros and cons of Nepal and its culture.
Rai said Nepal is a beautiful country, has diverse people and has hospitable people. “[But] Nepal has some dark facts,” she said.
Rai’s presentation showed that the education system there is oppressive and ignorant. It revealed that there is discrimination, and typically, only boys really go to school.
It said that Nepali girls are viewed as “financial black holes,” people who suck up money without any payoff.
The Little Sister’s Fund seeks to counter those conceptions by educating and empowering young Nepali women.
Rai said she wasn’t going to school when her father founded the Little Sister’s program. Without them, her education may have ended at grade three.
Rai said before she was accepted into the program, she had to go through a background check to make sure her family was financially disadvantaged. The fund does this to make sure it’s giving money to families that actually need it.
KSC Professor of Environmental Studies, Dr. Renate Gebauer, participated in Fleischer’s vision of international partnership by taking honors program students to study in Nepal. She said she has been going to Nepal since 2010 and takes students every two years.
The last time she visited Nepal, she visited one of the schools that the Little Sisters Fund operates out of. According to the Little Sisters Fund website, the organization serves 2,113 girls in the program in 70 schools in 20 school districts in Nepal. There are nine girls studying in the U.S. through the program.
Gebauer said she feels very highly of the school she visited, and that the schools do a lot to strengthen confidence and dignity. “They’re really doing a lot to make a difference,” she said.
She said she likes that they recognize sending a kid to school is not enough. The schools that are run by the Little Sisters Fund goes as far as making sure the children get the right amount of vitamins to stay healthy.
Gebauer also said it is important that the organization is run by Nepali people. She said she thinks it causes less confusion and means more than it would if westerners came in and ran the organization. “Even though I know a lot about Nepal, I think I would make a lot of mistakes, even with good intentions.”
Fleisher and Gebauer said they hope to continue and grow the mutual exchange between the Little Sisters Fund and KSC.
“The main reason I do all my work in Nepal,” Gebauer said, “is because we can learn so much. Just because someone is poor doesn’t mean they are uneducated.”
Editors note: Both Benajil Rai and Puja Thapa work as staff photographers for The Equinox.
Alex Fleming can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org