Extending a Hand from Marion to Nepal
By Paul E. Kandarian, Boston Globe Correspondent | February 24, 2005
Sally Hunsdorfer will travel all the way from the comfort of her Marion home next week to frigid Chaurikharka near Mount Everest to make a special delivery: 500 fleece jackets and vests. The Himalayan village is almost like her second home.
Hunsdorfer, along with husband Peter and their children, Todd and Ben, first visited the Nepal village in 1997. The boys missed school for a year to backpack around the world with their parents on what Sally Hunsdorfer calls an educational and spiritual journey. She had just become involved with the Marion Institute [formerly the Marion Foundation], a local think tank that promotes programs it believes enhance life for the planet and people.
"The affiliation changed my life," Sally Hunsdorfer said. "It made me take risks."
To make the trip, Peter left his general contracting business, and Sally took a leave from the Bookstall, a local bookstore she owns.
The family sold antiques from their Marion Village home to finance the trip. They planned to spend a month in Nepal but ended up staying two after falling in love with the village and its people, especially Dawa Sherpa, with whom the family lived. Sally Hunsdorfer has been back four more times to the village, which is a week's hike from Kathmandu. Eldest son Todd, 24, and his girlfriend have returned there to teach English to the children.
Sally Hunsdorfer, 53, is leaving on Tuesday with the donated jackets and vests to distribute in villages along the road to Chaurikharka, she said. Last year, Hunsdorfer said, she "decided to do more than just squeal about the experiences I've been having."
So she founded the nonprofit Himalayan Project to help build a modern school in Chaurikharka. The village has two small schools, both established by Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest. The world's highest mountain at 29,028 feet, Everest is about 50 miles from Chaurikharka.
Hunsdorfer started her campaign by sending fund-raising letters to 300 friends and relatives, and the Himalayan Project has so far collected approximately $30,000, she said. The money will be used to enclose some small huts that are used for schooling, and to fund a library. The money will go a long way in an area where people live on $200 a year, she said, enabling scholarships to be set up for village children and perhaps help persuade them to stay in the area after they grow up.
"What's happening is kids are bee-lining for [Kathmandu] when they become adults," she said. "We'd like to create a school that makes Sherpas proud of where they came from and pass down their traditions. You need to attract Sherpa teachers that you pay appropriately so they don't leave.
"If we start a school like this, the kids could still live there, learn what they'd learn in Kathmandu, but come home with their families and [live] in a culture they're proud of," she said.
The Marion Institute endorses and supports the program, said Callum Grieve, the Institute's marketing director, because "it's a tangible and meaningful way to offer a better future to children of the Himalayan region. That itself speaks to our mission to heal the planet and promote programs that will create deep and positive change."
"Children live and grow and stay there if there's schooling," Grieve added.
Sherpas are a tribe that settled in the area about 500 years ago, Hunsdorfer said. They are mostly known as guides for climbers. All have the last name of Sherpa, she said, and first names come from the day of the week on which they were born. They are distinguished by unique middle names, she said.
"There are about 300 people in the village of Chaurikharka and kids trek from all over to go to school there. It's one of two schools up to grade 10 in the entire Everest region," she said. "Most kids quit -- if they go to school at all -- after the third or fourth grade to go to work."
She said is pleased with the financial response to her fund-raising letter.
"People responded to the passion that I have in this second journey of my life, in the second stage of my life," Hunsdorfer said.
"People at our age settle for a second stage of children, grandchildren, security. I just couldn't be there," she said.
"I still have all that but just wanted some purpose for the second half of my life that allowed me to give back to a culture that has given me an unbelievable sense of the world and myself."
Donations to the Himalayan Project can be made by check, payable to The Marion Institute and mailed to 3 Barnabas Road, Marion 02738. For more information about the nonprofit group please call 508.748.0816.
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