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Michael G. DeSombre

Partner, Hong Kong

Mergers & Acquisitions

Michael DeSombre spent nine days volunteering at a local school in a small, rural village in Nepal.
Can you tell us about the organization you volunteered with and how you became involved?
It’s a charity organization that my daughter founded when she was in high school. She had been to Nepal with a different U.S.-based organization called Global Routes and visited a village in rural Nepal where she built a school. She was really moved by that experience and wanted to continue the charity work specifically in connection with that village, so she kept in contact with the chief of the village. Together with another of her classmates, they raised money to fund a trip to Nepal to bring additional school materials and teach English in the school.
She created an organization called Project Rovi, named after one of the small children in the village, and raised money throughout the year in Hong Kong and then organized this charity trip. She is now expanding the organization to other villages. The basic principle of the organization is to support literacy and to provide school materials and teachers to schools in rural Nepal.
What were the conditions of the village?
The village is about an hour bus ride from Katmandu and then it’s an hour hike from the main road. It is a very traditional farming village of about 50 families, all of whom live in mud-brick houses of two stories with part of the downstairs area for the few farm animals. They grow lentils, corn and rice and raise chickens, goats and water buffalo. There is no mechanized farm equipment, and they do everything by hand with assistance from the water buffalos for plowing. In many respects, the village fundamentally hasn’t changed in 500 years. They don’t have indoor plumbing and only have limited electricity. Because the electricity is very inconsistent, they only use electricity for light bulbs, and while we were there the lights were only on for one evening of the trip.
Can you describe your charity trip? How did your work help the local community?
Education is the only way that these children can ever get out of the village farming life. The parents understand this but do not have sufficient resources to support the school. The government provides some funding for the school, but the facilities are very Spartan and there is never enough paper, pencils, books, etc. Moreover, some of the teachers that are supposed to be teaching often show up only sporadically on days when they are supposed to be paid.
We carried school materials in with us on our initial hike into the village, and to really maximize the contribution, we provided Kindles and e-readers to the schools. Although it’s sort of leap-frogging over many centuries of technology, the benefit of e-readers is that you can give one e-reader loaded with hundreds of books. We loaded the Kindles with more than 100 English and Nepali books each. Because they do have electricity periodically, they are able to recharge them, even if not every day.
What did you find most surprising/challenging?
I was very impressed by how eager the children were to learn. It was clear they really wanted to be in school, and I think sometimes we take education for granted. The fact that these kids could go to school was a real privilege. So much of village life is not intellectual—it’s manual labor and surviving. The period when we visited was the summer harvest vacation when children (no matter how young) are supposed to be helping their parents in the field. The kids came back just for our lessons. The people of the village are just wonderful and very appreciative. They welcomed us into their homes and were very appreciative of our teaching their children and providing additional school supplies. It really was a very wonderful and moving experience.

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