Tuesday, February 22, 2011

we're fine, folks!

Just wanted to let everyone know that Ben and I are fine- still in New Zealand, but about 7 hours away from the Christchurch earthquake. More later....

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Off to Nepal soon!

Dear Family and Friends,

If ya already got this in an email, you don't have to read it again! 


As most of you know, three years ago I traveled to Nepal to volunteer at the Harka Self-Sustaining Orphan Home in Chitwan. During the three months I spent at the orphanage, I found myself in a myriad of situations- from completely overwhelmed to wholly thankful. I traveled with friend Rebecca Smith, and though we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, we both knew that we wanted to work with children.


The children that we worked with, and the experience of living in the orphanage changed our lives. Over our time at Harka, we went from outsiders to big sisters. Not speaking any Nepali (and no one at the orphanage speaking any English), we created a language that led us to understanding with the 17 children. We were the first volunteers to the orphanage who stayed longer than two weeks. It took a while to get over the rift that had been created by other volunteers, unintentionally, by staying for such short periods of time. The children had come to view others, especially international volunteers, as transient beings and never became close to them. I remember distinctly the night that Sirjana, the eldest girl at the home, followed me outside after I said goodnight to the children, and gave me a hug. “Good night, Didi” (big sister). 


To have children, especially abandoned children, put their trust and love in your hands is not something to be taken lightly. When Rebecca and I left the orphanage, the children asked when we would be back. We figured two years to be a feasible time frame, and promised to return then. It has now been three years for me (Rebecca visited this past July), and I feel as though I am in a place financially where I can splurge on a plane ticket to Kathmandu again! There has not been a week that goes by where I don’t think about the children at Harka, and thinking about going back is just as overwhelming and exciting as going for the first time.


As a volunteer, my main task will be to care for and entertain the children (which isn’t very hard, let me tell you!). Laxmi, the orphanage director, works 7 days a week to feed, clothe, and support the 17 children at the home, while two houseparents monitor them on a daily basis. My only hope as a volunteer is to provide them a little bit of a break! However, as a volunteer I will also provide crucial funds necessary to start small projects at the Harka, projects that Laxmi cannot afford on her own. In 2008, our donation funded a new toilet facility with piped water- a large improvement in sanitation from the previous toilet. When Rebecca visited this past July, she raised enough money to purchase and install a solar panel- the first of its kind in the village!


There have been many projects, small and large, that have taken place in the three years since I was at Harka, all funded by volunteer donations. There is a new building, with several bedrooms, so that all 17 children don’t have to sleep in the same room. There are more animals, and there is even a shower room! Laxmi always has a new idea up her sleeve to help improve the home and make it more sustainable. Her ultimate goal, of course, is to have it entirely self-sufficient. An amazing woman, who has dedicated the rest of her life to supporting and loving children that are not her own, she deserves something in return.


This time around, I would like to fundraise for a new scooter for Laxmi. When we were at Harka in 2008, Laxmi zipped around town, to and from work, on a little purple scooter (see attached photo). The mobility of her own transportation allowed her to visit the children frequently, keep tabs on the orphanage itself, and still maintain her job in town. However, Rebecca noted that while visiting in July, Laxmi’s scooter was no longer around.  Due to her lack of transportation, she is unable to visit the children as often, and when she does, it is costly. Paying for tempos and taxis is not cheap, and takes a long time, cutting into valuable hours that she could be working. Being a mother herself, she would never think of putting herself and her needs first, but in this situation, a new scooter would allow her to be more attentive to the well being of her children, and that benefits everyone.


A used scooter in Nepal is around $800 USD, while a new one is around $1100. The volunteer “fee” is normally $350, but if I could just raise that little bit extra- we could provide a wonderful woman, who has dedicated her life to the children of Harka, the small gift of mobility, something we often take for granted. 

Thank you all for being such great supporters of my efforts around the world!



Donations may either be deposited into my account (email me for info) or mailed to Lynette Schroeter, 4120 N Springfield, Chicago, IL 60618 (I am currently in New Zealand) 

While in Nepal, March 6-April 19, please follow my blog here! I plan to work more on personal photojournalism projects, and write more about Laxmi’s history and the founding of Harka. I also plan to visit a project that I found out about while in New Zealand, a NZ based non-profit that works in the Eastern Himalayan region and is aimed at young mother and early childhood development: www.firststepshimalaya.org