It is hard to believe that Samaanta Foundation is now into its sixth year. What began as a small effort to provide some funds to deserving public school students has grown rapidly, and organically, into a comprehensive fellowship programme. In these years, we have sharpened our selection mechanism, expanded our reach, strengthened our programming, and grown into a close-knit family.
We currently have 33 fellows for whom we provide comprehensive fellowships that include tuition, room and board, English language training, computer courses, tutorial classes, civic engagement and leadership workshops, health seminars, reading groups and book clubs, and mentoring from young professionals to give them a platform from which they can truly succeed.

The success of our fellows has surpassed even our own expectations. Just this month, we got news that all eight of our fellows who appeared for their  12th grade Science and Management Board exams passed, with four fellows Dipesh Bhujel, Sharmila Tamang, Suraj Parajuli and Manisha Deshar securing Distinctions, and three fellows Bina Thapa Magar, Bibek Shrestha, and Rojina Khadka securing First Division. Buoyed by the performance of our fellows, we have boldly accepted 9 more fellows this year in 11th grade, and theycome to us with a demonstrated track record of academic excellence, commitment to service, and potential for leadership.

I was in Nepal this past week, and the buzz of Samaanta activities around me was intoxicating.

Archana Giri a fellow from our fifth cohort, has become the fourth fellow in four consecutive years to be accepted as a fellow in the Women LEAD programme, which is an extensive, extremely selective, leadership course for young women in Nepal.

Anita Tamang and Neha Maharjan both left for Pune in the past week, as they have received scholarships to pursue International baccalaureate degrees from the prestigious United World Colleges (UWC) in India.

 

Biwastha Khadka, who was our first fellow to receive a UWC scholarship to study in Mostar, Bosnia, left for the United States to accept a four year full scholarship to pursue a Bachelor’s degree at Luther College, Indiana.

 

The academic success of our fellows gives us great pride, but it is only one pillar of our fellowship model. We place the same premium on our pay it forward mechanism, which explicitly requires our fellows to immerse themselves in service and leadership. I am pleased to report that four of our senior fellows are now working as interns in Samaanta Foundation. They have defined roles, and are giving back to the Foundation directly.

Suraj Parajuli is our Administrative Assistant, who is working closely with the Program Manager. He primarily serves as the point person between the fellows and the staff.

 

 

Dipesh Bhujel hold the responsibility of co-leading the monthly leadership workshops, implementing the annual action plans, and facilitating the guest speaker sessions.

 

 

Pema Choedon Lama is also a program assistant, responsible for facilitating weekly book clubs and presentations, and co-leading leadership workshops.

 

 

Utsab Sapkota, who is also pursuing to become a Chartered Accountant, is interning as our Finance Assistant, and he is responsible for our book keeping and financial management.

 

 

This week, our fellows have taken the lead to give back to the wider society by doing what they can for the flood victims in the plains of Nepal. The devastating floods have led to tremendous loss of life, property, and security throughout southern Nepal (see, for instance, Flood Havoc, Millions affected….). Only two years ago, our country faced the aftermath of strong earthquakes, and almost all of our fellows were directly affected. Many of our fellows’ families still live in temporary shelters, and having seen the impact of natural disasters first hand, our fellows have shown great zeal and enthusiasm to try and help others in similar need.

Our fellows first helped the #माया_भरिएको_बाल्टिन (Bucket of Love) campaign, led by former Health Minister Gagan Thapa, by packing and moving a significant consignment of goods to be sent to some of the most affected areas. However, this was not enough for our fellows, as they came together themselves to devise a further campaign to raise funds to give back to those in need.

Our fellows were able to raise NPR 50,105 in four days, exceeding their target of 30,000. The fellows had set a fundraising goal and divided it into three different activities: crowdfunding, selling creative and handmade artefacts, and making personal donations. Based on their well-thought out strategy, they were able to meet their initial target within three days, and they have continued thereafter as well.

I am most impressed that they did not just want to collect donations, though, but instead chose to use their creativity and artwork to make various products, which they are now selling in the streets to raise funds. Our fellows have thus made cards, key chains, notebooks, photo frames, and other similar items to make a positive contribution during this terrible tragedy. I could not be more proud of who they are becoming, not just as fellows but also as conscious, civically minded citizens.

Fellows contribute through Sharamadana (donating their labour) to help prepare relief materials for the Terai flood victims.

A quick picture after late hours of Sharamadana

Artefacts made for sale by fellows for the Terai Flood Victims

All of us together in this cause.

Our fellows Ranjan Poudel, Anjana Nagarkoti and Suraj Parajuli (left to right) outside the supermarket for crowdfunding. They sold around 4500 worth of artefacts in less than 2 hours.  

This week has also been particularly touching because of the unwavering support and determination of our most capable team. In particular, I am amazed at the truly remarkable leadership Jyoti Pandey provides to the entire fellowship in Nepal. She brings in the perfect blend of passion and expertise to drive the Foundation forward, and it is our good fortune to have her leading us. This Foundation would not be where we are today without her contribution from the very beginning.

 

I am also extremely proud of our Program Manager, Shirijung Hang Rai, for his role in the Foundation. Shiri came to us after completing a two year teaching fellowship with Teach for Nepal, one of our closest partners and allies, and he has taken the Foundation to new heights since. He is deeply passionate about our cause, and does not hesitate to burn the midnight oil to ensure that each fellow receives the highest level of care and support possible. His compassion and his dedication know no bound, and the several testimonies our fellows have put up for him this week demonstrate what he means to all of us.It is in recognition of Shiri’s personality that he was recently invited as a Chief Guest in a Social Audit programme hosted by Women Lead this week. I had the good fortune of hearing Shiri speak, and he demonstrated maturity and wisdom well beyond his age. I was moved by how he ended his speech, and I paraphrase, “Lakshmi Prasad Devkota told us to reach for the stars, but did not really tell us how to do so”. He was talking about how Women Lead was an avenue to teach young women exactly that, and I think Samaanta Foundation is trying to do the same thing through our emphasis on higher education for greater empowerment and ultimately equality. I could not be more proud of this work, and Shiri’s integral role to make it possible.

This is not to say that we do not face any challenges; far from it. We still operate on a shoe-string budget, and our resourcing (including human resources) remains extremely stringent. This places a significant burden on us, and hinders our capacity to deliver to the high standards we set for ourselves. Related, we have not been able to focus our energies effectively towards communications and public relations; we could do a much better job of showcasing our work and getting more support to expand our coverage. Our mentorship program could also be strengthened, as we currently struggle to retain young professionals to guide our fellows more regularly. Our biggest challenge, though, remains systemic, as each year we turn down numerous incredibly talented and deserving students. Many of these students will not be able to pursue further education without support, so each year we are left more devastated as well as more determined to push ourselves to grow the fellowship further. The need—and the potential—is immense, and we will keep doing everything we can, every single day.

Having said that, I had a stark realisation this week. For the first time, I do not recognise each fellow by name and face. This was a bittersweet moment. For selfish reasons, I am sad not to have the same personal connection with each of our fellows anymore. However, and far more importantly, I am so glad to see our growth, as we support more fellows, more comprehensively, and with even more heart. The family is growing, but our mission and our values remain the same.

None of this would be possible without the support of our network, and I would like to thank, once again Home Loan Experts, Foundation Care For All, and Teach For Nepal in particular for their continued support of our mission. There are many others, including personal contributors, who have provided us tremendous backing to make this vision a reality. Thank you, dear friends, for giving us the belief and the courage to pursue this work.

I have been extremely fortunate to be a part of this most wonderful movement. These are still baby steps, but our steps are growing, and I feel confident that the best is yet to come.

Shrochis Karki
Executive Director
Samaanta Foundation