February 1, 2013

The Bo M. Karlsson Foundation: Supporting Women in Nepal Through Empowerment

Article written for Friends of Asian Art Association’s Newsletter

Bipasana Sakya Joshee
BMKF board president (2011-2013)

The Bo M. Karlsson Foundation is a beautiful example of how individuals are inspired to support the dreams of others they may not only have never met but that live in parts of the world they may have never been to.  They are drawn to connect through a simple human compassion that transcends geographic boundaries.  The feeling is perhaps not dissimilar to the way people are moved to emotion in response to art from cultures that are totally foreign to them.  The fostering of this appreciation is one of the values that connect the Friends of Asian Art Association and the Bo M. Karlsson Foundation.

The Bo M. Karlsson Foundation’s mission is to “empower the women of Nepal through higher education” and our contribution is as much to the emotional fostering of empowerment as it is to the financial support of our recipients’ tuition.  One of the most common global injustices is the lack of compassion shown by societies to their women.  Until a few years ago, childbirth was the leading cause of death among young women in Nepal.  Today it is suicide.  Preliminary studies indicate that pressure and abuse within family relationships, which reflect wider societal gender discrimination, is a leading cause.  Almost all Nepali women face some degree of oppression for their gender and, for a growing number, the degradation of hope that it causes is proving to be lethal.

The Bo M. Karlsson Foundation provides financial support for higher education to young women in Nepal who we identify as coming from economically and socially depressed backgrounds, women who without our help would not be able to access this critical resource.  While there are a number of wonderful organizations that support education for younger girls in Nepal, we are the only one of our kind that focuses on higher education.  Through a supportive network of in country advisors and board members, particularly founding board member Sonnia Karlsson, our recipients have a sounding board to help them work through the continued life struggles they encounter as they pursue their educational dreams.  All of our scholarship recipients have personal stories that are mired in varying degrees of poverty and the hopelessness of systemic and familial oppression.  We support these women to train as engineers, nurses and teachers.  This access to higher education empowers them with more than skills learned: it cultivates confidence and hope from having the tools to control one’s direction in life.

The Bo M. Karlsson Foundation transforms the compassion our board members and donors have for young women facing poverty and inequality, into action that helps correct the injustices they face. We are so fortunate to have a donor base that is moved to convert their passion into financial support and we strive to engage them throughout the year through quarterly newsletters, social media and personal meetings with board members, particularly founding board member Sonnia Karlsson.  Our annual Mahilaa Night Dinner & Auction is a larger opportunity not only to showcase the progress of our organization and the success of our scholarship recipients but also to share about the culture that they come from.  Mahilaa is the Nepali word for women and the fundraiser is Nepali themed with cultural dance programs and an authentic Nepali meal eaten on Saal leaf plates.  Our auction items feature handmade silver jewelry and Thangkas (Buddhist paintings on silk) created by Nepali artisans.  Guests mingle with members of Seattle’s Nepali community, many of whom volunteer their time to help run the event.  The cultural and organizational celebration that Mahilaa Night is reminds us of two simple pleasures that connect humanity — the pursuit of dreams and the appreciation of artistic expression.