Preb Stritter: PCV Who Made A Difference That’s Still Going Strong!

You might be interested to look at just another example of why we went to Nepal. Tune in to David Branccacio’s NOW program on Public Television this coming Friday evening, April 4th [with repeats at other times] – check your local PTV listing for specific times.

NOW will take you out to the far western Dang region to see the Indentured Daughters Program which is sponsored by NYOF  [Nepalese Youth Opportunities Foundation] out of Sausalito, CA [founded by Olga Murray]. Your guide on the trip will be Som Paneru, Director of NYOF programs in Nepal. In the past eight years NYOF has almost completely eradicated in Dang the inhumane custom of bonding little girls away to work as servants for families in distant cities.

I first noticed Som in 1981 when he was a student in my 8th Math class at the High School in Ghympesaal jilla out of Gorkha where Peace Corps had just assigned me to begin my service. Som drew my attention because in that sea of 70 or 80 wiggly students he  stood out by his eagerness to learn. Placing himself in the front row among the girls — while bedlam reigned all around him — Som literally hung over the bench trying to follow my Math lesson. He was the poorest of the poor, a ragged kid from the backside of the mountain, but he was determined to succeed.

Eventually he earned a hillboy scholarship to the Pokhara Boarding School and 3 years later a government stipend to the Tribhuvan campus for 2 years of certification courses as an elementary teacher. Thru the years I kept in touch and subsequently I encouraged him to return to Tribhuvan to complete the BA degree. During that time I asked Olga to keep an eye on him and he began to work part time in one of her orphanages. Later he went out to the Khumbhu as a secondary Math/Sci teacher [“like Madam”].  By this time he had developed an interest in social needs in remote areas. And he continued to work part-time for NYOF. 

The time came when Olga was faced with a crisis when her American NYOF Director suddenly left the project. Casting around for a replacement she invited Som to take over. Since that time NYOF has grown substantially and has developed several innovative programs for handicapped and indigent children in Nepal. Some children are placed in boarding schools or provided with necessary surgery and follow-up care and education. There are two successful orphanages in Patan – one boys’ house and one for girls. The Indentured Daughters Program where girls are “ransomed” with a piglet or goat for the family and allowed to stay home and attend school has expanded to an amazing degree – over 2300 liberated girls so far. The original Nutrition House – where young Mothers and starving babies are brought in for 6 weeks of supervision and training in cooking and feeding by university trained Nepali women nutritionists, sending stick-limbed, crying infants out into the world fattened and laughing with cheer – is rapidly expanding with branch operations in other Nepali cities. And the Indentured Daughters program is moving into other regions of the country. During these ensuing years Som took time out to win a British Council Chevening Fellowship and to complete a Masters Degree in International Child development at the University of Norwich in England.

Som has never directly asked me for anything. But last fall he e-mailed that he was coming to California for the NYOF annual Board meeting and was to give a presentation at Stanford while there. He asked me to come out as he wanted to introduce me as an example of what one ordinary American can do to influence a Nepali hill kid to pull out of poverty and turn around and serve other kids. I was just out of shoulder surgery and still one armed and confined to a demobilizing sling, but I declared a 5-day break to my PT therapist, and boarded a plane to be there for him.

And this is a story I am pleased to share with you as all of you have similar ones to tell of your own PCV experiences.

Namaste, Preb RPCV N/95