Nepalese Walk in Queens to Help Homeland

Participants of the first Walk for Nepal at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park gather in front of the famous Unisphere. (Photo by Bimina Ranjit)

The growing Nepalese community in New York defied the cold on a recent morning for the city’s first Walk for Nepal (WfN) benefit at Flushing Meadow-Corona Park.

About 150 people warmed up on Nepalese Tea and music as they prepared for the three-mile December 8 walk around the Queens park organized by Nepal ko Yuwa (Youth of Nepal), in collaboration with seven non-profit social service organizations.

“This is your movement, this is every Nepalese’s movement in one of the world’s greatest cities to help some of the needy people back in Nepal,” said Sailesh Gongal, co-founder of Walk for Nepal, in his welcoming speech.

The mission of the walkathon is to foster a culture of civic collaboration and practical philanthropy among Nepalese and friends of Nepal throughout the world. The first WfN was organized in Boston on November 2011, followed by Dallas, Texas, last October 20.

“The next Walk for Nepal event will be held in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 2013 and we already have requests from new cities like Seattle, Colorado, Vancouver, Sydney and London,” said Pukar Malla, secretary general of Youth of Nepal, about their plans to organize more walks globally, targeting big cities with high Nepalese populations.

Walkers carry the flag of Nepal. (Photo by Bimina Ranjit)

“Walkers” registered online for $15 and got a T-shirt, a cap and information on how they can get more involved. Most of the men participating wore a traditional Dhaka Topi, a Nepali cap which symbolizes patriotism.

“I am glad I came and it’s so nice to see the Nepalese gather for a good cause,” said Samrat Jung Rajbhandari, 26, a Queens resident who was enjoying some Nepali breakfast of “piro aloo” (spicy potatoes) and bread. However, he said that he was unaware of the event until a friend told him about it the same morning.

“I see bigger crowds in Nepalese concerts or dance parties, I wish there were more youngsters who participated today,” he said.

According to the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), about 80% of Nepal’s population lives in rural areas and depends on farming and agriculture for survival. Food security and poor nutrition are still major concerns in those rural areas. Most households have little or no access to basic social services such as primary health care, education, clean drinking water and sanitation services.

The New York walk raised more than $10,000. Twenty percent of the funds raised by the partner charities will be allocated to the Walk for Nepal Youth Innovation Fund, which awards competitive grants to Nepal-based social projects.

“None of our volunteers get paid and I know people are all busy,” said Gongal, “but they give whatever time they can and that makes a major difference.”

The seven non-profits all do critically needed work in Nepal. Among them are the Ama Foundation, Community Members Interested (COMMITED), Empower 1,  Help Nepal Network and Nepalese Children Education Fund (NCEF), a group established in 2002 in Massachusetts that has raised more than $90,000 for scholarship programs in Nepal.

“Walk for Nepal helps our organization to get recognition among the Nepalese crowd in New York,” said  NCEF volunteer Shristi Pandey. “Since we are based in Boston and our organization relies on individual funding, this kind of recognition is very beneficiary for us.”

In rural Nepal there is a wide gender gap when it comes to access to health, nutrition, education and participation in decision-making. Infant mortality is much higher for girls, and illiteracy is far more common among women than men. Many rural women live in severe poverty, and within households women often have less to eat than men. An insufficient calorie intake can lead to chronic malnutrition in the infants they feed.

Children also took part in the Walk for Nepal. (Photo by Bimina Ranjit)

The group Empower Dalit Women of Nepal (EDWON) was formed in Boston in 2003 to improve the lives of the Dalit (low caste) women in rural Nepal.

“We have several programs to help [raise] the standard of living of Nepalese women and their families,” said EDWON founder Bishnu Maya Pariyar. “It is amazing to find that there are so many kind hearts who raise their hands to help, but there is still a lot to do and I am glad I came today from Boston to spread the good word.”

The Grassroot Movement in Nepal (GMIN), which was established in December 2010 by Nepali friends in the U.S. with experience in social work and volunteering, recently won a $100,000 grant by JP Morgan Chase’s Community Giving Challenge.

GMIN had already rebuilt 16 schools in rural parts of Nepal, said president Sonam Ukyab, and they will use the grant to rebuild or renovate 20 more schools and construct two vocational training centers for women from rural villages.

“I would have liked to see 400 walkers,” said Ukyab. “But given that it was a cold December day and that it was the first walkathon of its kind, we still got 150 people to come out to the walk and learn about the work these amazing seven non-profit charities are doing in Nepal, and a little goes a long way and makes way for lot more.”


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