Pat Whitworth’sunwavering dedication to Shanti Foundation hasgiven many Nepali children the chance to get a good education and a better life.
While preparing for the arrival of Shanti Children’s Foundation sponsors in Kathmandu in May 2010, Pam Whitworth realized that growing political unrest might scuttle her meticulous plans for their visit.
As the Fairfield-based director of Shanti, Whitworth had arranged for sponsors to meet the children they had only known through photos, letters, emails, and grade reports. The group would also visit the two main schools, visit native homes, and trek in the Annapurna region.
Indeed, sponsors arrived from the U.S. to find a general strike in Nepal’s capital city. Transportation had screeched to a halt that morning, and streets that normally bustled with life were eerily deserted amidst fears of violent demonstrations.
As the strike continued, the group learned firsthand that such daily challenges and political instability are a fact of life in modern Nepal, which recently emerged from ten years of civil war.
“The traditional rural lifestyle is becoming a thing of the past as the country moves into the modern age,” Whitworth says. “A world that was stable and sustainable for hundreds of years is changing on so many levels. Education is now vital for the future of the children of Nepal.”
To prepare their children for the challenges that lie ahead, many poor rural families send their youngsters to Kathmandu in hopes that someone will help educate them.
Building a Foundation for Life
Enter Shanti Children’s Foundation. Through the nonprofit, 77 sponsors now enable 50 children to attend quality schools. A dozen more are on the waiting list. The children are Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian, while Shanti’s sponsors are Jewish, Christian, and Buddhist.
“The bottom line for all these children is they need an education,” she says. “You can’t solve all their problems, but this is a problem we can solve. They’ll be that much better prepared for Nepal’s challenging future. And the knowledge that someone on the other side of the world cares enough about them to commit to their ongoing education . . . well, that is priceless.”
After visiting Nepal in 1995 and falling in love with the people and the vast landscape on her trek to Annapurna base camp, Whitworth vowed to return. On her second trip in 1997, she decided to sponsor the education of a boy named Punya. In the process, she learned that many children were too poor to attend school. She returned home with pictures, and invited friends to sponsor a child. Little by little, more children were able to attend school.
“I started being this conduit for kids and sponsors,” she says. “I realized the sponsors weren’t able to take on visiting the kids and overseeing their needs. When I visit the kids, it makes me happy. I love their joy and energy, their purity.”
As the project grew, Whitworth’s responsibilities mushroomed. Today, she travels to Nepal annually, and spends 30 hours a week from Iowa overseeing the progress of the children. “We try to give individual attention and meet the needs of each child as much as we can,” she says. “That’s why we would never want to sponsor more than 100 children.”
Richard and Ute Grimlund of Iowa City have been Shanti sponsors for four years. “It was an amazing experience to go to Nepal and meet the children we’ve been sponsoring,” the retired University of Iowa accounting professor says.
The Grimlunds fund three students through Shanti—Deytuk, a boy from a remote village, and sisters Sonar and Rishika, whose parents work as housekeepers in the city. In addition, Grimlund serves as treasurer on Shanti’s board of directors.
Nans Saarima, a Fairfield artist and small business owner who went to Nepal in 2009, was delighted to meet Jangchup, a girl she has sponsored for 10 years, and the child’s family.
“After writing back and forth and exchanging pictures, once we met we bonded quickly,” Saarima says. “I felt like family to her, and she to me. Since my husband and I don’t have children of our own, it has been wonderful to have this sweet child in our lives.”
Californians David and Caryn Gold have sponsored a number of children through Shanti, including Chandan, a child Whitworth discovered at the age of 8 when a woman from his village mentioned a bright young boy who had lost an eye. Whitworth arranged for him to have a medical exam in Kathmandu. Nothing could be done for his eye, but Shanti made it possible for him to go to school. “He’s worked hard and is consistently at the top of his class,” Whitworth says. “He’s a sweet, radiant kid of 13 now.”
The Shanti Difference
Prior to his Shanti involvement, Richard Grimlund’s family sponsored children in Guatemala through a well-known charity. “Shanti is much more personal—one on one,” Grimlund says. “Each child is personally managed by Pam, and that makes a big difference. There’s always a four-way interaction going on between Pam, the school director, the child, and the sponsor. When problems arise with an individual child, we learn about it and can then do something. For example, we learned Deytuk needed a winter coat and were able to provide that for him.”
Mark Hunter, a California sponsor, has also participated in other charities. He sees many advantages to the way Shanti operates. “Other organizations have an initial mission, but expand too rapidly,” he says. “They try to be all things to all people, and stretch themselves too thin. If they’re too big, too many kids and sponsors fall through the cracks. Pam also strikes the right balance when considering questions from the kids—she’s compassionate, but not a pushover. Buddha called that wisdom plus wise action.”
Some of Shanti’s sponsors join with friends to sponsor a child. Others make monthly donations to help cover administrative costs. Still others donate their services or frequent flyer miles. All contributions add to the spirit and success of Shanti.
Whitworth has a unique take on the role of charity. “Most people tend to focus on what money can do,” Whitworth says. “Yes, it buys children an education. But what we’re really doing is connecting people—donors and kids. It reminds both sides that we’re here as a human family to help one another, to draw together. That’s what we need so much in the world. That’s why people like being involved with Shanti.”
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