by Ania Lichota
It took me a while to fully comprehend the sentence, “Charity. It’s not about the giving”. It took a few humbling visits to Ganesh Himal – a remote valley in Nepal – and seeing how content people were having nothing. The people from Ganesh Himal were content showing up in life every day and living fully in the present. I saw kids playing with cow’s poo instead of being at school or having toys. I felt the bitter taste of pity in my throat.
After many visits, the elders of a village asked me to fund raise to build a school there. They stood proud and tall, not lacking anything and said: “We would like our children to be able to read and write. Can you help us raise £16,000 to build a school for the most unprivileged children in our village?” These children are from the lowest castes and girls. To show their commitment to building this school, the elders bathed their thumbs in ink and signed the petition.
The illiterate parents wanted their kids to have a different future. I humbly admit that I am just a vehicle to fulfil their dreams – it’s their project. Local communities are responsible for the projects getting off the ground and running them. Being used to running projects, that took a different level of trust from me with the villagers. It also required a lot of trust from the people who donated. The commitment and engagement of everyone is immense and once again I know I am just a bridge for these people. Having girls and very young kids in these schools enables the parents to fully engage, gives everybody a chance to reconsider what is possible, strengthens equality and illustrates the power of community pulling together – it is changing lives.
Whenever a centre of education is created, all sorts of topics are explored, other than just the school curriculum. For example, the schools discuss personal hygiene, teeth brushing, the negative impact of using detergents in rivers, and raising awareness for women about how to avoid prolapsed uterus (50% of females in Nepal suffer due to carrying heavy loads and squatting in the fields). Centres of education can also help build infrastructure. In one of the villages we’ve built a water pump which benefited everybody in the village with fresh water.
What about me? At the beginning I was only proud to share the story. With time that feeling changed into satisfaction. Then the taste of true fulfilment came in. Now I feel a pure joy at being able to traverse a vast crevasse between London, people who believe in changing lives and Aruphokhari, Lincho and Lower Tippling villages – villagers who rarely see a white person passing by.
I am now onto raising funds for the third school (https://www.justgiving.com/pinnacleif/)
These experiences have changed my outlook on what leadership and charity is all about. At the beginning I thought charity was all about the ‘giving’ and that I needed to motivate people to want to share. Now I know that the act of giving provides only a diminishing satisfaction. It is making a difference that stays with one forever. It is seeing the unlimited opportunities created for two hundred smiling faces aged between five and twelve in a school that is about to open.
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Ania Lichota left Poland in 1996 with one bag to study at LSE. After a stellar career in finance, Ania is now a coach and inspirational speaker who likes climbing mountains – she is one of few women, who has reached the Seven Summits. Her personal journey has helped many including building schools to help local Nepalise girls access education.
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