Namaste! This has been an incredibly formative year with great challenges and also great growth. Both continue. It might help to know how we got started, or you may be looking for information about claiming a deduction on your 2015 taxes, but if neither of these two things apply, let’s get right down what we have accomplished (and not) in 2015:
Tough Decisions, School Rebuilding: We received $15,000 in donations in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and we allocated this to a school reconstruction project. Helping to rebuild a school aligned with our mission and presented fewer issues of sustainability than direct aid to students and families. We spent the summer trying to engage with the school committee in Phakding Village which is in the Khumbu Valley leading up to Everest. This represented a good opportunity as the need was clear and Dorjee Sherpa was going to be in the Khumbu so he could monitor the reconstruction and the use of funds.
However, after three months of trying to engage with the community, with repeated requests for a rebuilding plan, we withdrew. A large part of the problem was that they wanted us to buy new land for the school but there was no clarity on where other funds were coming from for the actual school construction and also too much potential for predatory land prices. We said that if they secured the land and presented a solid master rebuilding plan we would be very interested in helping with the physical reconstruction. We never received anything substantive and we kept providing extensions with the last deadline being Sept 1st. The school in Phakding serves 7 smaller communities; the latest news is each of those communities wanted to have their own school. Making these decisions as a small non profit is not easy. Our goal is to make sure the generous financial support from our donors is being used in a sustainable way that is in line with our mission. Unfortunately, the opportunity with the Phakding Village did not seem promising to us and we felt our donors funds would be better spent elsewhere. We did not spend any WOV funds from 2015 on rebuilding this school.
Because You Can’t Hold it Forever – Girl’s Bathroom Construction: In late August we received a letter from the principal at Buddhanilkantha Public School in northern Kathmandu requesting assistance with improving bathroom facilities for the female students. The existing facilities were extremely inadequate for the ~400 girls and new facilities were needed. An engineering company provided designs and cost estimates that were 1,357,603 Rupees (about $13,500 USD). With a strong connection between access to bathrooms and staying in school for adolescent girls, the board voted to approve this project. It is currently underway with Dorjee on site almost daily and updates can be found on our website. The petrol crisis due to the Indian blockade has increased costs all around, and it has also slowed down our project timeline as workers face problems finding transport to work, but we are still on target for finishing under $15,000 and expect to have the project completed in late winter of 2016.
Tarps and Bamboo Housing: In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake we realized that the Nepali government and large NGOs were not delivering aid to remote areas. It was grass root organizations that were small and nimble enough to identify problem areas and act. Donations were set to exceed the $15,000 goal for school resconstruction so we allocated additional donations to more near-term projects. We spent the first week of May sourcing tarps on the black market (no other tarps could be purchased). These tarps were to be used over frames made with locally sourced bamboo and wood as rudimentary shelters to families dry. The monsoon rains were coming. We also worked hard on arranging transportation to Heywa, a remote village that had not received any assistance. On May 15th, Dorjee, Seth, and Sudeep traveled 11 hours on bad roads by jeep to Phaphlu and with the help of local porters walked another day and delivered 100 tarps to a women’s group in Heywa. We stayed until the tarps were distributed in a transparent manner to 100 families and then Seth and Sudeep continued west on foot to Jiri, conducting community assessments for the International Office on Migration.
In late June, we joined forces with Himalaya Map House who was helping build temporary housing out of bamboo and zinc roofing and with the help of volunteers we helped fund ($2,650 USD) and build 20 houses in Nuwakot.
The educational program we designed in early 2015 includes a mechanism for selecting new students, support for tuition, nutrition, books, uniforms, and also a separate fund for a girls empowerment program. Here’s how it has played out:
New Scholar Selection: How to select 11 new scholars proved more difficult than one would think. There is so much need, where do you start? We received referrals for 16 candidates from administrators at the three schools that we were working in – we visited the homes of these children and screened their family using validated instruments which helped us calculate poverty index scores while also assessing other demoraphic variables. We selected 11 new students and had their parents sign parent-student contracts which included pledges to keep their children in school and also allowed us the right to inspect report cards and attendance records. We gave the mother of each child a $40 supplement to help cover books and uniform costs and we paid $10 per month toward each child’s tuition.
Receipts for all of these transactions are available on request by donors, but not posted on our website as they include too much private information (sometimes we mask private information and post, but this is a time consuming process). Some of our students attend a government school and they do not have the same tuition costs; for these students we paid some lesser school fees and used the balance to cover school lunches. We did the same things for the original 9 children; ensuring that all costs were paid until the end of 2015. Some images of our students are below and you can read more about each one individually on our Youth Scholars page.
We will revist this process in early January and cover costs through June. We anticipate that the data we collect on these students and families will show a positive impact. We hope that this data can be used down the road not just to report to our donors about the efficacy of our work, but also for grant proposals to larger funding agencies. Long term, we will be looking at gaining Institutional Review Board approval and implementing this as a research study so that we can disseminate results in peer reviewed publications to share our learnings with a larger audience.
Nutrition and Medical Supplements
Our 2015 budget provided for $5 per month per child for nutritional support in the last six months of the year ($600 total). It also has $5 in it per year per student for medical costs; with the initial idea that it would be used as an incentive to families to make sure they brought their children to a government medical post to have an annual exam. Our goal was to figure out the best way to approach these issues and then to execute a plan. We have partially failed at this and the funds have gone unspent and will be rolled into 2016. I say partially failed as we have had many discussions. What does $5 for nutrition support really mean? A bag of rice? Iron supplements? Do these children even have nutitirional health needs? Should we use the funds instead on a wider school lunch program that extends beyond the 20 children we support? With the help of our medical advisor, Dr. Pranav – we are now exploring doing a comprehensive medical evaluation, with a nutritional assessment, for each child once a year and setting remaining funds aside for medical expenses that may arise. We have allocated another $600 for 2016 toward this and with carry forwards from 2015 we will have $1200 to spend in this area.
Uniform and Book Supplements
We also budgeted funds ($40 per student) to help families offset the costs for uniforms and books as sometimes being unable to afford these leads to children not attending schools. To be honest, we struggled with the logistics of implementing this; setting up lines of credit at different bookstores and uniform stores and making sure these were used was a logistical and time consuming process ahead of us. In the end, we opted to give the funds to the mothers in the families with a clear message about the purpose of the funds. We did this when we met with them at their children’s schools and while parent-student contracts were signed in front of school administrators.
Incentives for Antenatal Health Visits
Imagine living with only a single candle fueled by yak butter in your house. Imagine being pregnant and having litle or no antenatal care. We are a small organization with a small field staff, but sometimes we see see other organizations doing amazing things and also in need of help. When we know these organizations (like the Himalaya Map House and their Bamboo Housing Project), and we trust their operations, finances, and goals…we try to lend our help. So we were happy to provide an ad-hoc donation of $500 to the solar light project in the Manaslu region where many homes get through the dark nights with a single yak oil candle. This project is led by our friends Trail Running Nepal and PHASE Nepal. PHASE has been working in the communities along the Budi Gandaki valley for about 5 years now, and one of the main project objectives here is to increase the number of women who come for antenatal care and who deliver their babies with the help of a skilled worker. The solar lights are used as an incentive for antenatal visits and Trail Running Nepal has helped deliver these lights. We are proud to help provide funding for this project and appreciate that it aligns with our mission to improve childhood health outcomes. For more information, please see http://manaslutrailrace.org/solar-lights-for-manaslu/ and http://phasenepal.org
Micro research grants
The purpose of these small grants is to help support students in allied health programs at Dhulikhel Hospital. We want to help build the research capacity in Nepal and by helping with financial costs associated with capstone and thesis projects, along with mentoring from board members involved with research, we feel like we can have a large impact with minimal cost. We allocated $1000 toward this area in 2015 and ended up funding two projects. The first project involves purchasing vision screening tools for young pediatric patients in the optometry clinic at Dhulikhel and using these tools to provide corrective refraction. The project is being led by Raju Kati and also involves screening at Dhulikhel Hospital and then four schools in Kathmandu. It is still underway and we have just received the first progress report from Raju. To date, they have screened 438 patients and helped correct the vision of 75 patients thanks to these tools. We also awarded one grant in December to Satchita, a a graduate student working on her Masters in Public Health at Dhulikhel and also University of Washington. Her project focuses on the stigmatization of obesity in Nepal. We will be continuing this program with 2 possible awards of $250 in 2016 and will be selecting projects that closely align with our mission and updating our application language to reflect that.
Girls Empowerment Program
We had $600 set aside in the budget to help improve girls self-efficacy with the hope that this increase the odds they stay in school. Initially we explored partnering with another organization that works in this area and trying to send our girls to the other organization but we had very little traction in this respect. However, with our new field worker Sonam Shah – we have started organizing hikes and field trips for the girls in our program. We plan on having guests come join these outings who are strong role models. Because of our close partnership with Trail Running Nepal, two of the best trail runners in the world, Mira Rai and Lizzy Hawker, have volunteered to help lead hikes and we have ideas for inviting other women who are at the top of their professions to join us as well. We got a late start on this in 2015 but Sonam is doing a great job with getting the program off the ground; unused funds have been rolled into 2016 which has another $600 set aside. We are considering opening this up to all girls at Buddhanilkantha school (where we are rebuilding the girls bathroom), not just the students in our youth scholars program. We are open to feedback on this!
I am personally not good at fundraising. That is why you will see no strong appeals for donations in this annual report. But the good news is we have hired Alysha Greig as our Director of Development. Alysha was a student on the 2010 class trip that Dorjee Sherpa and I organized for the Unviersity of Washington. She has kept in touch with us since then and was instrumental in marshaling different yoga studios to raise funds after the earthquake. Alysha has a lot of great ideas and I know she is going to do amazing things for WOV. We’ve also had some other people working hard to raise funds and have started the hashtag #TeamWOV.
And we had a number of other athletes step up and join #TeamWOV, just a few: Michelle Landry hit the Great Himalaya Trail (see her blog post about a WOV school visit), Miyaka Massa raised funds doing an 80k race in Malaysia, and Charlie Radcliffe attempted to set the fastest known time around the Annapurna Circuit but was unfortunately stopped by snow on the highest pass. We’ve also had some great community members hold fundraisers like Grace Beeler and Goergee Lowe of Decide Your Life. And we’ve had some amazing corporate donations including our largest donation to date ($3,000) from Pacific Groundwater Group. We hope to streamline our donation process and do a better job with updates, thanks, and recruiting exceptional individuals as part of #TeamWOV.
We couldn’t do this without the hard work of field staff. Initially we tried, but volunteerism only gets you so far. We’ve hired Sudeep Kandel and Sonam Shah, two very smart young Nepalis with excellent people skills and English fluency to help us on a part-time bases. Sudeep oversees payments to schools, data collection, and helps streamline our business processes, he is finishing his bachelor’s degree in July with a degree in development finance and has also c studied accounting in the UK. Sonam has been leading the girls empowerment program and helping with social media updates. Both have been invaluable. And we have (free) shared office space in Kathmandu thanks to donations from Trail Running Nepal and Satellite Rental Nepal. We are in Thamel in a small office on the rooftop of the Kathmandu Bank Building. Come visit us! (Google Maps Link)
Kathleen Egan stepped down from the board this year but will continue as an advisor, contributing her skills in epidemiology, program evaluation, and proposal writing. Kathleen and her husband John are travelling in South America for much of 2016 and bandwidth will be limited – hence the step down from the board. Huge thanks to Kathleen for walking across the Himalaya with me in 2014 and helping raise funds, formulate plans, and then put those plans into action. In her place, we have Dr. Janet Peterson who also has a background in Public Health and a strong connection to Nepal. We trekked to Everest Base Camp together in 2013 and conducted a survey study on high altitude porters. Janet brings a wealth of experience in research methods and will be leading the micro grant program. Alysha Greig (see Development) has also joined the board and will continue as our Director of Development. Serving alongside Kathleen Egan as an adviser to the board, we have Dr. Pranawa Koirala who is a medical doctor and who will be providing advice on our nutrition and medical program.
Over the course of 2015, we raised $34,593 net. The majority of this ($26,336.75) came in through credit card donations with $695 lost to credit card transaction fees (2.64%). We will seek to lower this in the future. We also received $8,952.06 in direct donations, mostly through check deposits. If we assume the higher end of paying credit card transaction fees on all donations and add in office expenses and wire transfer fees ($169, see below) more than 95% of funds went directly to program costs and less than 1% was spent on actual office expenses.
We spent $17,194 on program expenses over the course of the year and have $8,500 encumbered for finishing 2015 projects (principally the bathroom reconstruction). Out of the program expenses, we spent $169 in office expenses (2.3%) with most of this ($90) on wire fees to Nepal and the remainder on WOV stickers and a software license. We pride ourselves on low administrative expenses. No board members receive any compensation and our office space in Kathmandu is donated. In theory – all of our work would be volunteer based, but we have found this very hard to implement in practice so we pay part-time field staff a living wage in Nepal ($3-$5 per hour) and thanks to their hard work, and the help of volunteers, are able to accomplish great things. Remaining funds were spent on bathroom reconstruction ($8,100), tuition payments including tuition and book subsidies ($2,260), two research migro grants ($1,084), the Antenatal health incentive by Phase Nepal ($500), field staff salaries ($358) and the Girls empowerment program ($129 – not including some staff salary time). The line item total exceeds the gross amount slightly due to fluctuating currency exchange rates. We hope to have abetter system to deal with dual currencies and expense tracking in 2016. Receipts for all work and materials are on file, available by request, and our financial dashboard can be found on the transparency section of our website. We welcome help in this area and would to find someone with bookkeeping experience to help us move onto a better platform. At the close of 2015, our margin after encumbrances was $10,213. Our minimum program costs for 2016 are estimated to be $6,300 leaving us with a projected end balance in 2016 of $4,412 independent of fund raising efforts. This margin is important to have for unplanned expenses and as we pay 6 months of tuition bills at the beginning of each calendar year. Funds raised on top will be used to increase this margin and to establish new projects.
|2016 Proposed Budget||Dollars||Description|
|Tution, Book, Uniform Subsidies||3200||10 per month is 120 per year plus 20 books and 20 uniforms = $160 per year * 20 students =|
|Microgrant Research Awards||500||2 awards|
|Office supplies, postage, stickers||300|
|Nutrition/Medical Program||1200||$5 per student per month (includes carry forward from 2015)|
|Girls Empowerment Fund||600||Will add $471 more to this from 2015|
|Field Assistants||500||$50 on travel stuff, $450 by $3 per hour is 150 hours a year.|
What is Next?
We are going to do the best we can to focus on the 20 children we are supporting. We need to finish the bathroom construction, and build out our girls empowerment program and get the nutrition/medical supplements going. We also need to streamline our business processes, we have outgrown managing donations with paypal and spreadsheets. None of the board are compensated (nor do we want to be), but there is only so much we can do on our free time. We may need to look into hiring someone, or promoting field staff, to manage operations more closely so that programs maintain their momentum.
There is much to do – but we are getting there one step at a time. Thank you for your help.
On behalf of the board,
Seth Wolpin PhD MPH RN