March 18, 2014

BMKF 10th Anniversary in Nepal

Erin Inclan
BMKF Communications/Education Committee

Namaste from Nepal! Now midway through March and our one-month trip to Nepal, Sonnia and I have had a group meeting with nearly all of our current scholarship recipients. We are continuing to meet students and alumnae one-on-one and in small groups to learn as much as we can about these young women and their personal circumstances. In our free time, we dash hither and thither to meet with other NGO organizers and help problem solve with BMKF’s fabulous volunteer Nepal Country Director, Daya Rimal, and the Mahilaa Sikshya Nidi board (BMKF’s Nepali sister organization).

BMKF Tenth Anniversary Luncheon at Shangri-La

On Saturday, March 8, Sonnia, Daya and I hosted a lively luncheon at the Hotel Shangri-La with nearly all of our current scholarship recipients and several alumnae—28 young women, the largest Bo M. Karlsson Foundation Scholarship gathering to date!

This was the first time BMKF students from remote regions were able to participate, and they arrived in Kathmandu the day before, traveling from four to 24 hours by overnight bus from Hetauda, Pokhara, Pyuthan, Terai, and the Makalu area. After they rested and washed up, we took them on a walk to Durbar Square. (Happily none of us were run over by a rickshaw in the Thamel area’s narrow, people- and vehicle-packed “roads.”)

Rumor has it some students were nervous about meeting us and many feared a series of boring speeches. Not to worry! At the luncheon on Saturday, we skipped the speeches. Instead, we asked students to pair off, interview, and introduce each other. This gave us a chance to talk intimately and learn about each other (including everyone’s favorite color, role model, and love life, as well as academic major and career goal). We also celebrated the 13th birthday of Daya’s daughter Christina. Topala from Pyuthan said it was an honor to eat cake with Christina, a cherished memory to take home.

Culture, climate, and connections

The day wasn’t over yet! After lunch, we packed everyone into four tiny taxis, Daya’s car, and Grishma’s scooter to go see the Climate + Change exhibit at Nepal Arts Council. Through stunning photography and sobering stories, we learned about how climate change is impacting the Himalayas and the many communities throughout Nepal that depend upon rivers and wetlands. The Nepal Arts staff was so kind, they carried Yami’s wheelchair up three flights of stairs!

We also met with NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati, founder and director of Photo.Circle (a forum for emerging Nepali photographers), the Nepal Picture Library (a digital archive), and other projects. NayanTara spoke about socio-ethnographic photography, including her work on human rights issues. Everyone came away inspired by this “innovator,” who also offered her support as a resource, reference, and mentor. One student from the Terai now wants to document her indigenous Tharu community through a historic photo project.

Later, Sonnia and I enjoyed a dal bhat dinner with our 12 rural students—and they sang for us! We recorded some short videos, including solos from Srijana, Anita, and Samjhauta. (Check the BMKF Facebook page to hear a song.) At the end of the day, Topala declared, “I feel as though I’ve climbed Mt. Everest!”

Stupas, kurtas, and next steps

For the rest of our stay, Sonnia and I will continue to meet with students. Our goal is to interview everyone. We’re also trying to give each student a special treat. We’ve purchased new kurtas (the traditional tunic and trousers outfit) for some. We took the out-of-town students on a tour of Kathmandu’s famous Hindu and Buddhist stupas (religious sites) and also to the historic city of Bhaktapur. We visited Saraswoti’s small public health college and met one of her professors. We are also working with several students to provide advice and support for challenges ranging from financial circumstances, to health issues, to graduate school searches.

Nepal is a beautiful country and the people are so kind and patient, but life here is hard. We continue to marvel at the strength, grace, and resilience of these young women.