Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Women helping girls

Valley woman to work with Nepalese youth

Express Staff Writer

Nepal is one of those mystical countries where hikers go to become climbers, where paddlers become legend and charitable folks go to feel they are contributing something of value. Olga Murray of Sausalito, Calif., loved Nepal. She hiked there and did volunteer work for six years before discovering the thing that would change her life.

In the south of the country, extremely poor rural farmers were selling their daughters as domestic slaves to wealthy Kathmandu families for as little as it costs to treat your family for a large pizza with everything on it. Other children were simply abandoned at hospitals by families too poor to feed a child who couldn't contribute to their survival. Others were so badly disabled that they couldn't get to school over the mountain trails when they returned to their villages.

Murray had a plan. She asked the village fathers in Tharu to send their children to school rather than selling or abandoning them. In exchange, she gave them pigs or in some cases goats to raise. The animals could then be sold for the same amount that the families might have fetched for their daughters. In 1990, she founded a nonprofit organization, the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation, to supply scholarships for these children's school expenses.

The Indentured Daughters Program now puts some 1,500 girls through school at an annual cost of $100 per student. It also runs two boarding schools, one for boys and one for girls who are abandoned or disabled. She now spends October through March in Kathmandu, each year.

Born in 1925 in Transylvania, Romania, Murray moved to the Bronx, in New York City, with her family when she was 6 years old. She graduated from Columbia University and George Washington University law school, where she was one of the few female students. She spent 37 years as a research attorney with the California Supreme Court.

Wood River Valley resident Alexandra Delis-Abrams was invited to teach at the Trichandra University in Katmandu. Before she leaves on Sept. 10, she will hold a fundraiser at The Community School theater from 7-9 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 4. The documentary "Hope in the Himalayas," about the Nepalese Foundation, will be shown at the event.

"For just $50 a young girl can be rescued," Delis-Abrams said.

For three weeks, Delis-Abrams will teach her 21-day course on conscious choice and conscious creation to students going for their certificates in counseling. In the afternoon she will teach at the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation's counseling center.

"I'll be working with counselors, and the girls," she said. "Whatever I can do. I am going with Barbara Jones, who knows Olga (Murray) and started a counseling center for these girls. She (Jones) also has Ph.D. in transpersonal psychology as I do. My work bridges the world of spirit with matter. It integrates all aspects of who we are: physical, mental, spiritual and emotional—the whole body, ego and soul."

In 2001, the Dalai Lama gave Murray the Unsung Heroes of Compassion Award in 2001 and in 2002 the (then) king of Nepal honored her work with Nepali children. She also won the grand prize for the Mannington Stand on a Better World Award, which carried a $25,000 prize in 2006. In 2005, the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation was awarded the California Association of Nonprofits' Award of Excellence for the innovative Indentured Daughters Program, as well as being named a finalist in the World of Children, and Global Giving Marketplace on Borderless Giving.

Upon Delis-Abrams' return, she will give a talk on the subject to the Idaho Counselors Conference in Boise on Friday, Oct. 3.

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