At KSC, a Nepalese woman outlined efforts to bring higher education to thousands.

Sept. 29—The woman who led more than 3,500 young women from her country to higher education shared her story Wednesday at Keene State College, which four of her students call a second home.

In an evening speech at the Alumni Hall, Usha Acharya, a Nepali woman and co-founder of the Little Sisters Fund, spoke about her administration and why she created the fund, which aims to provide financial support for college education for Nepali students at institutions that provide scholarships in the United States and other countries. Keene State is one of four American colleges to facilitate the program.

Usha’s husband Jayaraj Acharya also commented. Jayaraj is a lecturer at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, Nepal, a former professor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and served as Nepal’s ambassador to the United Nations from 1991-94.

“We started with our friend Trevor Patzer in the fall of 1998 with a few girls,” Usha said before Wednesday’s talk. “Now it’s more than 3,500 girls. [that] They participated. We choose the poor and poor girls, we choose those who cannot go to school because of poverty and hardship.

Usha says she grew up in a remote mountain farming village in Nepal. Many of her friends were married before the age of 10, and after her siblings died, her parents blamed “badly placed planets” and wanted to get rid of her, she said.

Usha and his wife’s cousin took her when she was 9; There she got a chance to attend a public school.

“That was when I saw the English alphabet for the first time,” Usha said in her speech. “I struggled a lot in school, but I passed all the tests and finally graduated from high school, surprising everyone around me. I wanted to be a school teacher, that was the only thing that motivated me to study.”

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in economics in 1968, she received a scholarship from the Government of India and pursued a master’s degree in Delhi. In the year She married Jayaraj in 1981, arranged by the couple’s family, and the two returned to America from Nepal.

In the year In the 1990s, Usha became involved in the social activism of young women and children in Nepal and produced reports for the International Labor Organization on the country’s child labor and women’s trafficking issues.

“I found the research and project work worthwhile, but the impact on people’s lives was more indirect than I would have liked,” Usha told the audience. “I… decided to start my third career teaching Nepali girls. My American friend Trevor Patzer was visiting Nepal at the time and offered to pay for a Nepali girl to go to school. His enthusiasm and energy combined with my knowledge of Nepali culture and women’s issues led to the Little Sisters. It made us start a fund.

Usha said students selected for the program attend public and private schools in 22 districts of Nepal and are supervised by 28 coordinating mentors who are alumni of the program. Since the establishment of the Little Sisters, she said, there have been more than 1,000 graduates who have earned degrees in nursing, education, engineering and other disciplines. The program is financed by individuals and foundations and generates some income from dividends and interest. In the year In 2021, the Little Sisters Fund had total revenue of just over $800,000, with 59 percent coming from the foundation, 36 percent from individual donors and 5 percent from dividends and interest, according to the annual report.

Two Little Sisters students attended Wednesday’s lecture.

Nirmala Tamang, 20, from Sindhupalchowk district of Nepal, is a high school student in Keene state studying computer science. She said her participation as a student with money is “… a story of gratitude,” and that she comes from a district with one of the highest rates of human trafficking.

“Little sisters have been the backbone of what I am now,” Tamam said before Usha’s speech. “Since I started second grade [on]I completed my high school with the help of the fund.

Tamang said she attended community college in Nepal to pursue a business degree, but found the opportunity to study at Kenne State after exposure to several degrees in her current program.

“Nepal is a male-dominated society, and we [women] They are definitely denied a lot of opportunities compared to men,” she said. “That’s what this fund is about: empowering women through education. I would say it’s not just a fund, it’s a family.

Len Fleischer, a retired education professor at Keene State, helped connect Usha with the college after his hometown was devastated by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in April 2015.

“It was a desperate situation in every way, including education, because there were about 10,000 schools that were completely destroyed in that earthquake,” he said. “We talked about the possibility of forming something with Keene State and partnering to give talented and qualified students like Nirmala an opportunity to study in the US.”

Fleischer credits former Keene State President Ann Huot and current president Melinda Treadwell for making the program possible.

Slesha Tuladar, 22, from Kathmandu, is another student at Kine Province supported by the Little Sisters. She is a senior pursuing dual degrees in architecture and product design as well as business studies. As the third child of her parents, Tuladar said her family could not afford to pay for her higher education, but she learned about the Little Sisters Fund with the help of her school president.

“Even if they don’t have the ability to send us to school, I’m sure [my parents] They pushed us harder to get an education,” she said. “They were very happy that I had this opportunity.”

Tulladar said her support from the Little Sisters Fund helped her channel her passion for innovation into a suitable degree program, as her siblings’ entry into computer science and logistics was not the path she wanted.

“If I had to pinpoint one career I wanted to pursue when I graduated, it would be to travel the world creating buildings, but creating space for a bigger problem,” she says. “I’m back. [to Nepal] Last winter and … the monuments, buildings and structures there are very different from what I learned in the campus.

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