Canadian-born Director and Fundraiser of SMD Boarding School in Katmandu, www.himalayanchildren.org
We are here to help the forgotten children of the Himalayas preserve their language, culture and Buddhist way of life.
Shree Mangal Dvip (SMD) School serves the needs of children who come from some of the most vulnerable places—the northern villages of the Nepal Himalayas. These villages are situated in geographically challenging and isolated areas at high altitude (as high as 14,000 feet; around 4,000 m.).
They are subject to climate extremes, and have no roads, electricity, running water, sanitation, telecommunication, health care or schools.
Shirley Blair has given service to SMD School for 20 years. Together with the School’s Principal, she oversees all aspects of school operations in her role as Director.
Years ago, Founder Thrangu Rinpoche gave the following instruction to her…to “make the school as good a school as you can.”
Shirley’s primary responsibility as such is the direction of the school—children, staff and physical campus. She sources funds, materials and training; recruits volunteers; and oversees ongoing education for ‘senior’ students who have graduated from grade 10.
Daily tasks include community, donor and partner relations, writing for the website, Facebook and print media, producing slide shows, formulating proposals, making presentations, and public speaking.
She also travels to arrange scholarships and to fundraise, as all of SMD’s funding comes from overseas, from 26 different countries.
Other tasks include legal work, writing the management plan, job descriptions and contracts. Counselling and mental health fall under the purview of the Director as well, but hygiene, nutrition and health care are now well managed by the school clinic.
Shirley also manages the Senior Programme—ongoing education for students past grade 10. Whether students stay in Nepal or go overseas, they need counselling. Their families can’t help and teachers do not see it within their role to prepare students to go overseas. Assistance with writing scholarship applications and applying for visas is an essential part of the job.
Watch my interview with Shirley and listen to her emotional story about how her admiration for a Tibetan Lama took her to Nepal to fight for the survival of the forgotten children of Himalayan.
Thrangu Rinpoche founded the main school, SMD School, in 1987 near the Great Stupa in the Kathmandu valley of Nepal. It offers free education, housing, medical and dental care to hundreds of mountain kids.
In 2002, Rinpoche opened SMD Branch School for Monks to relieve crowding at the main school. The Branch School is at Namo Buddha, on the rim of the Kathmandu valley, about two hours away from the main school.
Our kids are culturally and linguistically Tibetan, and their thinking is Buddhist. For centuries, the teachings of the Buddha have flourished without interruption in the Nepal Himalayas. We continue these teachings at our school.
Nepal is among the poorest, least developed countries in the world. 25 per cent of the population lives on less than US $0.50 per day. Malnutrition rates are alarming: 41 per cent of the country’s children under five are stunted. Child mortality rates are high, especially in remote mountain villages where children die of common childhood diseases (these figures are related to low literacy rates). In January 2018, Nepal was ranked last among 180 countries for air quality in the EPI report, which highlighted air pollution as a leading threat to public health.
Exclusion, abject poverty and hunger erupted into civil war in 1996. The killing and destruction raged for ten years; it left no one untouched. The end of the war saw what little infrastructure there had been destroyed. Since then, continued political instability, high prices, and extreme natural disasters have pushed the country further into chaos and hunger. Massive earthquakes in 2015 killed thousands and displaced many more. In the mountains, the farmers lost everything—their homes, their tools and their livelihoods. Two years later, most were still in temporary housing and nearly a million children were out of school.
At SMD School, we survived the 2015 earthquakes without injuries, but had lost 30 per cent of our building space. We had to use the money that was meant for a new school (outside the valley/liquefaction risk) to repair and retrofit our buildings. We are now working to recoup the money we’ve lost so we can build a new, larger school in a safer, less polluted area.
I hope you viewed the interview I did with Shirley? I'm blown away with the energy and passion this 70 years old Buddhist enjoys every day. Even, when living in a hidden corner of the world, where she lives without central heating and it's very cold during wintertime, she still sparkles with enthusiasm and hope for the future. I feel very fortunate to have met this inspirational woman, she certainly put things in perspective.
Thank you so much Shirley for having shared your amazing life-journey with the WOMEN FOR HUMANITY community. You're an amazing example that with the heart on the right spot, you can do wonders for other people.
We wish you all the best for the future of the School and your life,
Please follow Shirley on the website: www.himalayanchildren.org
or on Linkedin: @shirleyblair
YouTube: SMD School - Education for Himalayan Children