In a country where girls lack access to education and earthquakes have left many families struggling to find food and shelter, every effort toward improving the lives of Nepalese people counts. The Tsering’s Fund is a powerhouse of such efforts.
We recently chatted with its president, Peter J. Schmieding, D.M.D., about the organization’s history, mission and work—as well as ways anyone can get involved. Hope you enjoy our Q&A! If so, stay tuned! We plan to follow Tsering’s Fund along the way.
How did Tsering’s Fund get started?
Tsering’s Fund began over 20 years ago as a private endeavor between my wife Karen Fellerhoff and her dear friend Tsering Dolkar Lama, a Tibetan woman living in Kathmandu. Karen had been spending time in Nepal since graduating from Montana State in 1981 and was involved in four expeditions to Mount Everest during the 1980’s. She was the first woman to ever lead an Everest expedition and went on to climb major peaks worldwide.
In the early days Karen and Tsering, using their own personal funds, began helping a few girls from poor families go to school. This went on until I entered the picture around 1998 and, upon seeing the need and possibilities for a more organized effort, began the process of establishing Tsering’s Fund as a more traditional nonprofit.
What are its main goals?
In 2007 we formally established Tsering’s Fund as a 501 c3 corporation in Montana, allowing us to raise funds worldwide and expand our education efforts. Karen, Tsering and I felt that educating bright young girls from families and situations where they would have few opportunities otherwise would bring the greatest long term benefits, not just to the girls and their families, but for Nepal society as well. The fund has made it possible for donors to directly change a child’s life in a personal way with no overhead or administrative cost.
The devastating earthquakes of last year expanded Tsering’s Fund’s mission to include immediate earthquake relief as well as the much larger project of rebuilding two schools in the Sindhupalchok Region northeast of Kathmandu.
Tell us more about the impact of the earthquakes, and how Tsering’s Fund has responded.
Progress since last year’s earthquakes has been agonizingly slow. There has been very little concerted government effort to rebuild or distribute aid. From what I can gather under 10% of the damage has been rebuilt. The most effective efforts I have seen have been through the work of small private organizations similar to Tsering’s Fund that work outside of the government’s control and have more direct on the ground involvement. Tsering’s Fund has concentrated its earthquake relief efforts on three villages with the majority of the aid being directed toward the village of Dhakalkot in the Sindhupalchok Region northeast of Kathmandu. There we are rebuilding a primary and secondary school as well as providing a medical clinic for the area that will serve thousands. In the months after the quakes we delivered food, medicines, blankets, roofing materials, tents as well as cooking supplies to help the 150 families rebuild their lives. Our school construction fund has raised $80,000 and we are hoping to achieve our goal of $95,000 by year’s end.
You’re also sponsoring two young women, is that right?
Tsering’s Fund’s traditional education projects remain the primary focus however. This year we have over 150 children (90%+ girls) in day or boarding schools all over Nepal. In addition we are now sponsoring two girls in college with one in advanced nursing training and the other studying accounting. Our sponsored nursing student Nima Kanxi Sherpa is in her third year of training and is from a very poor family from Dingboche, a small village high in the Khumbu Valley near the base of Mount Everest. Upon graduation Nima has pledged to return home to help provide primary care to the people in that area.
When you consider the relatively low cost of sponsoring her (Mary Grace Wilkus of Big Sky, Montana is her sponsor) the return on that investment, both for Nima as well as the Sherpa community, will be significant. Tsering’s Fund has plans to expand this program to allow more women to develop careers skills by way of college and also internship training programs.
Tell us about your short and long term goals.
In the short term, we are committed to finishing up our earthquake relief projects and the Dhakalkot school rebuilding. Construction is finally slated to begin in October and all plans have been approved. There is a fundraising goal of an additional $15,000 by year’s end that will need to be met, but we believe that by March of 2017 the schools will be finished and ready for the new school year.
At that time we foresee a near total shift back to education as our primary mission going forward. Our education projects will soon be expanding as we bring new sponsors into our donor network. We plan on working to increase our direct one-on-one sponsorship commitments where donors commit to sponsor a specific child for their entire K-10 education. Besides providing annual donations for the specific children involved, this program allows donors to develop a close connection with the sponsored student, which has led to some remarkable relationships.
In the longer term, we plan to expand our program to find and sponsor many more girls in college and, along with internship training opportunities, providing career opportunities for them.
How can anyone interested learn more?
Tsering’s Fund is a remarkable organization built around a dedicated group of volunteers. With absolutely no administrative costs the Fund provides a perfect vehicle for donors to make a difference in the lives of children in Nepal. Anyone interested in getting involved either by donating money, sponsoring a specific child or actually working in Nepal on Tsering’s Fund projects can contact me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org), visit our website www.tseringsfund.com and follow us on Facebook.
Peter J. Schmieding, D.M.D.
Tsering’s Fund President