September 12, 2017

Lunches with Lucile

Sonnia J. Karlsson

Lunches with Lucile

The late Lucile Flanagan was an exceptional woman of rare strength, beauty and grace who firmly and passionately believed in the power of educating women. She was a successful professional woman, a dear friend and champion of our organization, and through the years she donated often and generously to the Bo M. Karlsson Foundation.

She thoroughly enjoyed receiving our newsletters and having periodic lunches with me to hear the latest news, triumphs and tribulations of our scholars, and to learn more about Nepal and the culture she had become so fond of through my tales and the personal essays our young women wrote as part of their scholarship application process. She loved seeing photos of our recipients, and although she could not quite pronounce some names their sounds thrilled her and she tried to memorize as many as she could.

Lucile’s fervent wish was that her donations go to young Nepalese women pursuing a career in law “so they can help change Nepal’s laws and fight for women’s equality”. In 2016, her dream finally became a reality when we awarded scholarships to three law students in her honor. Sadly, Lucile died in December 2015 without ever meeting the young women who would benefit from her generosity. But her legacy lives on.

A few years ago, Lucile wrote an essay sharing her thoughts on the importance of investing in women’s education and why she had chosen the BMKF as the vehicle to do so. Here is an excerpt from that essay:

“Like everyone else, I have been shocked and sickened at the treatment of women, particularly in rural areas, in poverty stricken countries, in religion dominated (all patriarchal) cultures, in uneducated, isolated communities. But these practices are centuries old… have grown from tradition to become the culture, taught to both boys and girls from birth, and confirmed by every habit they observe in the adults in their lives. How could we possibly change this world when it saturates everything these children know? They have never known anything else.”

“Since the nineteenth century, the history of well-intentioned western philanthropists donating to the poor in developing countries has shown disappointingly short-term results. It warns us of the long-term futility of ignoring the power of the culture. Changing culture is not simply changing a diet or purifying the water, beneficial as these are. But if you learn of someone, someone like yourself, who has gained dignity, respect, ability and eventually power, you have a goal to dream about. And it is easier to follow an example than an utopian abstract idea. An example gives you the comfort of history.”

“This has already begun to happen in Nepal. The first brave, determined girls are on their way to careers that will earn them a decent living, along with the respect education can bring. Throughout the length of their lives, more and more girls will provide examples for others to follow, for others eager for learning, desperate to loosen the tribal knot. The Bo M. Karlsson Foundation is helping make role models and trailblazers! Now we can break out from the slow pace of cultural change. And we can help our girls, these future women and all who will know of them, by opening the road to a lifetime career of dignity for themselves and, role models for other girls to follow.”

“The Bo M. Karlsson Foundation is not fly-by-night altruism or a vast organization needing layers of management. One girl at a time is an achievable goal (as we’ve already shown) with an enormous future return on our investment. It is the right mechanism and the right time.”

“And we educated, comfortable, reasonably well-fed and with discretionary funds available if we take the trouble to arrange things, can at least provide for our role models. We can make it happen. One shows a dozen others how it’s done, the dozen are an example to a hundred more, and the hundred let thousands see that it’s possible. We can give momentum to a movement only waiting for a little help to make a big change.”

You are so missed Lucile, every day. But while I miss you, our lunches and our special friendship, your legacy continues to live through these three young women: Nimiska Pandey, Anisha Gautam and Binita Devkota. They are on their way to becoming lawyers as was your wish – and they will change the future of Nepal, just like you had envisioned.