By Gabrielle Gasser ASSOCIATE EDITOR
BIG SKY – In a powerful new film defined by gorgeous cinematography and compelling storytelling, “Helambu” chronicles the way one school in the Helambu region of Nepal is changing the lives of many young women for the better.
Two years in the making, “Helambu,” will screen at The Independent theater in Big Sky at 6 and 8 p.m. on Aug. 3. Created by Tsering’s Fund, a local nonprofit founded by Karen Fellerhoff Schmieding and Peter Schmieding, the story follows the Hyolmo people of northern Nepal and the efforts of Tsering’s Fund and a local secondary school, Melamchi Ghyang, to prevent the trafficking and early marriage of young girls in the region. Wes Overvold served as the director of cinematography for the film and Schmieding was the executive director.
On the heels of the release of Tsering’s Fund’s first documentary in 2019, “Namaste Ramila,” Schmieding was first inspired to make this film when his adopted daughter, 20-year-old Maya Hyolmo, who grew up in the region, told him that she was the only girl left from her primary school and the girls she grew up with who hadn’t been married off or sent away to work.
“The day she told me she was the only girl left,” Schmieding said. “That was a significant moment because I couldn’t believe it.”
Raised by her grandmother Nurjhangmu “Ebi” Hyolmo after she and her brother Karsang Hyolmo lost their parents at a young age, Maya had the opportunity through a Tsering’s Fund sponsorship to stay in school past her primary years and is now attending HAMS Nursing College in Kathmandu.
Schmieding said he was inspired to tell Maya’s story through the film to show how education can change lives.
“We feel the ultimate solution to early marriage and the trafficking of girls, really anywhere but especially here, is education,” Schmieding said.
Tsering’s Fund was founded 20 years ago and works across Nepal. Recently, the nonprofit has been focusing its efforts in the Helambu region to place young, at-risk girls in boarding schools and ensuring they’re educated through college.
By working closely with Purna Gautam, principal and founder of Melamchi Ghyang secondary school, Schmieding said Tsering’s Fund is trying to change the culture of a region that traditionally marries young women off or sends them to work overseas rather than paying for their education.
Currently, Schmieding said there are approximately 140 students sponsored by Tsering’s Fund at Milamchi Ghyang. It’s a simple thing, he says, to pay $600 for a year of boarding school in order to change the lives of these young women.
Schmieding hopes his film will inspire people to donate to Tsering’s Fund and help sponsor the education of more women and girls in Nepal.
“I want Maya to show the audience who these girls really are and what they’re capable of,” he said. “She’s now ready to graduate from nursing school. She’s brilliant. All she needed was a chance.”
Maya is studying nursing because, as she says in the film, she feels that if her parents had access to better medical care, they wouldn’t have died when she was young. Maya’s mother passed from an unknown illness in 2008 after a month of treatment at a local hospital. Maya’s father died roughly 20 days later after heavily drinking and eating spoiled chicken.
According to Schmieding, Maya is a part of a larger cultural transition in Nepal from traditional to Western medicine.
In the film, Maya asks her grandmother why she never sent her away. During one tender moment, her grandmother responds that she heard too many stories of children dying overseas and committed herself to raising her two grandchildren despite the hardship.
“With an education, you’ll become mature and knowledgeable so that you can have success in your work,” she told Maya.
Tsering’s Fund aims to create more “Mayas,” Schmieding said.
“In other words, by showing an interest in these girls, putting them in boarding school, they turn into people like Maya: beautiful, empowered, educated women.”
Following the screening of “Helambu” on Aug. 3 there will be a question-and-answer session where attendees can learn more about Tsering’s Fund and the work being done by the organization. A screening will also take place at the Madison Theater in Ennis on Aug. 4 at 6 p.m.
Tickets can be found at Tseringsfund.org and event organizers are asking for a minimum donation of $20.