Virtual meetings connect residents to US, Nepal

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Sixteen members of the Ithaca Chapter of “Dining for Women” gathered around their computers May 19 to hear Lansing’s Lisa Lyons discuss the mission and accomplishments of the “Educate the Children” (ETC) organization.

The national Dining for Women (DFW) organization selected Educate the Children as their “featured grantee” for the month of May. More than 500 local DFW chapters focused on the organization at their monthly meetings, expecting to raise $50,000 in support of their mission.

Lyons is U.S. director of Educate the Children, a nonprofit agency focused on improving the lives of women and their families in rural Nepal through women’s empowerment, children’s education and sustainable agricultural development.

The virtual meeting was one of 13 where Lyons presented live, including the national meeting.

“Some of our board members are also doing these,” she said. “All in all, we have I believe 47 lined up, in more than a dozen states.”

The national Dining for Women organization coordinates the charitable efforts of their local chapters.

Once a month, the local groups meet in one of their member’s homes for a potluck dinner and discussion of the month’s featured grantee. They are then able to support the grantee through donations made on the national group’s website.

The Ithaca Chapter was founded 12 years ago by Miriam Bisk and Gail Sakai and has more than 150 members on the roster. Typical monthly dinner attendance is about 25 women.

“We gather at 6 p.m. and for half an hour we socialize with one another,” Karin Suskin said. “Promptly at 6:30, we begin the program, which is presented by a volunteer separate from the host. Presentations and discussions are approximately 30 minutes, and then we enjoy a fabulous dish-to-pass dinner.”

The meetings were moved online in March to enable Dining for Women to continue to support both the grantee’s missions and their local chapter members while pandemic precautions are in place.

This month’s Ithaca meeting began with discussions of getting back on to the local tennis courts safely, “pickleball” as an alternative to tennis and shared yoga classes as members’ photos clicked into the meeting interface.

Ithacan Beth Prentice, president of Educate the Children’s U.S. Board of Directors, and her fellow board member Lansing’s Margaret Shackell, were welcomed to the local call.

Sue Rakow began by presenting an overview of Educate the Children; she was followed by a video presentation Lyon made in preparation for their month at the center of Dining for Women’s efforts.

Educate the Children “works with women in rural eastern Nepal to improve their health, welfare and well-being by teaching them skills in empowerment, sustainable agriculture and children’s development,” Rakow said. “One half of the population is living below poverty level, with household incomes under $900 per year, or about $200 per person.”

Most households are involved in agriculture but work mainly for wealthy landowners. The combination of debt and limited educational opportunities leads to cyclical poverty, she said. Educate the Children makes long-term commitments, coming where invited and staying for several years to make a long-term impact and to leave a self-sustaining community behind.

Women are taught to read and do math and to establish kitchen gardens to supplement household nutrition and develop cash crops for sale in local markets. The resulting new income supports continued school attendance.

The May Dining for Women campaign will support the training of “Leader Farmers” who commit to attending classes in crop development and livestock housing and health to become local experts and trainers. Donations will directly impact more than 1,000 women and, indirectly, about 3,500 household members.

In her video, Lyons noted Educate the Children’s impact in their focus areas and elsewhere. More women take on political and local leadership roles, for example. Households get and stay out of debt, and children stay in school longer.

The coronavirus pandemic is “clobbering Nepal,” Lyons said.

“For example, tourism provides about $2 billion of Nepal’s $30 billion economy,” she said. “A lot of the target population relies on remittances from household members working in Kathmandu, in India, or overseas. I don’t see how what we do won’t be needed, or more needed, in the future.”

Readers can learn more about Educate the Children on their website here: etc-nepal.org and about the Dining for Women organization and find the Ithaca chapter here: diningforwomen.org.

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