CELEBRATING 30 YEARS OF BRINGING HOPE TO NEPAL
By: Carol Parenteau
A Fateful Day
When Dr. Tulsi Maharjan stepped out of his home in the city of Patan, Nepal to go on an early morning walk, he not only encountered two little girls collecting pennies from the famous Chovar temple, but in a flash of memory he recalled his own economic disadvantages as a youth.
As a high school student in Nepal, Tulsi had anxiously waited for the Nepalese New Year to receive a small gift box from the American Red Cross. It contained a few pencils, erasers, a ruler, a couple pens and maybe candy. “I was in the receiving end 50 years ago,” Tulsi recalls, with a wistful smile. He had been very fortunate, however. His parents’ economic sacrifices eventually provided him the opportunity to study abroad.
Tulsi made a personal commitment to help educate those two girls when he met them in 1989. After he returned to the United States, he planned and developed various fundraisers and programs to provide funds to send more students to school. His employment in higher education, provided him an acute understanding of the transformational powers of education, this Tulsi to work tirelessly over the years, to raise funds to assist young students to attend school. In 1988 he joined the local Rotary Club, an international humanitarian organization. Soon he was involved in various projects and brought awareness of the needs in Nepal to the Club. He also started the Friends of Nepal-New Jersey organization which promotes cultural awareness and provides critical support for poor people in Nepal.
On the fateful morning in 1989 in Nepal, at the foot of the Chovar, 17 years after leaving his country of origin, Tulsi’s focus turned to the children in Nepal; with special interest and intensity, because he knew the importance that early education played in people’s lives. When he asked why the girls were not in school, he learned that the $25 yearly cost per child was prohibitive for their parents.
It Begins with Hope
Asha means HOPE in Nepalese. While Tulsi tacitly understood that it was not possible to give hope to all economically struggling families in Nepal who wanted their children to receive a basic education; he knew he could provide Asha to the two little girls. Hope for a better future for those girls was within his reach. That simple commitment to nurturing and giving hope– would prove to have the power to multiply itself when it was put into practice. That was his promise.
At his return to New Jersey from Nepal, where Tulsi now lived and worked, he embarked on a fundraising campaign, tapping New Jersey Rotarians as well as Friends of Nepal-NJ’s, Nepalese community to contribute to educational projects in Nepal. The fundraising campaign surpassed the initial $3,000 mark.
Hope Grows and Multiplies
Encouraged by his success, Tulsi returned to Patan two years later, in 1991. This time his approach to fund raising was more strategic as he knew that his individual efforts could not scale up to help more students. That is why he challenged his Rotarian colleagues in Nepal to match his own $500 donation for the scholarship program. The community responded in earnest with a cumulative sum of another $3,000. “All of those businesspeople were excited about contributing the gift of education,” Tulsi remarks with a trace of wonder. As of today, the Patan Rotary Club has deposited $100,000 in the bank and with the annual interest, the club is providing 300 to 500 scholarships each year. Remarkably, reflects Tulsi, “in collaboration with various Rotary clubs in Nepal our humanitarian projects have completed more than 20 projects valued at $1,000,000.”
The need for hope is greatest in times of crises, and humanitarian organizations responded to that need in 2015, when a strong earthquake hit Nepal destroying thousands of homes and exacerbating the poverty that already existed, especially in rural areas. By that time, Tulsi had built a solid infrastructure to channel resources and aid. It was that foundation that made possible the emergence of a broader-reaching humanitarian organization that is the “Asha Project” in partnership with the Friends of Nepal-New Jersey, (www.fonnj.com), Rotary club of Branchburg and Rotary International District 7475.
Hope to Action with a Sustainable Model
While the Asha Project’s origin can be traced to the caring attention, intention, and action of Tulsi to help two little girls, the strategic approach it developed to uplift thousands of Nepalese in need is anchored in three principles that give the Asha Project its sustainable organizational structure: a) HOMES OF HOPE: rebuilding homes, community and schools, b) LEGACY OF HOPE: investing in people by providing microloans and training for adults, c) RAYS OF HOPE: providing scholarships for children and youth to attend school and improve their digital literacy. The Asha project was created after his family visit to Nepal in 2016 with his son Anil, daughter Tara and son-in-law Daryl. Anil and Tulsi has continued to visit annually to Nepal to visit projects and other activities since the earthquake.
Today, the Asha Project not only benefits children in Nepal, it has continued to expand to empower women, entire families and communities, and as the silver lining reveals itself, it has given young professionals and other individuals the opportunity to travel, learn, and serve in Nepalese communities helping rebuild homes and schools for earthquake victims and expanding the access to water and healthcare.
Intersection of Passion, Purpose, and Promise – Working Together
After working in the higher education for the 30 years, Tulsi had finally found his passion and the purpose of his life. His passion is to help needy people and young students to learn, and to use his knowledge and skills to “help those who need help.” He has been able to have multiplier effect of those funding from the Friends of Nepal, Rotary clubs in New Jersey and beyond as well as Rotary Foundation matching grants. In the last 30 years more than 1 million dollars worth of projects have been completed in Nepal in cooperation with many Rotary clubs and other organizations in Nepal.
Creation of the GAP PROGRAM – Travel, Learn and Serve.
Among the many strategic partners of the Asha Project are several Rotary Clubs around the world and Friends of Nepal-NJ which have funded almost a million dollars of global grant projects. The GAP “Global Action Program” was created with a purpose of development professional opportunities for young students to TRAVEL-LEARN & SERVE. The GAP Program provides students with an opportunity to learn new skills, learn about new cultures and languages and TAKE ACTION through humanitarian service during their two weeks stay in Nepal. Annual humanitarian missions where Rotarians travel every year to Nepal to help rebuild communities for earthquake victims. This annual trip has given hope and generated excitement among the people of Nepal.
The Empowerment Program for Indigenous Women
The Empowerment Program for Indigenous Women was funded by a $100,000 Rotary Foundation grant to establish a micro credit project to support their entrepreneurial efforts. Rotarians are also funding another major scholarship for Indigenous people of Nepal. This program has continued to help more than 10,000 people in Nepal. This micro credit program was started in 2010 with $15,000 now there are more than $150, 000 invested in Nepal.
Three decades of Humanitarian service with Multiplier effect
It has been three decades since Tulsi’s encounter with the little girls by the temple; this solitary effort has expanded into multiple projects and thousands of individuals who have helped to further enhance The Asha Project’s vision of uplifting individuals from poverty in Nepal.
The Asha Project fundamentally believe that a day will come in our lifetimes when every single child will have access to a quality education, and we will continue to work tirelessly in breaking down the restraints of today to enable the possibilities of tomorrow.