In Nepal, child slavery wasn’t on the national radar until one women came upon the scene.
Olga and I became friends over a decade ago. At that time she told me “some women fall in love with men–I fall in love with countries.” She visited Nepal in 1984 to go trekking in the Himalayas where she discovered a country and a cause to which she has devoted the rest of her life.
“I was almost 60, and perhaps subconsciously, I was searching for something worthwhile to do following my retirement. I got off the plane in Kathmandu and was overwhelmed by the beauty of the land, the exotic surroundings, but most of all by the children. They were poor beyond anything I had ever experienced – dressed in rags and dirt, malnourished, mostly unschooled, but with an amazing capacity for joy. I thought that for the price of a good haircut, I could make a huge difference in their lives.’*
So she returned to the USA determined, somehow, to do just that.
By raiding her own savings, and securing donations from friends, she returned to Kathmandu with the wherewithal to establish a home for the country’s throwaway children – street urchins, handicapped kids, orphans, or children who had been abandoned – often by parents too poor to feed them.
As word spread about her work, generous people worldwide wanted to help. In 1990, two years before she retired, Olga founded a non-profit organization, Nepal Youth Opportunity Foundation (www.nyof.org) NYOF, and just in time.
Sixteen years ago Olga learned about the practice of selling young girls into bondage in Southern Nepal. Poverty forces families to sell their daughters, as young as 6-years old, as domestic slaves or worse. Olga has worked tirelessly to find a solution.
Her new program pays parents to keep their daughters at home and in school. However, in lieu of cash, her foundation offers families a piglet, which they can raise on kitchen scraps and sell, ultimately receiving about as much as they would from their daughter’s labor. Girls receive a school uniform, notebooks, pencils, a school bad, a daily snack at school, and most importantly, an education.
“What began as a pilot project with 37 families now included 2,00 girls,”she marveled”I realized that education is the best way to ensure a better life for these children,” Olga says, knowing this would become a cornerstone of her work.
Over the past 19 years, not only has the number of supported children expanded, but so have the ways in which they are helped.In addition to scholarships, NYG funds the salaries of more than 65 teachers in various poor rural areas, and teacher training. Her foundation also runs two boarding school and nutritional programs in Kathmandu.
The children’s home, originally for boys, had of necessity become coed, and was full to overflowing. NYOF rented another house, and a home for girls was born. Both homes provide children with warm beds, hot meals, a safe haven and security. NYOF provides these kids not only private education, living and medical expenses, but love and personal attention—just as a good parent would do. And the kids will be taken care of from childhood through college.
Since her retirement in 1992, Olga has divided her time between her home in Sausalito, California, and a new home in Kathmandu, devoting all her energy to help her children. Olga was an attorney for 37 years helping to write opinions for two California Supreme Court chief justices in San Francisco.
Olga has delivered a TED TALK in Vienna, been a guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” NPR, and National Geographic Weekend, and was honored by the Dalai Lama and the former King of Nepal.
She is living proof that getting older does not mean slowing down. “I’m not that different than I was 25 years ago,” Olga says. “I’ve stayed active and interested in life. Regular exercise – walking, going to the gym, lifting weights for my knees and back – has helped me stay healthy. I haven’t had a cold in fifteen years. Also, I’m more positive and more confident. I know where I’m going and what I want to do, so I don’t get so involved in my own problems.”
*Except from Olga’s Promise, but Olga Murray and Mary Sutro Callender