As our jet plane took off and climbed five thousand, ten thousand and then eighteen thousand feet, I realized in awe that only a few days ago I had been at almost the same altitude as the plane. It was a wild thought. Almost a little frightening.
As I looked down, out the airplane windows, I finally was able to conceptualize how high 18,000 feet truly is. The buildings became smaller and smaller, the cars like ants lining the roads. The vastness of the green, voluptuous rice fields stacked one on top of the other, bursting in color and life. Then, for the last time, I saw the godlike, mighty Himalayas, strikingly beautiful, like a mirage of flying towers soaring upwards into the heavens of the sky. I had to pinch myself to believe that I was really here and had really been there. It was all like a dream.
Months before I left for Nepal, I made a decision that I no longer wanted to be simply a tourist that visited a country, enriched myself in all its culture and beauty, and left nothing in return, no gift behind. My new way of thinking all began on a recent trip I made which was different from anything else I’d ever done: A volunteer trip to work in Costa Rica. Although I was only there for one week, the impact volunteering made on my life and the people I helped during that short time led me to believe strongly that you must give back. You receive a gift when you travel, and it is important to give one back.
I wracked my brain for different ways I could raise money. I knew that I wanted to donate money to a non-profit organization that focuses on education in Nepal. After reading several inspirational books on education in poverty-stricken lands (Two Cups of Tea, Stones into Schools, Half the Sky), I knew that this was the area to attack. I searched Lonely Planet who has an excellent listing of non-profit organizations as well as volunteer opportunities, and found just the organization I was looking for: READ Nepal.
READ Nepal is part of READ Global (http://www.readglobal.org/). Here is a summary of what they do:
READ Global pioneered the concept of sustainability as an international development organization dedicated to combining education and private enterprise to make rural communities viable places to learn, build, and prosper. READ partners with rural communities to create, sustain and grow projects in a manner that is politically and culturally appropriate. READ has helped establish forty nine Community Library and Resource Centers paired with for-profit enterprises throughout Nepal and India that serve over a half million people annually and has also recently opened up a center in Bhutan.
Finding the right organization was the easy part. The hard part was figuring out how a “thirdeyemom” could raise the money. A mom, who had voluntarily left the workplace to raise her two young children (aka a mom with no income). Of course we could just write a check out of our own money but that didn’t feel right. I wanted to earn the money. Furthermore, I wanted to involve my children in the process so they could learn the importance of giving back.
That was where my creative thinking came into play. It was summer in Minnesota—-a time to be outdoors, out of our long winter’s hibernation, and back into the world again enjoying our 10,000+ lakes, beautiful parks and nature. There was no school for the children. Thus opportunities lurked. Why not host a “babysitting extravaganza” all in the name of charity, at my house? I sent out the email to my group of trusted friends with small children. Parents who knew what I was doing and who also wanted a break. I set up three Friday morning playgroups with ten children each ages 5 and under (yes I’m crazy), with a suggested donation of $10 per child. A pretty good deal when you consider it usually costs at least $10 per hour for a sitter. It worked great (except for the huge mess I had to clean up afterwards). I was able to raise almost $300, which was only $200 shy of my initial goal of raising $500 for READ Nepal. Hurrah!
After the initial joy of raising the money, I realized that I still had to figure out how I would earn the rest. That was when I came up with the idea of having a “lemonade sale” on the corner of our street. This may sound funny to people who don’t live in the United States but it is one of the trademark events of childhood. Every American child at some time in their life have a lemonade stand in which passing people stop to purchase an ice-cold glass of lemonade on a hot summer day. It is a tradition. So why not do one for charity? I made four pitchers of ice cold lemonade, some handmade signs and we set up shop on the corner of our street with hopes of staying until we sold it all. Unfortunately sales were very slow despite the singing, shouting and jumping up and down of my 4 year-old blond-haired daughter. My six-year-old son quickly became bored. After making a disappointing $25 we closed the stand and drank the remainder of the lemonade. Not such a great idea after all.
Summer was quickly ending and my trip to Nepal was rapidly approaching. I was well short of my goal but didn’t give up. My last ditch effort was the all-American yard sale. Again, for those not familiar with the American “Garage Sale” or “yard sale”, let me explain. Basically you go through all your closets, boxes, and drawers and gather up all the stuff you don’t need or use anymore, and place it in a pile. You meticulously go through each item, one by one and put a ridiculously low price on the item. Then you haul all the items outside either to your garage or your yard, place up a few advertisements (aka homemade signs) around town, and wait. Believe it or not, people go absolutely NUTS about garage sales. They are out at the crack of dawn, sneaking around like cats trying to get the best deal they possibly can. Before I had even set up all my tables of stuff, they were knocking on my door trying to get a deal. It was pathetic in a sense. My large sign said “all proceeds are being donated to charity” yet people still tried to weasel down the price. Go figure! After three hours, the sales piled in and my old “junk” was packed away in other people’s cars, to be used or stored in their house. The garage sale wound up being a huge success and brought my total up to $550, well past my goal!
Exhausted, I cleaned up the remaining items and my husband packed everything up to donate to a local charity. I had met my goal and felt proud. But little did I know there were others (friends, family, neighbors, etc) who noticed my effort and contributed to the cause. The money raised eventually made it to $2,000 which was matched by my husband’s employer, bringing the total donation to READ Nepal up to $4,000! Wow, just like that a small idea ended up being a big help. The funds were donated a week before I boarded the plane to Kathmandu. READ Nepal was delighted with the donation and informed me that the money would be more than enough to open up an entire library and reading center in rural Nepal. The gift was given and I realized that it is the things you do for others in life that make you feel the best.
The beautiful smile of a young child in rural Nepal: