I graduated from AISK (the American International School of Kabul), and lived in Afghanistan as a teenager. I was amazed to find recently a website for AISK, to learn that there have actually been school reunions (although, understandably, not so many in Kabul). Some of my fondest, and familiar, memories include the jingling of camel bells on camels, the smells of stalls baking nan, flat bread, the harsh mountains of the Hindu Kush, women washing clothes beside the river, a world without TVs. My first job was with the peace corps office there, sorting letters for the volunteers, and I suppose I always pictured myself becoming one of them.
So. It helps me to remember some extraordinary people, lest I surrender my own dreams of travel and service too soon. I remember here, with gratitude and admiration, a few people who have accomplished wonderful things at 60 and beyond. Among them, amazing Marc Gold and his 100 Friends Project (who I met in Tucson in 2008). And Dana Dakin and Women's Trust of Ghana, who I met at a workshop the same year I gave at Kripalu. Murial in Morocco (who is a Peace Corps volunteer at 85) is a blog I follow. And last, Olga Murrey, founder of the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation (which she established after her 60th birthday).
It's my pleasure to share her work (and words) below.
We have only 12 hours of electricity a day (and most of that in the middle of the night), the streets are strewn with festering garbage because of a strike by government workers, and today was the umpteenth day of “bandh” – i.e., a strike by one political party or another – everyone has lost track of who is striking for what. During bandhs, all the roads are closed to vehicular traffic except for bicycles and rickshaws. The silver lining in all this is that bicycle rickshaw drivers are among the most downtrodden, lowly, poverty-stricken, bottom of the barrel citizens of Nepal, and when taxis are not allowed to ply the roads, they are able to charge a decent sum for their back-breaking services.
But that’s not what I want to write about. What I want to tell you is that we have a new boy at J house – I’ll call him Manoj. He just turned four. His father died of AIDS and his mother is HIV positive, as is his sister. They have been evicted from the family home because of the stigma associated with their illness and live in a falling down shack in a rural village. His mother cannot find work. She asked if we would admit him to J House, and although it was hard to separate him from his mother, the chance that she will survive and be able to provide him with decent food and an education are very slim. (She is encouraged to visit whenever she can, and NYOF will pay her travel expenses if necessary.)
The best – the very best – times for me here in Nepal are when I watch how our children respond to a newcomer among them. It is never necessary to ask an older boy or girl to help a younger one – they rush to help and comfort almost without thinking. I just returned from J House a little while ago, and he ran to me immediately showing me the numbers and alphabet he was writing with the help of the teacher we have hired to give him a boost when he starts Montessori school in April. She says he is an apt learner and will be a good student. So, welcome, Manoj, to a new life and a new family.
I’ll write again soon and let you know about our trip with the children from J and K House to a wildlife park in the jungle.
Olga Murray, NYOF Founder