On Saturday, 14 January, 175 members of the ACS community celebrated Project Nepal's many accomplishments and fundraised for upcoming projects in a prayer flag-decorated torch-lit marquee at The Oakley Court. Authentic Nepali food served family style, games, a raffle, silent auction and live auction were among the highlights of the evening! The Project Nepal team is deeply grateful for the endless support of the community.
Please see below for the text of Lauren Kelley's speech.
I am Lauren Kelley and I am fortunate enough to be the director of Project Nepal, alongside Bill Roach, Stella Therond, Shefika Sechilir and Bill Belcher. I am deeply humbled to say even that; this project is so vast that I hesitate to tie only a handful of names to it.
It takes but a second within the doors tonight to realize that this event is a team effort. Stella, your tireless efforts, for five years now, to fundraise are an enormous part of the reason that our first years have been the raging successes that they have been. Thank you to you and to your entire team.
Bill Roach, this year marks your 12th year as coordinator of one of ACS’ humanitarian projects. What an incredible gift that is to the hundreds of ACS families you’ve touched, and of course the impact you have had on the lives of Kenyan, Tanzanian, Polish, Egyptian, Moroccan and Nepali students can’t go unmentioned.
Thank you for your tireless service and for being one of the most important mentors I have ever had.
We also welcome Ian Forbes here tonight, who along with his colleagues at Adventure Lifesigns, have gone above and beyond to support the growth of Project Nepal. In fact, the reason that Project Nepal is Project Nepal is because when I took over the project, I asked Ian where he would move our project to if he could move it anywhere. It took him no more than a second to choose Nepal--for its people, its beauty and its need.
When the Independent Schools Association named us the national winner for “Outstanding Contribution to Cultural Understanding,” in November, we knew it was a testimony to the comprehensive efforts of all of our school community together.
So many of you here tonight have supported us from the beginning. You have sent your children to school with extra money to support yet another student-run fundraiser, you have donated in countless ways,
and maybe have even sent one or even two of your children with us to Nepal, many of you more than once.
To the many ACS staff here tonight, you have worked diligently to instill in our student body, from Kinder to G12, a desire to serve. Because you have seized every teachable moment, our kids see injustice as motivation--to them, it is an opportunity to make change.
We all know that inner character virtues are more important than our CV ones. Certainly, it is a misconception that all schools leave us clearer on how to build a career than how to build inner character.
My time at ACS and with the project have proved this again and again. How fortunate for our students that they not only have an education promotes action and character, and teachers that work to ensure we achieve that mission, but they have families that do exactly the same. In a world beset with challenges, together we have thoroughly prepared our kids to be contributing members of society.
In 2014, we announced that our plan for Project Nepal was simple: two communities helping each other. I told you then how excited I was for all the ways our school community would impact Nepal; and I admitted that perhaps I was even more excited at the countless ways they would inevitably impact us. Certainly, language cannot encompass the impact Project Nepal has had in just two and a half years.
It is impossible not to be moved by the country itself; the beauty of everything from it’s prayer flag-covered mountains to its temples to its welcoming people stirs your soul. And when you are a young adult who is there on your own accord and with a mission to help, and you are given the opportunity to leverage that with bricks and mortar, your soul is much more than stirred; it’s lit on fire. And those 79 fires have burned strong (17 even twice).
At 6:00 each morning, awakened by roosters, our students shower in dark, cold showers, put on dirty clothes
then go to work before breakfast moving stacks of bricks, mixing cement and sanding...and sanding...and sanding...
In the end, those grueling tasks, and our funds, have amounted to something great. We have now touched the lives of nearly 200 Nepali students and their families and 25 staff in two communities. We have built five classrooms and secured many other structures damaged by the 2015 earthquake; we have designed, implemented and stocked a library with over 1000 books collected by ACS Lower School students; built a shower and toilet block; installed running water and electricity; donated clothing and learning materials, given 25 laptops and even installed the school’s first playground equipment.
For many of our Year 2 kids, a highlight was seeing their grassroots idea to develop land into a community football pitch come to life the very next day as a bulldozer appeared as if by magic. The chaperones and I will remember that day especially because it is the first time our grueling labor had ever been--and will probably ever be--assisted by power tools.
My favorite photo of the thousands we have taken in Nepal is one taken last year by G12 Michaela Bunting, who traveled with us twice. The photo is of a 12-year old Nepali student smiling ear-to-ear as she tried out a swing for the very first time. Our kids had JUST finished sanding and painting the seats on that swing, but the Nepali students didn’t wait for them to dry. They found newspaper and stuck it right to those wet swing seats. And sat right down. Our student painters watched in horror...and then, of course, the horror became pride as the swing rides and joy went well into the evening and through the week.
In 2015, we partnered with HANDS an NGO that specializes in health and nutrition in developing societies.
We wanted to improve the lives of our Nepali friends outside of school, too. Since our partnership with HANDS began, we have implemented sustainable nutrition programs throughout the Jana Bhawana Community, we have employed three full-time Nepali staff to mobilize families, we have built a kitchen at the school which relies on a new garden and employed a cook. For the first time in their lives, students and staff will receive a nutritious daily school meal, at no cost to them.
In November, we were able to fund winterization support, providing each student and staff member with winter clothing and blankets for their homes.
In December, we received a donation to purchase one solar lamp for each child so they will now have light in their homes for the first time.
HANDS has created a short movie highlighting our work together especially for you to see tonight. Please have a look on our website's homepage.
Certainly, talent is more evenly distributed than wealth. Students at rural free schools in Nepal typically finish at age 15, then work to help support their families. Our current project is to send our Nepali students to university in Kathmandu, and to support their families so this can be possible. For around £6000, a student will gain tuition, accommodation for the entirety of the degree, food and course materials.
I am ecstatic to say we have recently received a donation that will fund our first two students’ university education. It’s a great start.
Undoubtedly, Project Nepal stands alone at the top of my personal list of life highlights. And, with the exception of this adventure that my husband and I will begin soon, I find it hard to believe that many things will compare. Selfishly, I thank you all for making Project Nepal not just happen, but for helping us make it into what we only dreamed it could be.
On behalf of the many of us involved in Project Nepal, thank you deeply for your support of one of the most important lessons we will ever aim to teach: service above self.