Living in Canada allows us to have access to clean drinking water, freedom of choice and movement, generally speaking we all have a roof over our heads and relative safety surrounding us, and food to eat for energy. If you are born and raised here and haven’t done much travelling you might take for granted how well we live and the quality of life that we have. Now, as a result of covid most Canadians have had to change their lives in some ways or been negatively affected. Which we will get through together.
However, imagine living in Nepal or India and having hardly the bare necessities to survive even before covid. Now with covid tourism has dropped and the collective effect of a global recessions has impacted, indirectly, many of the systems that were around you. The children and youth of the Himalayas have always had it hard in terms of quality of life. With that said, we are honoured to feature the Himalayan Life Charity which was founded by North Vancouver resident Daniel Burgi. Checkout his story below and please consider supporting them with your time and resources. This article was submitted by our friend Misti Hurst who you can learn about below and we met her through Shannon DeSouza at @marketing4moms
What is the Himalayan Life Charity, how did it get started and what’s their mandate?
Himalayan Life (HL) is a North Vancouver-based charity that exists to enhance children’s lives in the Himalayas, with a particular focus on those who lack basic socio-economic structures. It was started by a North Vancouver Resident Daniel Burgi and his wife Karina Burgi over 20 years ago with the mandate to nurture, protect and educate children in the Himalayas.
This is Daniel’s story…
I first came face to face with a group of street children when backpacking in Nepal and India some twenty-five years ago. While travelling through the Himalayas, it happened, totally out of the blue: one of those life-transforming encounters…
I was about to board a train when suddenly I found myself encircled by a horde of some twenty rag-clad kids begging for food or anything. Forty dirty little hands reaching for me and twenty pairs of knowing, far too grown-up eyes bidding my mercy. All of a sudden, the supposed simplicity of living out of my backpack didn’t seem all that ‘simple’ any longer – the moneybag under my T-shirt containing my passport and cash began to burn like fire against my skin. What was I supposed to do? Give them money? Buy food? I had a train to catch… but I had to act.
I was utterly clueless about how to respond to the situation.
Perhaps sensing the sudden storm of emotions in my heart, the forty hands became increasingly demanding, pulling everywhere and everything. Besides my backpack, I happened to be carrying a plastic bag with a bunch of half-squashed bananas and more banana peel, ready to be disposed of in a garbage can. In my helplessness, I simply let go of the plastic bag! It seemed to work … immediately the kids let go of me.
The ensuing scene has engraved itself deeply and forever on my mind: looking back over my shoulder I saw the twenty kids fighting to the teeth over the half-rotten bananas. One child got hold of some banana peel, stuffed it in his mouth and made a dash for it, three others hard on his heels.
For goodness’ sake: banana PEEL!
I decided that I could do better than throwing banana peels at hungry children. For well over a decade, I have been pursuing the goal of adding perspective and hope, of protecting, nurturing, and educating the children in the Himalayas. Having founded an organization on the ground in India and Nepal, we are now feeding dozens of street children daily. We have opened a home for abandoned children in Nepal, so they would not become street children and would be spared the horrific experience of homelessness, survival by garbage scavenging, sexual exploitation, public hatred, gang brutality, and addiction. We have initiated and run homes for children of families who have fallen into a situation of bonded labour. We have created a social enterprise in the field of PET recycling as a way forward for the hundreds of street kids, to give them a real chance at life, and an opportunity to transition out of their present predicament. We have substantially contributed to rebuilding in the Yangri Valley after the devastating earthquakes of 2015, and we have built a school for the children of the region to allow them to get a good education.
This is what we are all about at Himalayan Life: Standing in the gap and caring holistically for the kids in the Himalayas. Giving them a chance to live – nothing more and nothing less.
~ Daniel Burgi, CEO and Founder of Himalayan Life
How does Himalayan Life like being based here in North Vancouver as their home base?
Our charity does very important and meaningful work in the field of protecting nurturing and educating children. Street children are being rescued from the streets. Orphans are being cared for. Girls were prevented from being trafficked. Socioeconomically marginalized youth are being gainfully and meaningfully employed and receive vocational training.
However, all of this is happening in the Himalayas, literally on the far side of the planet. As a charity based in North Vancouver, I am extremely thankful that we do have a constituency of faithful supporters here who are willing to make resources available for those in need even if they are on the far side of the planet. The generosity in this community is quite remarkable. My experience has been that people not only give, but give with great joy and that they understand their giving as a privilege. Supporters keep telling me that making a contribution for the betterment of the lives of children in need – even in the Himalayas – makes their own lives richer and better.
That the home base for our family ended up in North Van is mostly serendipity. Karina and I came to Vancouver as ESL students prior to working in Nepal. We fell in love with this place – the hospitality we experienced, the beauty of BC… After 6 years of working in the Himalayas we came back for post-graduate studies at UBC, and back to Nepal after the first year of my program. By now, we were a family with two younger children. Between 2001 and 2009, we lived alternately in Nepal and Vancouver, for a year at a time. Finding housing close to UBC became increasingly difficult, and the North Shore seemed like a good place to raise our kids. And so we came to North Vancouver, where our kids have done most of their schooling (Boundary, Argyle). While the home base is in North Vancouver, I (Daniel) continue to spend several months each year in the Himalayas, providing leadership to our various projects and staff of presently 170. One of the hallmarks of our charity is that we invest heavily in local leadership. We strongly believe that this is the only way to create sustainability in leadership.
What are the things they are doing on the ground in Nepal in terms of programs and support?
HL currently runs several different programs on the ground in Nepal, including:
HIMALAYAN LIFE PLASTICS RECYCLING PLANT:
Nepal’s only recycling plant for PET-plastic bottles, Located in Pokhara, Recycling 40 million bottles per year (2019)A social enterprise with more than 60 employees and over 250 collectors.1,200 tons of plastic recycled annually (2019). Over 4,000 tons of Carbon offsets. Making a positive impact on Nepal’s economy and environment. Home to the Himalayan Life Vocational Training Program with up to 10 trainees.
STREET KIDS IN POKHARA:
A well-rounded cluster of programs to address the complex and varied needs of street children, such as basic protection, nourishment, shelter, comprehensive care, detox, counselling, and education. Located in Pokhara, Nepal. Presently serving some 84 children. 20 dedicated, loving, competent staff between the Street-Kitchen, Shelter, the Street-2-School Homes and the Vocational Training Program.
YANGRI ACADEMIC CENTRE:
Regional School with boarding facilities Located in Yangri, Sindupalchowk, Nepal. Opened in April 2018. Presently operating 8 grades (Lower & Upper Kindergarten, Grades 1 to 6). Enrollment: 184 children. Staff: 30 staff members
VOCATIONAL TRAINING PROGRAM:
Vocational Training Program for up to 14 former street kids. Located in Pokhara, Nepal. Imparting basic skills in welding, plumbing, metalworking, house wiring, carpentry. Trainees learn in the classroom, through training workshops, and by practical application.
SPORT AND DAY CAMPS:
Leisure programs for children from all walks of life.Scouting, sports, day camps, biking, hockey, and adventure programs.Integration of marginalized kids into society. Located in Pokhara and Chitwan, Nepal. Serving thousands of kids on a weekly basis. Himalayan Life introduced Floor-Hockey to Nepal in 2007. Material and coaching teams were brought in from Switzerland to train the Nepalese coaches. A hockey field was built on the Himalayan Life’s premises in Pokhara, and in Chitwan they play on short-grass in the jungle. These fields have become the hub of the new sport, which has spread rapidly. Due to its quick popularity, thousands of kids are now playing, and dozens of teams are competing in the various leagues.Himalayan Life teaches hockey in schools, neighbourhoods, and at the Himalayan Life community centre. We have found hockey to be a wonderful and fun tool to reach out to the community!
LADAKH HOME FOR MIGRANT WORKERS QUICK FACTS:
A home and schooling for Nepalese migrant worker children in Ladakh, North India. Located in Leh, Ladakh, at an altitude of 12,000 ft. Presently 65 children enrolled.8 loving, competent caregivers.
ULLERI CHILDREN’S HOME QUICK FACTS:
A home and schooling for Abandoned Children and/or Children at Risk. Located in Ulleri, a village in the mountains north of Pokhara, Nepal. Presently 24 children enrolled (2020).4 loving, competent caregivers.
YANGRI EARTHQUAKE RELIEF & REBUILDING QUICK FACTS:
Supplied emergency relief items within one week of the earthquake in May 2015. Supplied hundreds of tarps and 27,000kg of rice to some 500 households in the Yangri valley over 18 months following the earthquake.
Treated 180 patients at a medical camp in Yangri in July 2015Rebuilt the drinking water supply system in June 2015. Reconstructed the local Hydropower plant (60 kW) to supply electricity to all communities in the Yangri valley. Facilitated the repair of the suspension bridge (the main access to Yangri).
Assisted with clean-up of individual houses as all houses were destroyed.
Built a model house to the use of earthquake-resistant building technology.
Ran a temporary school for the children in the valley until a proper school was built (June 2015-April 2018).
How can people reading this get involved and help the charity with their needs generally?
It takes a community to make the work of HL possible. Most of the funding comes directly from donations. However, you can help by giving financially or by donating your time, skills or ideas or by spreading the word about the big impact that this small charity is having and by encouraging others to donate as well.
Alternatively you can visit Nepal as part of the Himalayan Life Adventures program where you can adventure with “purpose”. Always wanted to trek to Everest base camp or ride a motorcycle to 12,000ft in Nepal? You can do so, while along the way meeting and interacting with the programs and the people that HL dedicates their lives to helping. It’s an alternative method of adventure travel, one that has a tremendous impact not only on the Nepalese children and youth directly, but on each participant. I guarantee that you will return to Canada a changed person with a deep emotional connection to the incredible country of Nepal.
You are planning events and film viewings locally, what kind of venues and contacts are you looking for?
Right now we are desperately seeking a venue in North Vancouver for our Drive-In Film festival happening on the evening of April 30th or May 1st. We have rented inflatable drive-in movie screens from freshaircinemas.ca and will be showing our film festival-Himalaya. Himalaya is a series of five films by four different film makers showcasing the land, the people, and the story of how a small North Vancouver-based charity is making an impact in the lives of people in the Himalayas.
After the film festival we will be running a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign called “the extra mile” where we are encouraging people to form teams and go the extra mile to raise funds towards our many transformative projects.
What is the consultancy you work with and how did they get connected with Himalayan Life?
I work with a company called Kaci and our focus is on organizational strategy and generating revenue for charities, nonprofits and small businesses. The origin of the name Kaci is Gaelic and means “alert, or watchful.” Our posture in working with organizations is to essentially be attentive, vigilant, observant and aware on your behalf. We pay attention to all aspects of growth and revenue generation, helping you build your organization with confidence.
Our vision is to create growth and revenue opportunities for nonprofits, small businesses, and charitable organizations globally; to inspire humanity and compassion, and to connect people and resources.
If charity owners want to work with you how can they use the services of your consultancy?
We help organizations grow and we do this by developing and scaling an organization while paying attention to both program development and administrative functions. Services that we provide include researching and managing all aspects of the fundraising and grant writing process, from seeking out available grants to writing the initial letters of intent, right up to the final grant applications. We will oversee the entire process and work together with your organization to craft high-quality proposals with the best chance of approval. Kaci can also create graphics, charts, conceptual images and visuals to add depth to your grant proposal, and can work with your organization to create bold fundraising campaigns, marketing strategies, and business plans that include direct sales and special events to ensure continual growth and improved revenue.
Outside of your career, what do you get up to for activities in your personal time?
My career actually revolves around motorcycle riding, coaching and moto-journalism though I have had to pivot and change during the world wide pandemic because I can no longer travel for work. It was through motorcycles that I actually got involved with Himayalan Life in the first place. Randomly my husband started talking to someone about their motorcycle, they mentioned they had recently been riding in Nepal and my husband suggested I contact them to write a story about their motorcycling adventure.
Long story short- 8 months later I was riding a motorcycle through Nepal with them and looking into the eyes of former street children that have been given a new chance at life by Himayalan Life. As a mother of two young children myself, I was deeply emotionally impacted by this experience as many of the children I met were the same ages as my kids. I wanted to be involved in helping them somehow.
Typically for activities, I travel and ride motorcycles and write stories about my experiences. Both my kids ride motorcycles, and we mountain bike, ski, snowboard, hike, paddleboard, camp and adventure as much as possible. I also train in martial arts, (karate/kickboxing and jiu-jitsu).
Lastly, is there anything else you would like the community to know about you, your consultancy or Himalayan Life?
I’m a huge fan of the kind of travel that puts you in touch with the local culture and lifestyle of the place that you are visiting. There is no better education or life experience than open minded travel. There is so much to learn from how people around the world live. At 18, I went to Guyana, South America to help build a community center and left a completely different person. Everyone should travel and/or participate in some kind of charitable giving back to the community and well, Himalayan Life and Nepal will always have a special place in my heart. Get there if you can!
Misti Hurst grew up in Lions Bay and currently lives in Deep Cove, North Vancouver with her husband and two children. She is a former pro motorcycle racer, riding coach and moto journalist as well as a writer and editor with Kaci. She’s traveled to 44 countries and has plans to visit many more once travel restrictions are lifted. Her life motto is “leap and the net will appear!” octavio paz.