The Oda Project

Essential healthcare and education - giving Nepali communities in extreme poverty a fighting chance

Leaving, by Radha Bhatnagar, 2018-2019 Operations and Health Fellow

There is a hill across the way. It is the last hill I see before I go to sleep and at night, the hill is so tall and dark and the lights so bright that it seems to be an extension of beautiful night sky. The lights become magical entities. Half of me sees them as stars, distant and gleaming. The other half of me knows that with each light is a home and a hearth and a family.

            When we first came, that hill had almost no lights. There were many villages, but the only things you could see were the two or three bulbs of the lucky and the fires of a few. Now, the hillside is speckled with light. An initiative happened that updated each house with solar panels. And when I look upon this hill, I am reminded of how quickly things change. Our organization has grown in number, since the beginning of my stay. We have started community health programming and women’s development initiatives. We have undertaken a big collaboration with a government school. And as my time wraps up, my mind wanders to the inevitable: have I left this village better than when I came and have they left me all the better for it? I have no doubt that my professional work was helpful and impactful in some way. I find it deeply meaningful and I have helped the organization grow sustainably, as well as growing professionally myself. At this point of my fellowship, the heart and the mind are more focused on the personal and so I will delve into some of the connections I have made here.

            The first friends are always the kids. While they do house and fieldwork, too, they are more carefree. They have more time and they want to spend it with any new person. My relationship with all the children started off with simple games. A child pretends to cut off my fingers and I deftly hide them away. I slowly approach with hands extended until I pounce with the ferocity of the tickle monster. These were the games I played and soon I became known for them (you can ask Lucy and Nick how annoying it became when kids were constantly approaching us to play). The light playfulness turned into small conversations. It turned into little day trips--to the river, to the snow, to other villages-- with slightly older kids and constant hand-holding with the smaller kids. Wanting to dance and to run and to sit together. It became apparent that something had changed when I tried to play the tickle game with a young one. He was a nursery student known for being very disruptive and naughty. I loved him because he was trying his hardest and he was just a small kid with big troubles who needed more attention. The goal of the game is to run away from the tickle monster and instead he began to run into my arms, not letting me go. We had played this game so many times before, but each time after he just wanted to be held. By the end of my time, some of our other students would give me so many hugs and kisses, it would make my head spin. They, all of them, are brilliant, fun, and adorable kids. Children who cared less about caste than their parents do and who will do so well in the future. And no matter how much little ones can try your patience, whether accidentally or otherwise, each moment was a precious one.

            The kitchen staff are your second friends. They are the ever hardworking, thoughtful women who make sure you eat enough and drink enough and sleep enough. Their immediate and apparent kindness is what builds that first connection. And, as I spent more time with them, it became so much more. In truth, they are the real teachers of my Nepali. It is through their everlasting patience that I learned, word by word and phrase by phrase, as much as I did. And as my Nepali got better, our conversations moved from the simple and the everyday. It became talking about our families, our lives, our pain. We have danced together and laughed together and cried together. They taught us about the village and shared gossip and even confessions. They constantly and secretly spoiled us with the best foods. It is difficult to put into words what their company, their trust, and their love mean to me. They are my own sisters. And because of this, I wanted to give something back to them and I started an adult literacy class. It was then that I could see just how brilliant they are. I had always known they were brilliant in the non-academic way. Amazing at their jobs, filled to the brim with common sense and home remedies, extremely resourceful. They had never been to school or held pencils, really. People had told them all their lives that they could never learn and they didn’t have the minds for it. But as soon as I put one into their hands, they ran with it. They learned and remembered everything and wanted to have class as much as possible. I cried when I saw one of them write her name quickly and confidently in a meeting, when she read a sign for the first time. They are genuinely some of the best people I know.

            Another set of my own sisters is my nearest and dearest youth group girls. At first, the relationship was stiff. I was a facilitator and they were students. Over the nine months, I got to know them all individually. What they believed in, their quirks, their personalities. They are the poorest of the poor in the village. Of caste, they are the lowest of the low. “Untouchables” who aren’t allowed into temples or to bump into someone’s water container, because it will spoil it. We know of an “untouchable” man who built a house for a high caste family. He had to build it from the inside out, because once it’s finished, he wasn’t allowed to enter. Lucy and I never bought into this, of course, but it is so ingrained in who they are, that they are always very careful. When Lucy and I felt close enough to them, we asked if we could hug them. I asked if I could kiss them on the cheek. From then on, it changed. They were unguarded. Goofing off in front of us, telling us intimate stories and their dreams. I began to visit their house ungodly often, sometimes with an excuse and sometimes not. We just sat and talked and danced. When I was leaving, I cried so much. For those of you who do not speak Nepali, there is a word, “raamro.” I have never known a word to be so easy and so frustrating. It means nice, good, pleasant, beautiful, smart, amazing, brilliant, extraordinary and literally any and every positive adjective you can imagine. I wanted to tell them all how brilliant and hardworking and beautiful and wonderful they are. How proud of them I am. How much I believe in them. How happy they make me. And all I could say was, “raamro.” I cried because I love them. I cried because I will miss them. I cried because I couldn’t tell them exactly how much they mean to me and I cried because maybe they were trying to do the same. In the end, they ARE “raamro.” They are ALL of the good things wrapped into one and they are my sisters. One of my last interactions with them was so beautiful. We all just sat together, talking and having fun. Then they told me they had something for me. When I say these young women are the poorest of the poor, I mean it. Their families can’t afford food. They all wear tattered clothes because, even though their parents and aunts and uncles are all tailors, they can’t afford to use the thread and the time for themselves. One of the youth brought out a red powder, tikka, to put on my face. Another pulled the clips from her own hair and asked that I please take them as a small gift. Yet another had bought me two packets of coconut biscuits and said, “Khannos. Raamrosanga jannos, laamo yatra hune. Please eat. Please go nicely, it will be a long journey.” I cried again because these were some of the most meaningful gifts I have ever received in my life.

            As I leave Oda, I know that my family has grown. With regards to making lives better, I’m not sure. They have certainly made my life all the sweeter and all the deeper. I think and I hope that with every smile, with every pain shared, with every beautiful moment, their lives are just a tiny bit better. I have learned after being here that the heart only grows. Nothing ever gets replaced. Love just grows, and the heart along with it. I now have a larger, more unconventional family than I could ever dream up. It will be difficult. Those who I have made the closest connections with are not easy to contact. They don’t have phones or they don’t have nice ones. Some can’t read Nepali, let alone English. I know where there is a will, there is a way. And I know that I will see them again. For now, I carry their hearts in my heart and I know they are doing the same.

First Birth of the New Year by 2018-2019 Health & Operations Fellow, Radha Bhatnagar

Names have been changed in this blogpost.

            I ended the first day of the New Year, in this case the Nepali New Year, in a very special way. Usually, people try to do something on the first day that they feel brings them a little closer to wholeness, to set the tone for the rest of the year, something that comes from and helps renew that sense of hope and limitlessness. Here in rural Nepal, people eat good food, hold festivities, and wear the newest, cleanest clothes that they own. It’s all the actions of the future that they want and work for.

            That night, one of our favorite youth group students Leela, a young woman I now think of as a little sister, came to the medical and Lucy and I went to see her. She had asked us to come to her home and eat sel roti (a traditional Nepali sweet bread) with the family, but we hadn’t gone. The first thing that rolled out of her mouth was, “We didn’t see you at the New Year’s program and you didn’t visit our home!” The truth of the matter was that it was hot and we were too lazy to walk up. The other truth of the matter, the one we didn’t say, is that we knew they couldn’t afford to feed us. I found out she was here with her pregnant bauju sister-in-law, Ranipura, who was in labor, and I wanted to stay. For some background, Ranipura is my favorite Community Health Educator. She’s young, she’s low-caste, she came and worked throughout her pregnancy, and she always brought her young daughter Parmila in tow. Parmila is one of my favorite children. At first, she wanted nothing to do with me. Not even a glance my way, let alone talking or playing with me. These days she will run up to me, with arms outstretched, asking me to hold her in the tender, open-hearted way that only the little ones can do.

It was truly a family affair. A lot of people packed into a waiting area, laughing and chatting. Five of us were squeezed onto a bench, while some of us were sitting on the ground sharing shawls for warmth and others were even waiting outside. In the beginning of the labor, we were all goofing off. I had been holding little Parmila the whole time, when someone asked her if she wanted to stay the night with me. She firmly said no, so I feigned a gasp and asked, “Kina?? Why??” And while I expected the usual answers a child might give, she told me that she wanted to stay with her mom because she was scared that her mom was going to die. At the age of 3, there was no way Parmila understood the complexities of how and why low-income, low-caste women are disproportionately dying. She just knew that women die from this sort of thing and she was scared for her mom. She kept wanting to go into the room to see her, but she couldn’t. All I could tell her was that her mother was doing very hard work. Good work, but hard work and we’d see her and the new baby later.

Soon after that exchange, Ranipura’s labor took a turn for the worse. The baby was not in the right position and Ranipura’s energy was very low. Our medical staff said that if she couldn’t give birth within the hour, they would have to send her to Manma. An ardous two hour hike and one hour bumpy car ride away at night for someone in troubled labor, with no one available to carry her.

When our staff went back into the delivery room, Leela turned to me and said, “See, this is why you shouldn’t do child marriage.” It dawned on me that I had never known Ranipura’s age. She was 20, which didn’t seem terrible, but she had had her first child at 17. Pregnant at 16. Purposefully pregnant at 16. While she isn’t the youngest in the village to have a baby, a 16 year old is still a child. The other family members were sure that she would be fine and that the labor would end soon, and then they wondered whether she would have a boy or a girl. Leela excitedly told me that if Ranipura had a boy, everyone would have a lot of fun. I waited a beat and said to her that maybe she should have fun if a girl was born, too. She looked me in the eye and said, “Yes. I think we should have fun no matter what.”

Soon after, we heard the cry of a baby and we knew that the birth went ok. Everyone looked expectantly towards the door and someone cried out, “Is it a boy or a girl?” I have to be truthful. At that moment, Lucy and I had both hoped it was a boy. Not because we think men are stronger or smarter or better than women, but because we knew that it would be better for Ranipura if she had a boy. If she has a girl, she might be pressured to have more children. If she has a girl, she will have to see both of her children stay home from school to do work in the home and in the field, to see both of them stay in the cowshed while menstruating, to see both of them leave home for another village after marriage. This is the painful reality of being the mother of a girl. And then the news came. A staff member came out and said, “Keti ho. It’s a girl.” He had a smile on his face, but his voice was low. I looked around the room. The mood was different. It had dropped and there was the soured smell of dismay in the air. Something came over me in that moment. I thought, “What would my Mom do?” and I clapped as loud as I could. I shouted, “WOO, it’s a girl!” and Lucy clapped, too. It felt silly and meaningless. No one else clapped, no one else hollered, I don’t even know if someone smiled.

I turned to Parmila and told her, “We can go see Mommy and little sister now.” and she had the biggest little smile on her face. Everyone else poked their head in to see the little girl and then they left. The medical staff left, too, to eat a late dinner. And then it was just me, Ranipura, Parmila, and Leela.

Ranipura was exhausted, so I tried to be helpful. I kept holding onto Parmila, I gave her water, I gave her blankets and took them away when she was too hot. Leela was a happy face. She was excited and cooing to the little one. Murmuring sweet nothings that we couldn’t hear. Eventually, Ranipura had a bit more energy and asked Parmila to come sit next to her. The three of them, Mom and the two small ones, squeezed onto the bed. Mom’s hand and smile were resting peacefully over them. Leela sat by the head of the bed watching them all, head on her hands staring at them all dreamily. As I sat there, I remembered all these little moments. The way that Ranipura gently, gingerly combs little Parmila’s hair. The little secret game that the two of them play with their hands when they think no one is watching. The times Ranipura would whisper in Parmila’s ear and smile and watch her laugh with a twinkle in her eye. There were no drums that night, no dancing, no celebration. This little one was certainly born into a tough life, but all I could see was the love. I was overcome by the sweetness and the fullness of the love in the room.

As I write this blog post, the police are investigating into the marriage of a 15 year old low-caste girl. I know that this little one, just born, has a long road ahead of her. Lucy and I are currently deciding which gifts we will give to her mom Ranipura. People only give gifts for boys, but we are determined to celebrate this and start it off right. We know that this little one has the love of her mom and her family. She has strong, brilliant role models of our youth group women. I can only hope that when I come back in 16 years, she is in a better place than her mom was. That she has more opportunity than her mom and her mom’s mom and all those before her.

Poems on Chhaupadi by Operations and Health Fellow, Radha Bhatnagar, and Education Fellow, Lucy Martin-Patrick

After International Women’s Day, we asked our youth group what they thought the biggest women’s issue
was. The students unanimously said that it was Chhaupadi.

Chhaupadi is a form of discrimination and violence against women. It is a long-practiced tradition which involves women and girls staying outside of the home in cowsheds. It prevents women from crossing bridges, drinking milk, touching other people, entering temples, and many more daily activities. Staying in the cowshed means staying in a dirty, dark room with cows. Disease, death, and rape are all very real risks, along with many mental health issues that are rampant.

We decided to try to challenge ourselves and write a poem about Chhaupadi. Based on firsthand experiences from our youth group students, here are our two different takes on the issue.

 
By Radha Bhatnagar

 
I find it hard
to see love
through the small cracks of wood


In the brightest of days,
it is the darkest of nights.

 
I find it hard
to feel love
in the cold of the night.
With no other warmth
than the small fire I lit myself

 
I find it hard
to taste love.
With smoke filling my every thought

 
I cannot eat.
And if I could,
I have
no appetite.

 
And so,
I let the smoke
fill me

 
I cannot hear
the love.
It is
the muffled voice
of sacrifice
that whispers
“stay here”
“you must”


But, the flowers still grow.
Watered
by the silent tears
of a faraway place

  
-Chhaupadi

 
“I wanted to make this poem a bit more abstract. I think it’s impossible to know how difficult chhaupadi really is unless you have done it. To me, Chhaupadi is a very frightening tradition, but I wanted to portray the abandonment in a way different than just my deep fear. In Oda, love is a language of action and chhaupadi is a bleak, loveless time that leaves women very isolated. Women are subjected to subpar nutrition and stay in dark, smoke-filled sheds with the cows which cause many physical, mental, and social problems. In the end, I want everyone to know that these women go through a lot and yet they still bloom. They still give life. They still move forward, despite it all.”

-Radha


By Lucy Martin-Patrick

 
Before, my voice could speak aloud.
Now it stays quiet,
Now it won’t say

 
I don’t want to be muddy
I don’t want to be sick
I don’t want to be hungry
I don’t want to be afraid.

 
Before, my mind thought at school.
Now it thinks at night,
Now it has changed

 
Like this food
Like this house
Like these men
Like this life.

 
Before, this door was just a door.
Now it is a barricade,
Now it shuts me in and shuts me out

 
From my room
From my house
From my school
From my society


Before, the wind would cool us on hot days.
Now it plays tricks,
Now it is a man

 
He is coming
He is at this door
He is at this shed
He is raping me.

 
And then the wind stops.
No one is here.
Yet.

 
Not today.
Today I survive
Today it is me and my mind.

 
-Chhaupadi

 
“When we listen to people stories of chhaupadi, we are always reminded of how common sexual assault against women is at these times. Stories of men going to different villages to look for women doing chhaupadi are far too common, so when I think of women going through chhaupadi, I think of the psychological effects that can occur. I wanted to highlight that through this poem. During our workshops, we try to get everyone to put themselves in the shoes of these women. When I do this, I think of the fear I would be feeling whilst doing chhaupadi. That for me would be the hardest thing.”

–Lucy

Living Above the Medical by Education Fellow, Lucy Martin-Patrick

Tonight, it is cold. Snow is already falling on the hills and making its way down to our small village. Icy droplets of rain are already starting to fall from the dark night-time sky. Inside the kitchen a warm fire is burning in the choola, above it a large pan of dal is keeping warm. The rice and vegetables are cooked and releasing an irresistible aroma of home cooked food, yet no one is eating.

Our medical staff have just heard a report of someone falling down the hill. Falling far. 200 meters. A result of drinking and walking, something just as dangerous in these hills as drinking and driving back home. The rest of the community is also fully aware, informed by the sound of beating drums echoing through the village. Everyone is heading to the narrow path where the incident occurred. I wait along with the rest of the staff drinking tea in the kitchen. All of a sudden, I begin to see a trail of light coming from around the ridge of the hill. We know that the path will split soon, if he’s died they will take the left path to the home of the man who has fallen and if he’s still alive they will take the right path to the medical.

A few minutes later our doctor enters through the gate of our medical, followed by the four men carrying the patient on a stretcher. We know he’s alive but we don’t know for how much longer. Behind the four men more people are coming. The trail of lights seems to fail to end as more and more people enter The Oda Foundation compound, eager to hear news of their family member. Our team work hard for many hours, stabilizing him before he was carried on the dangerous path through a rainy night to the road where he was taken to a hospital 7 hours away which could help him further. Thankfully, against all odds, he survives.

Apart from attending the staffs continued education meetings, so I can refresh my own biology knowledge, and sitting in the clinic with the doctor as he sees patients from time to time, I don’t have any involvement with the medical department, and yet living above the medical means I’m automatically immersed in the comings and goings of our patients and staff. Sometimes I feel like a fly on the wall. I’m in a unique position where without working in the medical I’m still usually aware of what’s going on, whether it’s hearing a woman as she gives birth to her first child in the morning, or walking past someone lay in the sun as they receive an IV in the middle of the day.

From mild to critical cases, from patients traveling on their own to having families of 50 coming, I hear as the walls of our medical hear more prayers than the walls of the village temple.

Reflections on Living in Nepal by 2018-2019 Health and Operations Fellow, Radha Bhatnagar

Recently, I have been asking myself, “When does one start to live somewhere?” Perhaps there is a time factor to this question. Maybe I began to live in Oda after three months of staying here. Or maybe it’s more abstract. Maybe it’s what you know. The more culture and customs, and even village gossip, that you know, the more you live here. Oda will have a nook in my heart forever and maybe for that reason, it starts with intent. The first week, when I bought a Nepali SIM card, or even the first hike in. I have settled on the answer being that you simply feel it in your bones. When I walk to other villages, or through our own, I am constantly stopped to chat, to play, to come in for tea or food. Leaving Oda for vacation, I was excited to see my family, but missed Oda and felt embraced by the rolling young hills when I came back. Being here, I’ve learned a few things about Nepali village folk:

 

·      They love to yell your name from across the valley, even if it’s the wrong one (Do I look like a Sarah?)

·      They will shout your name at the top of their lungs and never answer when you ask “ko ho?!” “who is it?!”

·      They love to ask Lucy about America despite her never having been

·      They will take an hour-long shower but when you are five minutes into yours they will ask you “bhayo?” “are you done yet?” (I’m still very bitter)

·      They love to wear their jackets all day, even through 70 degree heat

·      They love to feed you (and tell you if you are skinny or fat)

·      They judge age based on weight

·      Their feet never touch the ground going downhill, but you do not want to be stuck behind a Nepali person going uphill

·      They love to tell you the who, what, when, where, why, and how of who was maimed and who died where you’re currently standing

·      They will never correct your wrong Nepali, they’re just glad you’re trying

·      They will put inordinate amounts of sugar into each batch of tea

·      They love to chew on hay off the floor

·      They love to eat snow because it’s cold and rhododendrons because they’re sour (now I do, too)

·      They love to eat raw instant noodles (it’s called chow chow and I’ve picked up many eating preferences here)

·      They like to turn their used chow chow packets into water bottles (very convenient)

·      They love to give you smoked grains and you MUST take them, (“khannos, khannos. Alikothi khannos.” “eat, please eat. Just eat a little bit”)

·      They love to put food in their pockets, with no wrapping, and then offer it to you barehanded (sometimes covered in crumbs)

·      They love to tell you that you look your best in traditional Nepali wear and that you should wear it every day (it really feels like they think I don’t look good in anything else)

·      They are impressed when you complete any task that requires a small bit of strength (they call you “dherai baaliyo manche” “very strong person”, even though a small child here could carry more than I can)

·      They, regardless of how heavy their load is, will stop and stare at you on the path until you’re out of sight

·      You can’t walk past someone without them asking “kahaa jaane?” “where are you going?”

·      If you slip in front of someone once, they will ALWAYS tell you “bistaraai jannos” “go slowly”

·      For emphasis, they will say a word slowly and with a very high pitch (for example, when they say “bistaraai jannos” it will really sound like “bistAAAAAAraai jannos”)

·      They love to invite you in to sit and then just stare at you

·      When they invite you into their homes, they will kindly put out a rug that happens to be dirtier than the space you were going to sit on

·      They will most definitely brighten your day

 

No group of people is a monolith and no community is made of perfect people. There is a lot of hardship here and many social issues to be tackled, but I have certainly found a different kind of perfection. Those who are good are so entirely good. Here, love is a language of action, both small and large. Families who have nothing share everything. People do what they can to give their families a chance, no complaining and no stopping. For me, I am surrounded by new members of my ever-larger family. Older siblings and aunties who make sure I’m eating enough, not carrying too much, and giving me hugs exactly as I need them. Younger siblings who want to dance with me and talk about issues in the community. Even younger siblings who love to be held and play silly games. I have received so much love here, I just hope that I have given back a fraction of what they’ve given me.

Menstrual Health and how it Empowers: Reflections by Oda Foundation Operations Fellow Radha Bhatnagar

Walking into health class during the sexual health unit was always an awkward time. It was a unit where we weren’t sure whether to laugh or to cringe, and I never really wanted to go. I grew up with the privilege of not wanting to learn information about my body.

            Here in rural, Midwestern Nepal, the community is constantly held back by a lack of awareness. People will always make decisions based on the best knowledge they have, but when the material is scarce, wrong, or they can’t read it, decisions being made aren’t always the best for oneself, one’s family, or one’s community. Menstruation is a taboo topic, with most women living in cowsheds, every month, for the duration of their period. No temples, no touching family, no sharing food, no ventilation, and no light. Apart from this dangerous tradition, women don’t have the means to have healthy, hygienic periods. With no products, girls and women don’t go to school or work during this time. Handling menstruation is a huge issue for women’s and girls’ progress.

Lucy and I hold a youth development group multiple days a week and have gotten very close with the teens. Some of them have come to us, pulling me aside secretly to whisper that they were on their period, could they have a pad? I dug around the medical for pads and slipped it to them, but it wasn’t enough. Girls and women here don’t own underwear and it just wouldn’t be possible to use. They were frustrated and asked if I had underwear to give them, or something that could work, and they had to walk away without. It is truly such a difficult thing for them to undergo every single month.

            Currently our organization is partnering with Days For Girls and beginning menstrual health education and women’s empowerment programs. Seven women from across our municipality were hired to be our Women’s Health Educators. On the first day of their training, everyone filed in and began their introductions. One woman hid her face with her shawl the entire day. Two of the seven ventured to ask and answer questions. By the third day, though, there was enormous change. Everyone was answering questions and there was real discussion happening. We asked them, “How does being a woman make you feel?” (A question I myself have yet to answer.) It started out with a lot of the bad. “Sometimes being a woman is not good.” “Being a woman is hard.” They cited that they felt this way from the start. They were the ones not getting as much food as their brothers, taking care of younger siblings, not going to school in order to do chores. They were the ones who had to leave their homes when they got married. Who had to work the fields and cook the food and tend the home. But, it’s not all bad. They started to say that being a woman is beautiful, too. Women are like flowers, women can create life. This was the first time they were told women are important. And over the course of the training, they really did bloom.

            The first huge day was taking place at the Up School. Lucy and I went door to door with two of the Women Health Educators, reminding families the program was taking place. “Chitto aaunos! Ahile suru gardaichha!” Please come quickly! It’s starting now! We saw hordes of women and girls walking up the hill, while their brothers and sons and husbands stayed home.

            The instruction began, with three classrooms filled to the brim and two classes outside. Lucy and I were constantly saying hello and checking off our mental lists of who we hoped would come. Truly, I have never seen people so rapt in attention looking at a drawing of the uterus. And people were loving it! Smiling and learning and asking lots of questions. So many of the women in attendance had already gotten married and had children before learning about their own bodies. It is electrifying seeing a sea of women and girls that you know learning and growing more confident.

           One educator, who had her small child with her throughout the training and instructing process, told me that she was so nervous and that her heart was beating so hard. And yet they all excelled. Our educators were spectacular. Brilliant and knowledgeable, fearless and kind. None of them had spoken in front of a group like that before. They ended up giving out nearly 100 reusable Days for Girls pads. That knowledge and those pads are power. I saw faces filled with excitement and each face meant someone’s life would be a little bit easier.

           All of our youth group teens came for the program. One in particular, who had come to me several times about her period, came to find me. Usually on the quiet side, she could not stop talking. Telling me random things, like who her siblings are and where her mom used to live. She started calling me, “Didi.” Older sister. (Something she hadn’t done before.) She said she was really happy, that they all were. I’m really happy to be a little cog in the works of the menstrual health program.

I love women, I support women, I believe in women. I believe to invest in a woman is not only to invest in a person, but in a family, and in an entire community. This is a great, big stride for the women of Kalikot, but there is yet so much more to do and achieve. Taking control of one’s menstruation is one of the first steps towards empowerment and I cannot wait for the day these women soar.

Reflections on Returning to Oda - Aaron Charney, 2017-2018 Education Fellow

My name is Aaron Charney, and last year I worked with Oda Foundation as one of the education fellows. I came to Nepal in early August of 2017 and was in Oda through April of this year. For the 8 months I was in Oda, my responsibilities included working as a teacher in both our tuition classroom, and working with the government school.

Since leaving Oda in late April, I spent 6 months backpacking through other parts of Asia before returning to Nepal a few weeks ago. I am spending two and a half weeks in Oda before heading home to Colorado for the first time in nearly a year and a half, and I couldn’t be happier about ending my trip here.

After being away from Oda for a few months and having the opportunity to return, I have been able to step back from my time as a fellow, and appreciate Oda, with some new perspective, and fall in love with this place and these people all over again.

Immediately upon arriving back in Oda, I was welcomed back into the community with total warmness and open arms. I knew that this is how the community welcomed guests, but as our founder came down from Oda in the dark to ensure I made the hike safely, and as our Aunties (amazing women who work as cooks for the foundation) had tikka (red powder put on your forehead ceremonially), and dinner ready, I instantly remembered why I felt at home here.

In traveling through Asia, I found that most people were amazingly hospitable and welcoming, especially in the more rural areas I visited. I am obviously biased because of the amount of time I spent in Oda, but even after visiting and experiencing rural cultures by doing homestays in rural villages from the mountains of Vietnam to the jungles of Borneo, the kindheartedness of the people in Oda stands out immensely. And you can see it in the smiles of the kids and grandparents alike as you walk through the village.

One of the most special parts of my return visit to Oda is that I am lucky enough to have met my mom in Kathmandu, and brought her all the way out to the village. I think one of the really tough things about having spent time in Oda, is that it is so different that it can be really hard to put into words what it is to be here, and pictures just don’t do the beauty of these mountains justice. With that, I am beyond excited knowing that I can truly share what Oda is with my mom, and have someone who more truly understands my experiences. I am also just beyond happy for her to have the opportunity to see the terraces and meet the people that make this small village in the middle of nowhere such a special place to me.

After traveling for 6 months, and constantly being thrown into new places and cultures, on returning to Oda I was misguided in understanding how unfamiliar of a place it is for people who haven’t been here. Thus, I was walking with my mom in the dark through mountains and villages that I consider a second home, but are for her one of the most different places possible.

When we woke up the first morning and she saw the view from the medical; when I took her on her first walk around the village, and she got her first glimpse of what life is like here, and truly how many kids there are everywhere; and when we had our first lunch at Karan’s (the Nepali founder of the organization) house, and she saw 4 generations of a family eating together, getting her first glimpse of what family and community means here, her reactions were a testament to truly how unique and amazing Oda is. For the past few weeks, I have been able to take a step back, more than I did as a fellow, to really think about how lucky I am to have not only seen, but truly experienced and been a part of such a special place. Although these few weeks are vastly different experiences for my mom and me, I couldn’t be happier to be able to share it with her.

On our first village walk, I had the familiar experience of hearing my name yelled across the hills and valley as little kids, some of which I worked with a lot last year and some of which I had never seen before, ran up to us to say hi. I had staff members of the organization come up to hug and welcome me with huge smiles on their face, and was told by people how excited kids were that I was back. From all this, I got the sense that I had left an impact or some sort of impression here, and no matter what that might be or have been, that was a major goal for my time in Oda. Seeing that in some way I had achieved that gave me the renewed understanding that being in Oda was one of the best and most important experiences I have had.

Aside from the personal reflections of my time in Oda, returning after even just a short 6 months has given me the chance to see change. There are changes in the community, with new kids filling the nursery classes becoming the next generation of students, and many of the kids I taught have moved or are soon moving out of Oda for the first time to receive education elsewhere. New houses are being built around the village, and a new road that is still far away, is slowly but surely working its way towards coming directly into Oda.

There are also immense changes going on within the foundation itself. Since I left, we have hired; 3 new teachers dedicated to our early childhood development program; a new program manager overseeing many projects; a full time doctor and an additional HA (Health Assistant), and 2 midwifes, greatly enhancing the capabilities of the on the ground medical team.

There are now 2 classrooms on the foundations ground instead of just the 1 I worked in; our staff has outgrown current living spaces so a new housing structure is being built; the clinic has been reorganized to make room for a brand new birthing center; and many more future plans are in the making.

Although many of these changes have given being in Oda a different feel than I was used to last year, with so many more people around and so much going on, seeing how much progress has been made in just 6 months has reminded how amazing the work that is being done is.

Getting to know the new staff, including 2 new fellows who are doing an amazing job, has reassured me that the foundation will continue to grow to help even more people, and has reminded me how lucky I am to be part of such a special thing.

As I will be back in America in just over two weeks for the first time in 16 months, I am preparing myself for how different it is going to be. I am expecting the culture shock of going home to be even harder than it was when coming to Nepal, and I am expecting to deeply miss the beauty of the place, people, and work being done in Oda. But having this opportunity to come back to Oda and see the people of the community and the organization again has given me confidence that going home does not mean that I will no longer be involved or connected with what is going on here. And although when I leave this time I don’t have a date for when I will be back, I feel even more confident that this will not be the last time I get to sit in and be surrounded by the beauty that is Oda.

A Morning in a Government School in Oda - Reflections from Education Fellow, Lucy Martin-Patrick

“They suspect 50 kids will attend school today” Dawit Gurung, a Program Manager for the Oda Foundation, translated from the conversation he was having with the acting principal of the ‘up school’. I nodded having understood a little of what the principal had said, but thankful for the clarification. The school has 377 registered students.

Oda has two schools. ‘Up school’, which is situated on the middle of the third hill of the Oda village and the ‘down school’, situated at the top of the first hill. Dawit and myself headed to the up school with a purpose to find out how we can develop tuition classes provided by Oda to correspond more with what is being taught in the local government schools and find out what the status of the school is right now with regards to how many teachers and
students are actually showing up day after day.

When I arrived at the school Dawit showed me to a large staff room. As I entered the room the first thing I noticed was how many plastic chairs there were, each neatly placed against the wall and a large wooden table in front of them. At the back of the room were two desks, one which had a large office chair, I assumed this was the principals desk. As we took a seat on one of the wooden benches near a desk at the back Dawit turned to me and said, ‘so many chairs, but they never get sat in’. And I knew what he meant. He was referring to the fact that one of the biggest problems at the school was no teachers were showing up. On the walls were white posters with pictures printed on them and large sheets of paper all written with a scripture that’s still very new to me. We had a short conversation with the acting principal, finding out about the number of students attending and he also told us of other issues he felt were influencing the school. The conversation was cut short as we wanted to see the assembly.

The assembly was when you could really see how very few kids were attending school. In Nepal assembly involves kids lining up in around the same age group. The kids do a few simple exercises and at the end the national anthem is sung. I see it every day with my nursery and kindergarten class students but this time it was very different. The kids were showing no enthusiasm and their monotone voices murmured through the lines of the song. It was very clear that they were experiencing no joy in being there. Three of the kids in the lines I already knew due to their mums being our kitchen aunties. Dawit told me how the oldest of those three kids always shows no interest in going to school and always needs to be convinced by the Oda staff, but now I could understand why he didn’t want to be there.

At the end of the assembly Dawit came over to me after having a few words with the teacher and informed me we were going to stay and take a class. At first, I was a little surprised. I hadn’t prepared anything at all and teaching is still a very new concept to me. I was expecting to only stay for a meeting and to chat with a few students, but by the time we were leaving a couple hours later I was so glad we had stayed.

We entered a small classroom in the middle of the school. It had bare grey brick walls, the type that crumbled when you ran hour hands over them. The far wall held three small windows with their wooden shutters closed. The room was very dimly lit with two more windows on the opposite side of the room and the open door. The floor was covered in dust, dirt and scrap building materials such as pieces of roof and wooden posts. Filling the
room were thin, graphited wooden desks that were far too long for the small space, leaving no room for a walkway to get to the back desks, resulting in kids climbing over the tables and each other to find a seat. At the front of the room was one rectangular white board, coloured a dark grey from where previous work had been rubbed away. It hung from two wires attached to nails in the roof and swung slightly as we scribbled onto it. We were told that the class would have students in class 7 and 8, but when I spoke to the students I soon realised there were kids from classes 4 to 10, the youngest I knew to be 10 and the oldest 17. The lack of kids in school also meant that they only took up the first few rows of benches, marking their seat by placing down their text books and notebooks, which were often held together by tape on the binding.

The Oda foundation has been providing English tuition for the last few years, but now we are reforming tuition. We have noticed a huge need for tuition in other subjects too, including maths and science. The first part of our lesson was asking our students what subjects they would want to have from tuition. “English” one voice called out eagerly. Maths and science then followed. We found out these three subjects were in highest demand. But something else we found was that many of the kids also had a desire to study health and social classes. When we asked the kids why they wanted to study these we were told it was because they hadn’t had a teacher show up for these classes the whole year, and I believed them.

As Dawit started leading the class I was writing some notes into my diary when I felt someone stood behind me. I turned around to find the only 3 teachers who were at the school that day stood watching our class, they remained observing the class, despite the fact they had students waiting to start learning in the surrounding classrooms. They remained for a while, curious to see what we were doing with the class. After spending a little time talking to students about tuition Dawit informed me the kids wanted me to take an English class. I was a little surprised. I looked around the classroom and saw 20 faces staring back at me. How was I meant to lead a class off the top of my head with no resources for kids of such different abilities and ages. I took everyone outside to a small clearing in front of the school and did an energizer with them that I had also lead at a government school I visited in Kathmandu for a class 6 and 7 tuition session. The game involves saying some simple sentences in English e.g ‘I have a sister’, ‘my favourite colour is blue’ etc. It was at this point that I realised just how different the level of English was between that school and this one. The kids really struggled with the game and lacked a lot of confidence compared to the previous school, which was really disheartening to see.

I then decided to take them back to the classroom and for the remaining time reviewed the statements that had been made through the game, checking the kids understood the spellings and sentences. We did this for around 30 minutes until Dawit returned from talking to one of the teachers about our tuition programme, and began a math class to assess the level of the kids. This was when I decided to explore more of the school. The school has around 8 classrooms, two of which were being occupied by classes. The first thing I saw when I came out of the class was two of the teachers sat outside of the school, one laying in the sun. I walked around a little to find empty classroom after empty classroom, all with the same uninviting environment. I came across one class with around 15 younger students, probably class 1 to 4. When I peeked inside I found there was no teacher and they were scribbling some drawings into their notebooks. As I headed back to the classroom where Dawit was teaching I felt my frustration growing more and more. If we
hadn’t gone today I don’t know if any of the kids would have been taught a lesson, but as I stood at the front of the class I always had the attention of the kids, eager to listen and learn.

Anytime I have been walking through the village since arriving in Oda we were always stopped by previous students and asked when tuition will begin again, and my experience at the up school today has given me a whole new understanding of why Oda’s work here is so crucial and why kids are so desperate to attend the tuition classes. The long-term solution to improving education here is rooted in these government schools, as they need to start
taking more responsibility. Yet as we work to bring about change within the mind-set of the different stakeholders including; local government, teachers, students and parents we are faced with challenge after challenge. I came away from that place with a mix of sadness, frustration and anger, but also determination. I am determined now more than ever to form a great tuition programme as well as a youth group. I see now how important providing a safe space and learning environment is for these kids, and how much of a need we really have for it here.

Going to school in a place like this is not easy, especially for the girls here. Yet they still come to an environment that’s so uninviting, where they know that it’s unlikely they will have a teacher turn up at all, because they are still hopeful that they have an opportunity to open the textbooks and will return home having learnt something new.

Time in Kathmandu - Lucy Martin-Patrick

As the bus slowly makes its way through the winding roads surrounding the valley of Kathmandu on our way out of the city, I reflect on my time spent here and how it’s helped prepare me for the next 7 months I’ll be working with the Oda foundation.

When I pictured how Kathmandu would be, I didn’t really know what to expect. But what I found was that anytime I went to the terrace of the building we were staying in, I was never disappointed by the view of the city, with its brightly coloured buildings, towering hills circling the valley and endless miles of prayer flags linking the city together. It truly is its own unique place.  

Fellows Lucy and Radha studying Nepali on the rooftop of their Kathmandu hostel

Fellows Lucy and Radha studying Nepali on the rooftop of their Kathmandu hostel

The biggest challenge for me has definitely been taking on the language classes. In a previous placement I did, I really felt like I couldn’t fulfil my potential in community work due to not knowing the local language. I really want to make a bigger impact on the people I’m working with this time, and as a result of this past experience I knew the importance of Learning Nepali, which therefore meant it pretty much consumed my time in Kathmandu. We would spend 4 hours in the morning in language class and in the afternoon, I could easily spend just as many hours revising the things we had learned that day. At first, I felt like I was putting in a lot of work and not improving at all. I could never seem to remember the sentence structures and vocabulary. Being from England, learning languages was never a priority in school and I hadn’t taken a language class since I was 14, and even then, it was just clock-watching in French class an hour a week, I knew that I was taking on a huge challenge and I wasn’t wrong. I won’t deny that it’s been really tough, but it’s also given me a lot of confidence for when I reach Oda. I’m genuinely very excited to start trying to communicate with people and develop this new skill.

One achievement for Radha and myself was learning how to catch a public bus. You’d think it would be a pretty easy process, how hard can it be to get a bus a few miles away? After a couple of days we’d worked out how to get to our Nepali class and Radha had also figured out she could use her Johns Hopkins University student card to get the bus for just 10 rupees a ride, something I think she will always be happy about. We felt like we had finally got the hang of it, but then we would try and get the bus back to the area we were staying and that’s a different story in itself. On one of the days we ended up on a bus heading to the wrong side of Kathmandu and eventually onto the ring road surrounding the city, or on another occasion we got the bus to a completely different part of Kathmandu and ended up taking three other buses to get back. The best journey of all though was going from Nagarkot, an area in the hills surrounding Kathmandu, back to Bhaktapur. There were around 50 people on this small bus, which ended up getting stuck in the mud. Radha also ended up holding someone’s baby for half of the way. As he sat on her lap eating some cheese flavoured crisps, we just started laughing to ourselves about how we get ourselves into these situations. That’s what we would always do. Anytime we got confused or messed up, we would just laugh about it because at least we were trying and we always got to see more of the city.

Flat tire on the public bus back to Bhaktapur

Flat tire on the public bus back to Bhaktapur

Two weeks into staying in Kathmandu, and I was starting to feel like it was getting very repetitive. I realized I had to start finding some other ways to fill my time than just learning Nepali. This is when Radha and I took a cooking class. We spent a few hours leaning to make momos, a food I had started to love since being in Kathmandu. This was also a great test of our Nepali as the other people in the class were also learning the language, we got to start learning the names of vegetables and spices. It also meant that I could blame my poorly folded momo on my lack of Nepali language rather than my lack of cooking skills. It was a really refreshing way to break up the routine we had formed during our stay in Kathmandu. I know when we’re in the village that things may get repetitive at times but I now know that just finding one thing new to do can really help lift your mood and keep your work on track.

Radha and Lucy with their hand-made momos

Radha and Lucy with their hand-made momos

I feel like all the challenges we faced in Kathmandu, whether it was confusing two different Nepali words every class, taking the wrong bus, or living and spending the day with someone I had never met before, helped me to gain more confidence and prepare for the rest of my time in Nepal. There were times when I just saw my stay in Kathmandu as something I needed to do in order to start my journey to Oda, but really it was the start of my journey. I quickly realized I had to enjoy this ride and not just think about getting to the destination, because now that time is over and the next stage can begin.

Lucy crossing the first bridge from the road towards Oda

Lucy crossing the first bridge from the road towards Oda

The Fellows Recap: 8 Months in Oda

The Fellows Recap: 8 Months in Oda

Health & Operations Fellow Sarah Helms, and Education Fellows Taylor Murillo and Aaron Charney have been living in rural Kalikot for 8 months, serving the Oda community. From teaching our daily English tuition classes, to a mural project, to a water usage research survey, to shadowing in the clinic and grant-writing, they have been crucial to our operations and our community-driven approach to development. Below, they share some Oda moments and lessons learned.

                                                                                           Aaron, Taylor, and Sarah, at the Oda Foundation's 2018 Annual Day Program

                                                                                           Aaron, Taylor, and Sarah, at the Oda Foundation's 2018 Annual Day Program

What have you learned?

Taylor -
I want to be honest that coming in to a community this vulnerable and marginalized was intimidating. I didn't know exactly what teaching students in rural Nepal would look like - what the students would respond to, how quickly they would learn, how it would feel to be with them all these days in the classroom. When I started, I would do a bit of hand-holding during lessons. I've learned that every day, my expectations are exceeded. When people are given an opportunity and given a platform, they have amazing capacities.

Aaron -
Alongside teaching, my current project is a 60-household comprehensive water survey. I had worked in marginalized communities before coming to Oda, and knew I wanted to work in sustainability. The water project is an in-depth experience of a way to work in sustainability with a direct impact on people that don't get enough help. I've learned you can't do that work without actually knowing a community - I relied a lot on community help, and being able to talk with community members in order to figure out the best research process.

Sarah -
Compassionate problem solving. The number of challenges here can be overwhelming - injustices against women, lack of health education, intense poverty. But the challenges intertwine with what unfailingly connects us all - the fact of each individual's life and heart. Compassionate problem solving means sitting down with complexity, and then asking: but what more can we learn about our community, and what more can we do? What could work better, both for overall development and each individual that comprises this community?

                                                                                                      Sarah teaching her weekly health class in our tuition classroom

                                                                                                      Sarah teaching her weekly health class in our tuition classroom

Share a moment with a community member.

Sarah -
I worked on a month-long poetry-ethnography project in January. I'll always remember sleeping in the one big room with the family, laying down next to three of the younger girls, and we would chorus back and forth "Raamro sapona dekhnos," see good dreams. And then, "Amma-buwaako sapona dekhnos" see good dreams of your parents, "Gaaiko sapona dekhnos," have good cow dreams, "Bakrako sapona dekhnos," have good goat dreams, and on and on like that, whatever the kids would say.

Taylor -
There's a young woman named Rajenpura who is now really involved with both our women's health trainings and our tailoring center. When she went to her first health training with Days for Girls, she could hardly stand up in front of the group and felt really self-conscious that she couldn't read and write. Two months later, and she is the one teaching, telling the newest women entering health trainings to stand up straight, to speak up.

                                                                                      Taylor and Rajenpura after one of Rajenpura's menstrual health teaching sessions.

                                                                                      Taylor and Rajenpura after one of Rajenpura's menstrual health teaching sessions.

Advice for the next Fellows

Aaron -
Be prepared for the unexpected - and be excited for those unexpected things to happen. Remember that these are rich and rewarding times, and once in a lifetime. Take advantage of Bagawati, our language teacher in Kathmandu. Her advice on culture and on learning from the people we serve was invaluable.

                                                                                          Aaron and his students in front of Taylor's mural at the government school

                                                                                          Aaron and his students in front of Taylor's mural at the government school

Taylor -
Look for the in-between moments, when you're waiting for a program or class to start, waiting for dinner to finish and sitting with the staff, when you pass one of your student's houses and see them doing a chore. Those are the moments when you start to build an actual life here.

                                                        Taylor, Aaron, and Sarah in the middle of their Fellows' performance at the 2018 Annual Day Program

                                                        Taylor, Aaron, and Sarah in the middle of their Fellows' performance at the 2018 Annual Day Program

2018-2019 Fellowship Postings!

Please copy and paste the link below into your browser to view our Education Fellowship posting! https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ReAbuKZG75Kpk3CZff5q1RfJqbZ8WMXe/view?usp=sharing

Please copy and paste the link below into your browser to view our Operations + Wellness Fellowship posting! https://drive.google.com/file/d/1kmoMt6L3FlPgYqp7Ot4l6SE1_GGXjUm3/view

A Day in the Life of Crebilly Classroom

With the start of our new nursery school class, the Foundation's "Crebilly Classroom" is used by our 5 teachers and 175 tuition students for 8.5 hours a day, 6 days a week. Students flow in and out all day, carrying their notebooks, yelling to each other from across the fields, eagerly waiting outside the classroom door - dedicating time to this additional English class, on top of their chores (cutting grass, caring for livestock, collecting water...) and six hours at their government schools.

You might wonder, why exactly do we teach extra English in rural Nepal? Nepal specifically has an 8-section exam, the SLC, at the conclusion of high school, which includes an English section. If students do not pass the entire exam, there is no possibility of higher education. At government schools, English is largely taught by rote memorization - for many students, Oda Foundation tuition (tutoring) is their first chance to develop critical thinking, experience creative learning, and be specifically encouraged and empowered in a school setting. Tuition class also emphasizes and creates a space for equality, regardless of caste or gender, which remain burdensome cultural barriers in rural Nepal.

Read on to join us for a day at school!


6:50 AM  Students begin to arrive for "Big Green" class, our specific SLC prep class for 16-year-olds who will take the SLC in March, and our biggest class at 31 students. Our private Nepali-English teacher, Purna Singh, teaches this class, focusing specifically on requirements for the exam.

6:50 AM Students begin to arrive for "Big Green" class, our specific SLC prep class for 16-year-olds who will take the SLC in March, and our biggest class at 31 students. Our private Nepali-English teacher, Purna Singh, teaches this class, focusing specifically on requirements for the exam.

7:00 AM  One student rings the "late bell," which sounds out across the village, warning any latecomers to hurry to class.

7:00 AM One student rings the "late bell," which sounds out across the village, warning any latecomers to hurry to class.

8:00 AM  Oda's Education Fellows Taylor and Aaron have arrived to teach the 17-person, "Small Green" class, comprised of 14 and 15 year-olds who aren't studying for the SLC yet. Today students have been working on making more flexible and fluent conversations - Keshab is asking his teachers what they did yesterday, what they will do after class, and what their family is like.

8:00 AM Oda's Education Fellows Taylor and Aaron have arrived to teach the 17-person, "Small Green" class, comprised of 14 and 15 year-olds who aren't studying for the SLC yet. Today students have been working on making more flexible and fluent conversations - Keshab is asking his teachers what they did yesterday, what they will do after class, and what their family is like.

8:50 AM  And if there are a few minutes left at the end of class, you might get to play Heads Up Seven Up!

8:50 AM And if there are a few minutes left at the end of class, you might get to play Heads Up Seven Up!

9:00 AM - 1:30 PM  Hello from Oda's four to six year-olds!! After "Small Green" leaves at 9:00, "Sisu," or Nursery School, students begin to arrive, brought to school by their older siblings or parents. Nursery school runs 9:30 - 1:30 and is Oda's newest education initiative, addressing the need for a stronger basis in both English and Nepali subjects, a foundation often unmet by the government schools that leave children struggling later on. Our Sisu class is intentionally 60% girls, as male education is more heavily emphasized in rural Nepal, and is also divided among castes to combat caste inequality.

9:00 AM - 1:30 PM Hello from Oda's four to six year-olds!! After "Small Green" leaves at 9:00, "Sisu," or Nursery School, students begin to arrive, brought to school by their older siblings or parents. Nursery school runs 9:30 - 1:30 and is Oda's newest education initiative, addressing the need for a stronger basis in both English and Nepali subjects, a foundation often unmet by the government schools that leave children struggling later on. Our Sisu class is intentionally 60% girls, as male education is more heavily emphasized in rural Nepal, and is also divided among castes to combat caste inequality.

Sisu class is taught by Kishna Shahi Singh, a new education  staff member added just for nursery class, alongside Oda Foundation teacher Purna Singh, who also teaches several other tuition classes. The Sisu students' day includes Nepali reading and writing, English reading and writing, a drawing/creative time, singing Nepal's national anthem, lunchtime, and math.

Sisu class is taught by Kishna Shahi Singh, a new education  staff member added just for nursery class, alongside Oda Foundation teacher Purna Singh, who also teaches several other tuition classes. The Sisu students' day includes Nepali reading and writing, English reading and writing, a drawing/creative time, singing Nepal's national anthem, lunchtime, and math.

1:30-3:30 PM  No tuition classes, but there is always work to be done. Before coming to afternoon tuition classes, students are in the village doing chores, housework, and taking care of their siblings. Here Sapona, an 8 year-old "Rainbow" class student, carries a basket of grass and one of her family's chickens down to another house.

1:30-3:30 PM No tuition classes, but there is always work to be done. Before coming to afternoon tuition classes, students are in the village doing chores, housework, and taking care of their siblings. Here Sapona, an 8 year-old "Rainbow" class student, carries a basket of grass and one of her family's chickens down to another house.

4:00 PM  On Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, we teach a special "Rainbow Class" for students  just  learning English at 3:00, but on every other day,  the next class is "Yellow" class, comprised of 29 eager and rowdy 8-10 year olds. Here, Education Fellow Taylor reviews basic writing skills, as students copy into their notebooks.

4:00 PM On Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, we teach a special "Rainbow Class" for students just learning English at 3:00, but on every other day,  the next class is "Yellow" class, comprised of 29 eager and rowdy 8-10 year olds. Here, Education Fellow Taylor reviews basic writing skills, as students copy into their notebooks.

4:50 PM  "Yellow Class" ends and "Red Class" begins. 18 students ranging from 11-13 years old, run down from their houses in the village above and down the Oda Foundation path to wait for class to begin. 

4:50 PM "Yellow Class" ends and "Red Class" begins. 18 students ranging from 11-13 years old, run down from their houses in the village above and down the Oda Foundation path to wait for class to begin. 

During Red Class, Education Fellow Aaron Charney sits with Gori to explain the new vowel combination sounds they are working on - "ue," "ai," "ou," "ea," and several others. The last 20 minutes of class was a game where cards with the right vowel sounds were laid on the floor, and then students on two different teams had to listen to a word, like "sound" or "rain," and see who could locate the right set of vowels the fastest.

During Red Class, Education Fellow Aaron Charney sits with Gori to explain the new vowel combination sounds they are working on - "ue," "ai," "ou," "ea," and several others. The last 20 minutes of class was a game where cards with the right vowel sounds were laid on the floor, and then students on two different teams had to listen to a word, like "sound" or "rain," and see who could locate the right set of vowels the fastest.

Bye! After Red Class brushes their teeth after tuition, (a preventative health program for all the tuition classes), students Teju, Sarita, Gori, and Dhana head home.

Bye! After Red Class brushes their teeth after tuition, (a preventative health program for all the tuition classes), students Teju, Sarita, Gori, and Dhana head home.

5:40 PM  Marks the beginning of "Orange Class." Like "Small Green Class," these 13-15 year-olds are also working on more flexible conversation, along with expanding their vocabulary and learning sentence structures like, conjunctions and "If...then....".

5:40 PM Marks the beginning of "Orange Class." Like "Small Green Class," these 13-15 year-olds are also working on more flexible conversation, along with expanding their vocabulary and learning sentence structures like, conjunctions and "If...then....".

6:30 PM  And that's a wrap! Goodnight from Education Fellows Aaron Charney and Taylor Murillo. In addition to teaching classes, their days are full of planning a more extensive curriculum, visiting students in the village, and helping out around the Foundation. 

6:30 PM And that's a wrap! Goodnight from Education Fellows Aaron Charney and Taylor Murillo. In addition to teaching classes, their days are full of planning a more extensive curriculum, visiting students in the village, and helping out around the Foundation. 

A final view of some of Oda's homes and rice fields from the classroom door, as we send the last students home for the evening. Heading home along the narrow paths between fields, the students wave to their teachers as long as they are within sight, yelling "bye!" and "see you tomorrow!" and, especially, "ramro sapona dekhnos!!" (have good dreams!).

A final view of some of Oda's homes and rice fields from the classroom door, as we send the last students home for the evening. Heading home along the narrow paths between fields, the students wave to their teachers as long as they are within sight, yelling "bye!" and "see you tomorrow!" and, especially, "ramro sapona dekhnos!!" (have good dreams!).

Oda Foundation Scholars - Khalasha Singh

We've always had the long-term goal that the English tutoring at our tuition classes helps students pass the SLC (Nepal's high school exam, necessary to attend higher education), and that through these classes, we are able to provide scholarships to our most ambitious students, students who may dream of going to college but don't have the means.

One of our most recent scholarship recipients is Khalasha - now interning in our pharmacy and assisting with Women's Health Support Groups, Khalasha is preparing to go to medical school in Spring 2018! After school, Khalasha will return to Oda to work for six months, repaying the scholarship "in-kind" by giving back to the community.

Health/Operations Fellow Sarah interviewed Khalasha - read on for her amazing story.

                                                                                                                                Khalasha outside the medical clinic after work

                                                                                                                                Khalasha outside the medical clinic after work

S: How many years have you been involved with the Oda Foundation?
K: I have been with the Oda Foundation 4 years.

S: Can you tell me about your family?
K: My family is my brother, me and my mother. Before we worked at our house, and there was so much work - I cooked, I cut grass, I looked after the cow. Sometimes I went to school, sometimes I didn't. Only my brother was going to school. After John came, and Oda Foundation told my mother she could cook, and she cooks for all the people there. Now my brother and I live in a different house, and we are going to school. My mother lives at Oda Foundation and cooks
(Kalasha's mom is Tulki Singh, who has now worked for Oda Foundation as our Head Cook for over four years).

S: And how old are you now? And how old were you, before the Oda Foundation?
K: Now? I am 17 years old. Before, I was working at my house until... 12 or 13 years old.

S: When you worked so much, were you thinking about college?
K: No, not thinking about college at all.

S: When did you start to think about college? Or why?
K: When I started coming to Oda Foundation school, and government school every day, I was learning so much. So much reading. But I was thinking, 'I am learning, wow I am so happy.' I was thinking, 'maybe I can go to college if I learn.'

S: In Nepal, what does it take to go to college?
K: You have to pass the SLC, after tenth grade. It is so much studying. Many people, after the SLC, they just work in the field or they get married. And money, my mother does not have much money, for college.

                    In September of 2017 Khalasha traveled to the village of Chaapre to conduct  follow-up interviews from our 2016-2017 Prosthetic Camp

                    In September of 2017 Khalasha traveled to the village of Chaapre to conduct  follow-up interviews from our 2016-2017 Prosthetic Camp

S: But you passed the SLC, right? And you took the Oda Foundation SLC class?
K: Yes, I passed! I was taking the SLC tuition class with Purna Singh (Oda Foundation teacher).

S: And you have a scholarship from the Oda Foundation? Can you tell me about it?
K: I will go to nursing school in Nepalganj, and after school is finished I will come
here and work here at the Oda Foundation medical.

S: Why do you want to be a nurse?
K: There are so many sick patients. When I am a nurse, I can help them, and help poor people. I like helping sick people and poor people, and there are so many in Nepal.

S: Right, you are interning in the Oda Foundation clinic. Can you tell me about what
you do there? How long are you there?
K: Yes I go to the clinic six days a week. I help in the pharmacy, I write patient names, diagnoses, and medicine in our logbook. I organize medicine and find the right medicines to give to the patients, or I make patient appointments.

S: What do you learn during your internship?
K: Narendra, Mim, Tanka, Sarita (Oda Foundation clinicians), they all teach me. Tanka shows me this medicine is used for this, this medicine for that. They teach me how to do check-ups - how to look, and for what to look.

                                                                                                      Khalasha assisting lab technician, Tanka, with pharmacy records

                                                                                                      Khalasha assisting lab technician, Tanka, with pharmacy records

S: Outside the Oda Foundation clinic, do people learn about health?
K: No. I don't know. No hand-washing, not eating different kinds of food, there is so much work. Before, when I worked at my house, I was very dirty always, I did not wash my hands, if we are sick we keep working.

S: What did people do before there was the medical facility here?
K: So many people die. So many people sick.

S: What did they die from?
K: Fever, diarrhea, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), common cold, so many. It is very hard here, and there was not medicine.

S: Yeah, it is really hard, a hard way to live. Can you tell me about other things you help with at the Oda Foundation? You've been helping me with the Health Classes in Tuition, and you are helping with the Women's Health Groups.
K: Yes, I help. Because people here, they do not always know health. Dudhkala and Karma [two young women who help with the Community Health Groups] teach very good things - what is the reusable maxi-pad, how to use it, how to wash it and let it dry in the sun, no sleeping in the cow house (most women in Oda practice chauppadi, a practice where women are considered impure the first days of their period and sleep in separate places, often a cow shed. Learn more here. Women here do not understand, and they only wear pants, no underwear, like my mother, so learning this is very important.

S: So for medical school, are you excited?
K: Yes, I am so excited. I will learn more. I will help sick people. Thank you John, thank you Oda Foundation.

S: Well you do a lot of work too, and you have worked hard. It is so good. Anything else you want to share, about your life, or the Oda Foundation? Maybe, is there anything you want people in America to know?
K: I am not sure... now... now my life is so much better. I am happy, and my family is happy. Life is much better, I think.

                                                                                       Oda Foundation staff from left to right: Bakhat, Prem, Khalasha, Binita, Sani Kanchi

                                                                                       Oda Foundation staff from left to right: Bakhat, Prem, Khalasha, Binita, Sani Kanchi

An Update From 2017-2018 Operations Fellow, Sarah Helms

Hello hello from Oda. My name is Sarah Helms, and I am the 2017-2018 Health+Operations Fellow. I heard about the Oda Foundation via Professor Hess' Social Entrepreneurship class at Washington & Lee - as a French/pre-medicine major, it was the only business class I took! After working in marketing+operations in Washington DC for two years, the Oda Foundation had stayed on my mind - such an impactful and community-driven organization, and the chance to be involved in community health as I was redirecting towards med school. Now here I am, in Nepal.

                                                                          Here I am with a member of our medical staff, Namaraj, checking in on a prosthetic recipient!

                                                                          Here I am with a member of our medical staff, Namaraj, checking in on a prosthetic recipient!

So far, I wear a few different hats - helping John (Oda Foundation's founder) and Karan (Oda Foundation's Nepali director) with expense and operations updates, teaching health class and the six-year- old class at our tuition school, and working on a research project that can combine with one of our preventative health programs. For a first blog post, though, here is a window into some moments in Oda...

                                                                                                                                                       Rainbow class students

                                                                                                                                                       Rainbow class students

Wild kids!! Those smiles!! I've been teaching Rainbow Class, which is just three days a week (compared to the other tuition classes, which are 6 days a week), and mostly 6 year-olds just learning English. Rainbow Class captures more kids at a younger age into our tuition program, and also helps them get used to being in a respectful classroom. I integrate music, movement, and real objects - anything that holds a 6-year-old attention span. We've been working on "green" and "leaf," and I always bring a leaf into the classroom for us to look at. The other day one of the boys, Sudesh, came up to me with a pretty substantial foliaged twig and said, "Gahween weef!" I was like, "Yeah!!"

 

                                                                                                                                                 An average day at the medical

                                                                                                                                                 An average day at the medical

When helping in the pharmacy, or talking with the clinicians, there have been so many times I've thought to myself, "What would this patient have done without our medical clinic here??," especially with something that would be so worrisome in the States - continued bleeding after a pregnancy, or a child's recurrent high fever. And then I recall - the medical clinic is here, and so this community does receive care. At least for 40,000+ individuals, there is a dependable place where they can be assured of relief and fair treatment. But this photo in the medical hall also captures a common sight in Oda - the boy at the end of the hall, carrying his younger brother
back out of the clinic. Oda's population is 45% children (under age of 18), and as soon as kids here are able, they help take care of their younger siblings.

 

                                                                                            Medical staff member, Narendra, cooking up banana pancakes in our kitchen

                                                                                            Medical staff member, Narendra, cooking up banana pancakes in our kitchen

I love the feeling of working side-by- side with someone to prepare a meal, so helping out in the Oda kitchen has meant a lot to me. I taught Narendra, one of the CMAs (Community Medical Assistant), how to make banana pancakes (bananas are precious here!), and in turn he taught me how to cook a chicken, complete with plucking the feathers. Everything cooks together - feet, head, nothing wasted. We saved the blood, letting it congeal with rice, then grinding them together into a fine paste to add to the cooking chicken. Sani Kanchi, one of the staff cooks, has also been teaching me how to make roti (Nepali flatbread).

 

                                       A rockslide blocking the road going from Surkhet to Manma.

                                       A rockslide blocking the road going from Surkhet to Manma.

This photo may not look like much, but this was the moment right before we hiked around an active landslide that was blocking the road to Oda. We'd stopped alongside a line of buses and trucks pulled alongside the road, and stood with everyone watching astonishing sections of the mountainside crumble and crack down onto the road. I remember that moment we looked at each other - ok, we're hiking all the way around this, then! We bolstered ourselves with peanut butter and raisins, and got moving. It was an adventure, of course, but also the reality of a developing country. The landslide blocked the Karnali Highway for 10 days, preventing our medical clinic from receiving needed shipments of medicines, and preventing buses full of people, trucks full of supplies, from reaching their destinations. Luckily we were able to meet up with Karan Singh, Oda Foundation's Nepali Director, and make our way to the other side.

 

                                                                                                                                         The beautiful landscape of Kalikot

                                                                                                                                         The beautiful landscape of Kalikot

We go to bed around ten and all wake up around six. This is the view out my window, every morning. There aren't really words for a few minutes with this view every day. And then quickly the day is full - teaching, writing grants, meeting with women in the community, running down to the river with students... but there are, of course, moments to recharge. I am reading a few books, but especially I have listened to David Whyte's "On Being" podcast a few times. So much that he says applies to being in Oda, but one thing that describes Oda itself - "Human genius lies in the geography of the body and its conversation with the world, the meeting between inheritance and horizon. In the ancient world, the word genius was not so much used about individual people, it was used about places, and almost always with the word loci, so genius loci meant 'the spirit of a place.' And we all know what the intuitively means, we all have favorite places in the world...it's this weatherfront of all of these qualities that meet."

All in all, being a part of the Oda Foundation's work is amazing. So many projects are just getting off the ground - health classes, Aaron teaching at the government school, clinician-patient dialogues, more women's community groups - we (the three Fellows) are all excited to share more on the Foundation Blog as it all develops. All my best from Oda!! Thank you for reading.

Fresh Faces in Oda - A Welcome Q&A

Hello from our first week here in Oda. Everything is completely new, but we had a warm welcome and then truly hit the ground running - largely due to the indispensable guidance of 2016-2017 Education Fellow Nick Kraft,  here for 3 weeks to help the 2017-2018 Oda Fellows' transition. Aaron and Taylor are already teaching full classes 4 hours a day plus lesson planning 2-3 hours a day, and I (Sarah) am shadowing each day in the pharmacy, prepping to continue all our preventative health programs, and updating operations/finances to send to John.

Still how do we begin to really express what it's like to show up in Nepal, spend three weeks in Kathmandu learning a language, then travel to remote Kalikot and begin getting to know this entirely different community? As a start, I asked Education Fellows Taylor Murillo and Aaron Charney about their experiences so far.

                                                                                                                       Aaaron & Taylor our 2017/2018 Education Fellows

                                                                                                                      Aaaron & Taylor our 2017/2018 Education Fellows

Question & Answer with Sarah (S), Aaaron (A), and Taylor(T)

S: First impressions in tuition classes?

T: Something I wasn't expecting/hadn't thought through is the different sense of obligation from the students. There is more of a drive that changes the dynamic in the classroom.

A: They just love tuition. It's a testimony that we've split classes. [With tuition classes growing beyond 20 students per class, we split "Green Class," usually just 7:00 a.m., into a 7:00 a.m. segment and an 8:00 a.m. segment. We also split our youngest class, "Yellow Class"].

                                                                                                                                Female students in Tuition (Tutoring!)

                                                                                                                               Female students in Tuition (Tutoring!)

S: How are you approaching teaching?

T: Of course we know there are a lot of outside factors - very different lives outside the classroom. But still in the classroom, teaching is teaching. We are both conscious about building up women in the classroom, though. Aaron did a lot of reading about the gender disparity before, and John [John Christopher, Oda Foundation founder] and Cara [Skillingstead, 2015-2016 Health Fellow] have also talked about that effort.

A: Definitely, just building esteem and their own individuality, and instilling the hope that they can be educated and do something in their future.

T: And before we came, John explained that we are teachers teaching English, and because of that presence, we are also role models.

                                                                                                Students waiting with baited breath for the start of their afternoon session

                                                                                               Students waiting with baited breath for the start of their afternoon session

S: Aaron, what's your role at the government school?

A: Yeah this is a new project for the Foundation. It's a way to improve English teaching across Oda, because that's still a space where the government schools (students attend from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. each day, up to 10th grade) are lacking. After the October holidays [a holiday month in Nepal], I will teach at the government school each day. They have an unused classroom that we are painting and fixing up, and I'll teach 6 English classes a day, 25-30 students in each class.

                                                                    Our former education fellow and current transition fellow Nick Kraft with Nepali teacher, Purna

                                                                    Our former education fellow and current transition fellow Nick Kraft with Nepali teacher, Purna

S: What about first impressions of Oda?

T: Oda is the inbetween times. Talking with students before they walk in the classroom, catching up on a walk around the village, talking with staff before dinner. And the kids!! They already see us as familiar faces and recognize us as their teachers.

A: People are really happy for us to be here. It's a testimony to the Foundation and to past fellows, since we really haven't done that much yet. The kids, the staff and community, they want to know us and want us to help.

T: But I will say, the first time I saw someone carrying someone strapped on their back down to the clinic - a younger man carrying an elderly woman - was shocking. You can't prepare for seeing that. And they didn't just walk across the street, they came down the mountain, or maybe walked an hour or two from a different village.

S: It's true. I don't have words yet for first impressions of being in the clinic. Mostly I'm just listening to the staff - I've spent a while talking with Nirendra (CMA) and Tankha (Lab Technician) about health in Oda, what's common and learning about how they understand their roles as clinicians. But anything else you'd want people to know about your experience so far?

T: A big moment was the first lesson we taught where you could tell the kids were really understanding. Even if we mess up speaking Nepali, we can get the point across, and if I say something wrong and they are laughing, then that works, we are all laughing.

A: I was a little timid the first few days, then it clicked to be just goofy and loud, and comfortable doing what you're doing.

                                                                                                                      Taylor Murillo getting into Tuition with Yellow Class

                                                                                                                     Taylor Murillo getting into Tuition with Yellow Class

S: Should we say anything about lesson planning? You guys have been putting so much time into that.

A: With Nick's help, we made ultimate goals for each class, then broke them into learning across each individual class time. In government-school, teaching emphasizes memorization but tuition classes emphasize understanding and interactiveness. Memorization can pass a test, but learning language is communication. And if it's interactive, it's just more fun for them, and they want to pay attention and end up learning more.

 ____

We are all so excited to finally be here! As what we learn and our own projects develop, we'll continue to write monthly blog posts about the Foundation's work and life in Oda. Thanks for reading.

Big Changes - A message from John

An Oda Story

As I sit here on the front porch of Oda’s medical center during a particularly rainy monsoon morning, I thought I’d take some time to provide an update that strays from our normal posts.  Historically I’ve done my best to highlight the works and achievements of our team, our students and our community rather than provide personal updates.  I’ve prioritized making the people of Oda and the story of their amazing community the centerpiece of The Oda Foundation, as I’ve always found their stories far more compelling than my own journey and the perceived sacrifices that I’ve made along the way.  Today, for what I believe to be good reason, I’ve decided write a bit about the evolution of our project, the intersection of my life and Oda, and  my decision to attend Columbia Business School this fall.

Humble Beginnings

Since 2012 I have spent eight to nine months a year living and working in remote Nepal, falling in love with the country and the people in the process.  Despite the many challenges and cultural barriers that surround life out here, the people of Nepal and specifically the people of Oda have become family to me.  In many ways it was these challenges that helped forge such a special connection.  Living in a small mud home with no electricity, internet, or running water in one of the most remote places on earth was as tough as you might expect – and during my most overwhelming days I came to lean on our team and community for support.  Despite many early challenges, doubts and insecurities our project slowly grew from that small mud cowshed into a fully functional hospital, our team of three grew to eighteen and our startup project became a well-respected development initiative with over 50,000 beneficiaries.

                                                                                                                We've come a very long way from our earliest days in a mud hut!

                                                                                                                We've come a very long way from our earliest days in a mud hut!

Evolution and Maturation

My goal has never changed…while our journey has had ups, downs, and hit almost every kind of bump – my personal mission has remained constant.  I’ve always sought to put our local team in a position to succeed, striving to encourage their success and independence.  With this is mind, since the day we saw our first patient I have remained focused on elevating our local team and “working myself out of a job.”  I’ve always believed that a Nepali project should be Nepali (and not American) led, and while I still have lots of work to do, (largely relationship building & fundraising) our Nepali team, specifically my partner Karan Singh, has taken over ownership  and control of the project.  This operational stability has been a seminal achievement for our team and for the organization.

                                                                                                                                                                John + Karan

                                                                                                                                                                John + Karan

As a result of this rapid progress, I’ve spent much of the past 12 to 18 months consciously reducing my workload and responsibilities on the ground – most of the time serving as a cheerleader for our incredible Nepali team and Fellows as they continued to impress.  On both accounts they have not disappointed – and in almost every way performed more competently and capably than I believe I could have. 

The reality of our progress didn’t sink in until last year, as I was sitting with one of our Fellows I looked around our mountain top compound and exclaimed – “this is the realization of a dream”.  While I would never delude myself into thinking our work was done,  that moment on the mountain top brought into focus how much we had accomplished, and left me with a tremendous sense of pride in our team.

With this new reality in mind, I began to think about how I could best serve Oda and maximize my ability to live an impactful life.  Since March of 2013 Oda has consumed almost all of my mental bandwidth.  The Foundation has been My Life, however, our evolution and maturation led me to start wondering what life would look like as Oda became an important Part of My Life.  This period led me to think about how I could step back from the day to day operations, keep learning, and still be able to meaningfully contribute.

A Big Change

When we started Oda I would acknowledge that I lacked critical social sector know-how and as a result was forced to quickly acquaint myself with the fields of public health, education, public policy, non-profit management and of course Nepali Language. 

While I’ve always been a fan of learning by “jumping in to the deep end,” the development of our team has given me confidence that now is the right time to take a step back from my decreasing day-to-day responsibilities in Oda to think critically about my time on the ground.   After an enormous amount of conversation, reflection, and research I decided that the best next step in my journey and that of the Foundation was for me to return to graduate school.  With that said, I’ve decided to attend Business School at Columbia University this fall where I will focus on social entrepreneurship and enterprise.   In addition to putting my experiences into a broader context, my time at Columbia will provide me with opportunities to develop a more defined framework for addressing the many challenges surrounding sustainable development.  I return to school acutely aware of what I would like to achieve, and I believe this time will be imperative, as I evaluate next steps for The Foundation and my own life.

Self-Importance

I have shared my decision to return to school with a number of close friends and family, however, despite making my decision several months ago I’ve been hesitant to broadcast it.  This was due in large part to a deep insecurity that a large portion of our support stemmed from people who contributed to Oda because of a personal relationship with me and the perceived sacrifice that supporters believed that I was enduring to make a difference.  This unfounded insecurity led me to the conclusion that if I spent less time in Nepal, people would care less about the project and ultimately care less about the people we are working so hard to support.  In talking with friends, family, fellows and donors I have realized that while this may have been the case in year one or year two, it is certainly not the case today…I’ve also realized that this insecurity was self-important or even vain in many ways.  The Oda Foundation has evolved into something much larger than one person, it is now an ecosystem consisting of our Nepali team, current and former fellows, donors, board and of course the tens of thousands of people we help in a given year.  I have faith that anyone who has read this far is just as much a part of the Oda Foundation as I am…and while I may have worked to light the initial spark the number of torch bearers is now many.  Our successes, our failures and the profound satisfaction that we are making a real difference are shared by all of us – a reality that is both humbling and reassuring.

What about the Foundation?

As I mentioned previously, my ability to take a small step back from the project is a seminal achievement and a testament to how far our team and our project have come.  In our earliest days, I would spend my time on the ground actively managing the ins and outs of our operations.  Since that time, my responsibilities have changed drastically – and while I still regularly have important conversations with Karan, the “trains run on time” in my absence.  As a result, while in Oda I serve as an observer and a friend to our local team as they continue to thrive. 

While I have relished this role, the lack of internet and a reliable cell phone connection have made it increasingly challenging to fulfill my responsibilities to the organization.   At this point those responsibilities largely include relationship building and identifying the resources we need to sustain the project – as you can imagine that is a tall order when you don’t have email!

While at school during the next two years, I’ve made a commitment to wear two hats – as I work towards my degree and to share Oda’s story…and what better place to share our story than in New York City.

So what happens now?

So now the beat goes on.  In just a few short weeks a team of three new Fellows will join our team on the ground to help provide the enthusiasm and energy which helps fuel our project.  They will continue to provide rich social media content and serve as an intermediary to ensure that our sponsors, donors and followers continue to hear about the impactful work we are making each day.

I believe whole heartedly that my ability to pivot from 9 months a year in Nepal to 3 months a year in Nepal is one of our most significant accomplishments to date.  I believe that this is the beginning of an exciting new chapter where our team will continue to lead the project to even greater heights…and I’m excited to be a part of this chapter, as my role and responsibilities evolve.

                                                                                                                   Our newest Fellows Sarah, Taylor and Aaron are in Nepal now! 

                                                                                                                   Our newest Fellows Sarah, Taylor and Aaron are in Nepal now! 

Conclusion

I wanted to end this post with something I wrote on our second Oda Foundation blog post four years ago.  It is not particularly poetic, however, it captures the emotions that I felt at the time – and accurately predicted the emotions that I would experience over the next four years:

“At such an early stage in the game I can’t have every eventuality covered and I can’t expect to fundraise like a finely tuned machine…Rather, I am the squeaky bicycle doing my best to get moving in the right direction.  I know full well, that this is just the beginning of my challenge and my struggles, but as I scroll through the pictures of the kids the smiles of the kids, I remember the sense of fulfillment I took away from my experience, and ultimately I remember why I’m doing this.  Nobody ever said this was going to be easy, but as with everything the most satisfying things in life take time, dedication, and effort.  They take falling down and getting back up…so to that end, despite the angst and the fear, the hope and the dream will keep this bike squeaking along.” – John, August 2013                 

Thank you all for reading – I’m excited to keep you posted on all of the exciting things to come!

Warm Regards,

John

PS

*I would be remiss if I did not mention how bittersweet this decision has been.  I am so proud of our team’s ability to run the show; however, I am profoundly sad about what that means.  The people of Oda have become family to me – and the disappointment on the faces of the children when I let them know that I would not be returning until winter break cut deep.  I imagine this is just a taste of what it feels like when you take the training wheels of your child’s bike or send them off to college.  An odd and unsettling mix of pride and sadness as you realize that they don’t need you like they once did.  I have been so blessed to have an opportunity to spend so much time in this magical community – and am eager to continue to work toward their and the projects continued success.

**In this post I write perceived sacrifices, because while there were many things I have missed or “sacrificed” along the way, I have been able to take far more from Oda than I have ever given. I have learned about international health, education and development however, above all else I’ve learned about myself through the incredible relationships I have built in Oda and in Nepal.