First new classroom addition in Thakani, built with funds from the Himalayan School Project
Wording on wall (under red arrow): Donated by Kristin and Scott Canada
How we began
The Himalayan School Project (HSP) was founded by Kristin Skibsrud and Scott Ross in 1999, in partnership with the people of the small rural village of Thakani in the foothills of the Himalyan mountains of Nepal. Through Canadian Crossroads International, Kristin and Scott taught English at the local school in Thakani. Kristin lived in the village for six months, forming bonds with the village leaders, local families, and school children.
This tiny Himalayan village is known as one of the poorest in Nepal. It is also known for the beauty of its girls. This has proven to be an unfortunate combination. With no opportunity to continue in school past grade 5 (the highest grade the school provided), girl trafficking and prostitution became a heart wrenching choice families often had to make in order to sustain themselves.
Witnessing the devastating impact of poverty and limited options on the local village, Kristin and Scott promised the people of Thakani their continued involvement and support even after they returned to their lives in Canada. They began the Himalayan School Project right then and there, by encouraging the women and girls in the village to produce a large number of the unique and colourful bags they ordinarily made for their own use in the village. Children used them as book bags, and they were clearly identifiable as originating in Thakani. Kristin and Scott committed to selling these bags in Canada as a fundraiser for the school. After their return home, the bags began to arrive in big bundles at the Customs Office in Halifax, having been packed up and carried on the backs of porters down from the Himalayan mountains to Kathmandu, where they were then shipped to Nova Scotia.
The bags always arrived smelling of fresh wool and wood smoke from the fires burning in the centre of all the homes. 100% of the profits from the sale of these bags went directly to the addition of a lower secondary school (Grades 6, 7, and 8). By keeping children in school as long as possible, the hope was to to offer them an education and opportunities that would provide families with an alternative to selling their daughters into the child prostitution industry. Involving the people of Thankani in the fundraising encouraged community development, a sense of ownership of the project, and tremendous pride in the resulting improvements to the school.
Kristin Skibsrud Ross and villagers on return visit to Thakani, 2002
Progress and Partnership
Since its inception in 1999, this tiny project has been successful in raising money to build new classrooms, hire additional teachers, and help with school equipment and supplies.
For several years, due to political turmoil in the region, the Himalayan School Project was unable to send money to Thakani in support of the school. As an alternative, HSP helped a couple of local girls to attend private school in Kathmandu.
Maya Tamang, sponsored by the project from the age of 8, graduated from the Himalayan International Model School in Kathmandu in the spring of 2015, having completed her secondary education. She is now enrolled in her third year at the SANN Institute of Nursing in Kathmandu. Upon completion of her nursing degree she plans to return to Thakani to apply her education and skills in support of her village. Maya is very grateful to the Himalayan School Project for making it possible to achieve this goal, and promises that "to fulfill my aim and villagers' hope I will try to fight all difficulties."
A tremendous boost to the people of Thakani arrived in 2001, when Rob Spackman and Jude Halpern from the St. John's Kilmarnock School near Waterloo, Ontario, were trekking in Nepal with a group of students on a service learning trip. They happened upon Kristin and Scott, who told them about the urgent needs of the village school in Thakani.
Although already supporting another school in Nepal, they decided to add their support to the Thakani school as well. Since that time they have raised funds to help with expanding and outfitting classrooms and contributed to teachers' salaries, the installation of a security wall, purchase of playground equipment, musical instruments and traditional costumes for the school dance program.
In addition to financial support, Jude and Rob along with a group of St. John's Kilmarnock students have been visiting the village of Thakani almost every other year since 2007. On these visits they bring school supplies and sports equipment, share learning strategies with teachers, and help with construction projects. Of particular importance, their assistance in the construction of a set of outhouses (a first for the village) has made it much easier for girls to attend school.