By Amanda Eggert EBS Associate Editor
BIG SKY – Tsering’s Fund is lean in structure and elegant in scope: there is no one on payroll, and there are no expenses associated with the nonprofit.
If $100 is donated, $100 goes to school tuition for Nepali children or earthquake relief, says Dr. Peter Schmieding, who grew Tsering’s Fund into the organization it is today with his wife Karen Fellherhoff and Tsering Dolkar Lama.
“My experience is that people truly want to give,” Schmieding said at an Aug. 2 talk that followed a silent auction fundraiser at Big Sky’s Warren Miller Performing Arts Center. “They just want to find a place that they feel comfortable that the money is being used for what it was donated for. And that’s what Tsering’s Fund provides.” Schmieding said the auction generated about $6,000—enough to pay for one year of school for six Nepali children.
Although the nonprofit was already sponsoring the education of 150 Nepali girls—and two in college—its leadership decided to redouble their efforts and assist with earthquake relief after a 7.8-magnitude tremor leveled large swaths of Nepal in April 2015.
So Schmieding flew to the tiny country sandwiched between geopolitical giants China and India—only to experience a second earthquake while in Katmandu in early May. “It was another life-altering experience,” he says of the second quake.
He found himself asking, “Where do you start? What do you do?” The question is particularly difficult given how quickly the media moved on from the disaster coverage and the immensity of the destruction—Schmieding says to this day, only 8 percent of Nepal’s infrastructure and homes have been rebuilt.
His approach to earthquake relief is similar to his approach to education: “You have to do what you can for the ones that you can.”
That meant finding one village where the organization could focus their efforts. Currently, one of their major projects is rebuilding two schools starting in October. Big Sky community members have funded much of the infrastructure needed for those schools.
Schmieding introduced to the WMPAC crowd a Nepali man named Pem Dorjee Sherpa, who has become a good friend of the dentist and integral to the Tsering’s Fund mission.
Pem Dorjee left a small village of about 340 people when he was 10 years old and started working in a teahouse in Namche Bazaar, a village in the Khumbu region of Nepal. He earned about 800 rupees—roughly equivalent to $8—for a month of work.
From there, he moved onto Lukla and Katmandu, eventually landing jobs on climbing expeditions in Everest—which are hard to come by given the relatively good pay. He reached the summit of Mount Everest twice during his career. The second time, he married his wife—whom he met at a climbing guide training—on the summit in a quick ceremony that contained both Buddhist and Hindu elements.
Pem Dorjee is now an ambassador for Tsering’s Fund. He spoke about four sisters who grew up in a small Nepali village and would not be able to attend school without the organization’s assistance.
After showing photos depicting a typical day in the life of a rural child—caring for younger siblings, carrying water for family livestock—he showed another image of the four sisters in their school dresses. “[They] even look like air hostess[es], right?” Pem Dorjee said to appreciative laughter.
His Himalayan climbing days are done now, due in part to the difficulty and danger of the work, and he is a U.S. resident. “Now I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with my lovely family,” Pem Dorjee said. “I like Michigan because the winter is like Nepal.”