A Comfortable Fit

Story told by Bruce Keenan and written by Cal Fussman

 

That’s me at the bottom right. I’ve watched these kids grow from nursery school on. So in a way, I guess you could call this a family photo.

It’s a long story. But it goes back to the girl who started it all. A girl I’ve never seen after the time I took her photo. This girl.

 

I was trekking in the shadow of the Himalayas 20 years ago when we stopped in a little teahouse. In Nepal, a teahouse is a small restaurant where you can get a meal, but there are also rooms where you can throw down a sleeping bag and have a roof over your head.

I noticed this girl sweeping in the restaurant and later outside hanging up sheets to dry. She had such a beautiful smile. It was only natural to ask about her. I was told she’d been abandoned in the street, and the owner of the teahouse had taken her in. The owner put her through two years of school and then thought it was time for her to go to work.

The good news was she was alive and smiling. But she was also seven years old and working. I have three daughters of my own. So it really hit me, and I asked my guide: Is there anything I can do to help her get educated?

The guide said: “If you send money to the teahouse owner there’s no guarantee that she’ll be sent to school. The money may just go into the owner’s pocket. And there is no way I can check on her because I’m not here often -- and just getting here from Katmandu requires two plane flights.”

A couple that I was trekking with had been to Nepal three years earlier and sponsored two girls in Katmandu. It sounded like I could piggy back on top of that. Then the guide said he lived close to that same orphanage, and he could swing by to make sure any kids I sponsored were okay. So when we got back to Katmandu, I sponsored two girls.

That is my wife, Susan, with those girls – Nari (in pink) and Chet (in black) about a year later.

 

My wife and I fell in love with Nepal, the culture and the people.

We thought: If these kids are bilingual, they’ll have an advantage when it comes to finding work once they get older. So we placed them in a local school where everyone is taught in English.

Three or four years after we began to sponsor Nari and Chet, we decided to move them to a boarding school. That’s when Nari and Chet asked us if we could sponsor two of their friends in the orphanage. We did, putting all four of them in the boarding school.

When Susan and I came back to the states after that visit, we realized we needed to find other sponsors.

Then the orphanage asked if we could sponsor three boys – and we did. We sent the boys to boarding school, too. And we needed to look for more sponsors.

That’s how Himalayan Children’s Charities got started. In the last 20 years, we’ve been putting 55 orphaned or abandoned children through boarding school.

Then the 2015 earthquake hit. You hear a story about a mother killed under a collapsing home and you know you’ve got to do something. So we began to give scholarship money to earthquake victims in rural villages.

In Nepal, it doesn’t cost money to go to a local school, but you do have to buy uniforms and books. There are exam fees and you need lunch money. So we give scholarship money to the the surviving parents so that their children will be able to go to school. All told now, we’re educating 130 kids. 

Once the 55 kids in our core program are about 16 years of age, and done with boarding school, they move into our youth home – a nine-room house that we rent. When the kids go to university, we rent an apartment for the boys and an apartment for the girls. They get an allowance, and begin transitioning on their own.

We provide a family environment for them, give them life skills and leadership training. They learn how to work as a team. They learn public speaking. All those are differentiators.

The first two girls that I sponsored, Nari and Chet -- look at them now. 

Nari, on the left, is a registered nurse working in a neonatal ICU. Chet is a nurse practitioner getting a bachelor’s degree in public health.

Who better to deliver services to kids orphaned or abandoned than kids who themselves had been orphaned or abandoned? In the future, all the charity’s operations in Nepal will be managed by the kids who’ve come up through our program.

How does Sportiqe enter the story? Well, I’m a big fan of what Matt and Jason are doing at Sportiqe. So a while back, I began to bring Sportiqe Comfy Tees to the kids in Nepal. I call it: “On the mule.”

I’m the mule.

I carry the shirts in my luggage. It’s such a beautiful experience to see all the kids line up for them. Kids in Nepal are not accustomed to clothing that soft. And as soon as each child gets a Comfy Tee, they put it on. 

They sleep in those shirts. They go places in them. They love these shirts so much, I’ve seen these shirts literally get worn out. The kids see the name of their charity on the front –  and it gives them a sense of identity. A sense of belonging. A sense of comfort.

When you see the love these kids have for their tee shirts, you see a tee shirt in a whole new way.

For more information or ways that you can help, please reach out to contact@hccnepal.org.