With a solid plan in place, Kiwanis Nepal grows from a few clubs to full-district status while focusing on a sustainable future.
Story and photos by Kasey Jackson
Kathmandu is a capital city that sits in a valley known as Nepal Mandala in the Himalayan foothills of Nepal. It’s known the world over for its magnificent temples, ancient history, colorful culture and festivals. Visit here, and the people will greet you with a friendly namaste and make you feel right at home.
Walk the streets, and you feel the strength and faith of its people. Look up at the prayer flags fluttering in the wind. Gently roll your fingers along the prayer wheels. This is a special place, a peaceful and spiritual place. A place in one of the poorest countries in the world, but where the people are compassionate and willing and eager to serve others.
And this past September, it became a special place for another reason. It’s where the newest Kiwanis district was formed.
How it began
Kiwanis was introduced in Nepal in 2015 with the formation of two clubs: the Kiwanis Club of Lumbini and the Kiwanis Club of Kathmandu. From there, it grew quickly with three clubs opened in 2016; 11 in 2017 and eight in 2018. Today, there are more than 50 clubs and more than 1,000 members in Nepal.
The formation of this new district didn’t come about haphazardly. Nepal District Governor Sujan Shrestha (at left) explains there was a concerted effort to have new clubs work with partners in the community, align service with community needs, give priority to children’s causes, support growth of Service Leadership Programs and encourage hands-on service. And maybe the most important requirement: Each club started with an identified signature project.
A few examples: Lumbini sponsors a K-Kids club and distributes school supplies. Itahari supports children who live far from school by providing bicycles. And the Everest club supports a local Mamaghar, a rehabilitation center for children living on the street.
“A signature project is important to us to provide meaningful impact to the citizens of our community, which inspires all to serve more,” says Suhama Phewa Limbu, a member of the Kiwanis Club of Itahari. “Moreover, to introduce and experience global friendship and fraternity among members.”
Visiting the projects
As Nepalese Kiwanians and guests gather in Kathmandu for an education conference and to celebrate becoming a district, it’s also time to show off some of the work Kiwanians are doing around the city and beyond. Seeing the clubs in action brings it all to life.
The first stop is an orphanage supported by the Kiwanis Club of Bagmati. Children, most of them barefoot, sit around a bright blue table on an outdoor patio as Kiwanians explain the project. About 22 children ages 4 to 14 receive food, stationery and furniture from caring Kiwanians. The children sleep and eat here, and then head to another location for school. The help is needed and appreciated, and it’s working: Ten children at this facility have gone on to graduate high school. Before heading off to their next project, Bagmati Kiwanians donate shelves to the facility — another place to keep precious school supplies.
“This project is a benefit to their studies, their daily needs and their arrangement inside this building,” says Bibek Dhital, member of the Bagmati club.
The next stop is the site of another Bagmati club project: the Nepal Integrated Blind Development Association, where Kiwanians donate food, drink and Braille copy paper to the blind children. Kiwanis Asia-Pacific Chairman Peter Zander talks with the students and helps Kiwanians and other guests distribute the gifts. A student reads from a book of braille for the assembled crowd and then has a simple message, delivered with a big smile: “Your simple cooperation and help makes our future, so why don’t you help us? Thank you!”
During the car ride to the next project, Governor Shrestha explains the need for mental health education in Nepal, and how a project of the Kiwanis Club of Kathmandu is reaching young people in schools. The School Mental Health Awareness Program at the Janaprabhat Secondary School in Kalimati is organized by the club and presented with partner Samhavya Foundation. In a room crowded with 93 students, facilitators talk about feelings and emotions. The students are asked to participate, answering questions and sharing thoughts. With the highest suicide risk in Nepal hitting between the ages of 14 and 21, this is an extremely important topic. And for every boy who dies by suicide, four girls do.
The students, dressed in similar uniforms of green and white with neckties, scribble notes during the presentation. Some giggle. Others are serious. This program will last for several hours this day and is staged in several schools.
Maybe the most memorable trip comes the next day. The Shree Barhadevi Basic School is nestled high in the clouds on a mountaintop in the Sindhupalchok District. A three-hour drive from Kathmandu through earthquake-devastated terrain and up treacherous rain-gutted dirt roads that are impassable by anything but the toughest vehicles delivers Kiwanis members to the school. There, students, teachers, parents and village elders await with gifts of flowers and silk scarves. In return, the Kiwanis Club of Sindhupalchok donates backpacks, food and school supplies to each child. The students line up patiently and await their names to be called for their gifts. Each smile and namaste from adults and children alike shows their gratitude.
One final stop in Panauti takes us to the Siddartha Vansthali Institute, where many students walk for miles across mountainous terrain just to attend class. And they often show up hungry. Through a grant from the Kiwanis Children’s Fund, the Kiwanis Club of Kathmandu City helps all preschoolers ages 3 to 5 receive nutritious meals for all 200 days of school.
“We realized that some of the students need the nutrition, so then we started this program,” says Principal Narayan Niroula, as he hands out samples of the meals to Kiwanians and guests. “It is sincerely helping, so we thank the Kiwanis Club of Kathmandu City and Kiwanis International.”
Governor Shrestha says the stakes are higher and responsibilities are greater now that Nepal is an official district.
“We had an aggressive membership and club growth drive over this past year,” he says. “Now, we will focus on sustainability. 2019-20 will be the cool-down period as well as a time to complete all the relevant formalities of a district, such as lieutenant governors training and preparing policies and procedures. During the cool-down period, our goals are to have all clubs conduct their signature project so that future clubs can learn from the clubs now. We will also have Kiwanis Children’s Fund Nepal fully functioning and raising funds.”
The signature projects are in place and great work is being done. The charter ceremony for the district is over. The first official education and training conference was a success. And the Asia-Pacific Conference is scheduled to be held in Kathmandu in March 2020. Thousands of children and families are being helped in communities all over the country. It’s been a busy time in Nepal.
“The members are convinced that we are doing the right thing for the children of Nepal,” Shrestha says. “We have only envisioned to serve the Nepalese kids, whether the kids are hungry in the streets of Kathmandu and Hetauda or they go without notebooks in a rural school. We are now inspired as ever to ensure that every kid in Nepal is in school, fully clothed, with full stomach and in sound health so that they are prepared for their own world tomorrow.”
This story originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Kiwanis magazine.