In summer 2011, we (Liz and Len, a couple from North Vancouver, Canada) took a one-year sabbatical from work to spend time visiting friends and family, and to travel to some of the places we've always wanted to see. Our first travel destination was Nepal. Little did we know that this trip would have such a powerful effect on our lives.
Amongst the many adventures during our two months in this country, we went trekking in the Gokyo Valley, just west of Mt. Everest. We hired a guide, Kamal, and a porter, Narayan, to accompany us on our 20-day trek across the middle hills and up into the realm of the highest mountains in the world.
At the end of this spectacular journey, our guide Kamal invited us to join him on a visit to his wife Nanu's family in their hill village of Khanigahu, east of Kathmandu. We felt extremely honoured to have the opportunity to meet his extended family. For the three days we were there, we were again and again struck by the incredible generosity, warmth of spirit and humour-loving nature of these most wonderful people.
It is very hard, carving out a good life in the middle hills of Nepal. Of the three extended families living together in this remote village perched on the steep side of a valley, all adults are subsistence farmers, except for the few that have left the village to find paid work in Kathmandu, a day's bus ride away.
In addition to having no paid work opportunities, one of the biggest challenges for the family is ensuring their children will obtain a decent education.
Kamal's great-niece is Resmi; she was 5 when we met her. She and her older brother attend the little school in Khanigahu when a teacher is there. Resmi is being raised by her grandfather while her father works in Kathmandu and her mother is out from dawn until nightfall tending the fields and foraging greenery for the family's animals.
Resmi's grandfather wants his granddaughter to have the opportunity to get a sound education, and we were asked to consider becoming Resmi's sponsor. Although this is not something we had been aware of before arriving and travelling in this country, many families in Nepal have private "sponsorship" arrangements to help their children go to a good school.
It was a big decision for this family as it meant that 5 year old Resmi would leave her village to attend school. We took several weeks to decide a course of action, during which time Kamal visited many schools in Kathmandu. After much discussion between us and, of course with the family through Kamal, we made the commitment to become Resmi's sponsors.
We visited the selected school and met with the principal. It is a school that - if we had children - we would be happy for them to attend. The entire family had been hoping for this outcome and was very excited! We had a couple great big feasts with much laughing and dancing in Kamal and Nanu's little room in Kathmandu. And much to our surprise, within days, Resmi was in preparation to attend her new school!
In December 2011, we left the country with a sad heart; we had become very close to Kamal and his family and would miss their infectious laughter. Fortunately, it turns out that mobile phone calls to Canada from Nepal are less than 2 cents per minute, so, we began our weekly calls with Kamal.
Jasper is Born
In May, 2012 Nanu (Kamal's wife) gave birth to their first child, a boy. We were thrilled for them and in a miracle of timing, the gift box we had sent of baby clothing and new-parent gifts had arrived the evening before Nanu gave birth.
The bigger source of amazement for us is that, a week after the birth of their child, Kamal phoned us and told us that he wanted a North American name for his son and we had to pick it! Yes, a whole lot of surprise and disbelief for us and a huge responsibility.
Liz and Len had met in 1998 while on an 8-day backpacking trip in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta. Rocky seemed like a bad name, but Jasper was a name we liked that evoked images of giant and beautiful mountains - a lot like where we met this little fellow's dad. So, we selected the name "Jasper".
And thus, we came to name our friend's first-born son. We hope he likes it when he is older; we're glad there is a little story to go with his name, as he is most certainly the only little boy in that country named Jasper.
We don't know what the future holds for Jasper or his family but we wanted to help somehow. However, sponsoring two children will be a big financial responsibility for us over the next 15 years.
Full-time tuition with room and board, uniforms and books, will cost about $2,750 per year. We have 5 years before Jasper goes to school but we wanted to start raising funds now; to pay for school for two children from Kindergarten to Grade 12 is about $60,000 in today's money.
We spent much of the rest of our year's sabbatical with these thoughts in the back of our minds. How could we start to gather funds to support these two childrens' education, while somehow involving Kamal and his family so that it would feel more like a team effort?
Creating Jackets for Jasper
We decided we would design and sell hand-made lightweight down jackets made in Kathmandu, Nepal. Kamal and Nanu would help us by being our team in Nepal, and we would be responsible for importing and selling the jackets here in Canada.
Every cent of the profit from these jackets will go to fund the education of Resmi and Jasper so they can go to school. Every cent. We know you have the option to buy any of the name brand jackets sold at MEC and elsewhere but we sincerely hope that you feel as good as we do about wearing a jacket that is educating two children and playing an important role in their family's life.
Thank you for your interest in our story; we hope we've inspired you to help make a difference.
October 2015 Update:
With Resmi and Jasper's lifetime education funding secured, we have sponsored Komol, Jasper's adopted brother.
September 2017 Update:
Now that Komol's education is also fully funded, we have partnered with Kelowna-based Her International (formerly "International Women's Education Network" or IWEN) so that we can continue to fund children (girls) to attend school in rural Nepal.
April 2018 Update:
As we wrap up, we can celebrate that the sale of jackets we (and you) covered the lifetime education of Jasper, Resmi, Komol and 11 additional girls in Nepal. Isn't it amazing what a jacket can do!
Lenard and Liz
and Kamal, Nanu, Resmi, Jasper and the Nagarkoti and Athikari families!