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‘Namaste Ramila’ doc screening in Bozeman

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Ramila and her mother in a classroom. PHOTO COURTESY OF TSERING'S FUND

Groundbreaking Nepalese investigative reporter to join Q&A

By Michael Somerby EBS STAFF

BOZEMAN – When the dust settled on April 25, 2015 following Nepal’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake, more than the earth had shifted.

The earthquake killed more than 9,000 people and injured some 22,000 more, while in cities like Kathmandu, people frantically picked apart piles of crumbled buildings searching for survivors. In the countryside, landslides and avalanches crushed loved ones, followed by mostly futile rescue efforts.

The tragedy not only shaped Nepal, but also Bozeman-based nonprofit Tsering’s Fund, which had for more than two decades dedicated countless hours and resources to Nepal’s at-risk communities, its women and its young girls.Following the devastating quake, Tsering’s Fund shifted its focus, ultimately funneling the lion’s share of its resources into educating women and girls, the region’s most at-risk individuals.

On Sept. 26 at 6 p.m. “Namaste Ramila,” a 13-minute film produced by Tsering’s Fund and local filmmaker Wes Overvold, will screen at Bozeman’s Best Western Plus GranTree Inn. The film centers on the lives of six girls who were trafficked from Nepal, and highlights the ways in which education saved their lives. Ultimately, it brings home a harsh reality for folks in places like Bozeman where trafficking is not remotely as prevalent; it’s estimated that at least 20,000 girls are trafficked annually in the mountainous Asian nation.

The film also plants the seeds for involvement, encouraging viewers to participate and sponsor a girl at a cost of $600 a month to cover the annual fees for a top-notch boarding school, including room and board, less than a single paycheck’s worth for many living in the U.S.

“It’s the real thing,” said Pete Schmieding, Tsering’s Fund’s chairman and president who is also a dentist in Big Sky. “I want to raise awareness about the issue and show what happens when you decide to raise a girl through Tsering’s Fund. You get to see what your [involvemenrt] means to this family, in human terms.”

Even before the earthquake, Nepal had been gripped by the horrors of human trafficking, which saw the country’s most unfortunate sent to far-flung cities and nations like India’s mega-metropolis New Delhi or Arab Gulf countries with vastly different religious and social practices than those of Nepal.

The lucky ones live as indentured slaves or as brides in arranged marriages; the least fortunate work in the sex industry.

The phenomenon was exacerbated by the 2015 natural disaster, when parents and caretakers tried to offset personal losses, often swindled by trafficker promises that their child would send wages home from honest jobs while receiving an education.

“Namaste Ramila” premiered at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center in Big Sky on Aug. 21, and chronicles the efforts of Tsering’s Fund to use education as a means of upending the cycles of poverty and gross accounts of human suffering. By providing a solid education, one founded on speaking English and opening eyes to possibilities outside of those available in rural Nepal, Tsering’s Fund volunteers find they are able to disrupt conventional beliefs, wicked social practices and myopic perspectives about what can be achieved in an individual’s lifetime—particularly a woman’s.

“Child trafficking is a huge issue, even in the United Sates, but most people never see the practice on a personal level,” Schmieding said. “But where we were filming was ‘ground zero’ … where it happens in great numbers.”

The Sept. 26 Bozeman event will include a Q&A session with participation from Prachod Acharya, a groundbreaking investigative journalist from Nepal who is also an assistant editor at the Centre for Investigative Journalism in Kathmandu. Through his academic work documenting the horrors of human trafficking, public health and malpractice, Acharya has become a veritable expert on the phenomena, particularly in his home nation, recently earning a post as a Dart Center Fellow at Columbia University.

For those who missed the Big Sky screening, this is an opportunity to learn about the remarkable work of Tsering’s Fund, and perhaps become inspired to be an advocate or even a sponsor for the women and girls of Nepal. And with an expert like Acharya in the mix, it’s a can’t miss event.

Joseph T. O'Connor is the previous Editor-in-Chief for EBS newspaper and Mountain Outlaw magazine.

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