Pliny Hayes adds some donated tiki lamps to the growing pile of donations in his garage that will be sold at a community garage sale on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. The sale takes place on Savoy Cres. in Sunnybrook

Desire to help Nepal deeply personal for garage sale organizers

It may be a local garage sale, but it comes with an international mission that could save lives.

It may be a local garage sale, but it comes with an international mission that could save lives.

If only they can just get ahead of Nepal’s monsoon season, which is about to begin in the country of 27 million that is now riddled with shock, grief and anxiety following recent devastating earthquakes.

Maureen McCall, an organizer of the multi-family garage sale on Sunday in Red Deer’s Sunnybrook neighbourhood, said funds raised will help a special school and a small remote village in Nepal.

For McCall, a Red Deer physician, the desire to help is deeply personal.

She and her husband, Pliny Hayes, a Red Deer College biology instructor, adopted Nina, their now 16-year-old daughter, in Nepal when she was four. And their 20-year-old foster son, Urgen Dorje Lama, is also from Nepal.

On April 25, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake hit Nepal, killing and injuring thousands of people. Then another quake, this time a magnitude 7.3, killed and injured more. There are now daily aftershocks. The death toll is about 8,600 and almost 18,000 people have been injured.

As it so often is the case, this natural disaster has hit a country already struggling with poverty, health and hunger issues. Much of the food Nepali people would have stored before the monsoon season is now exposed to the elements or buried.

“It’s going to be a long, long haul to rebuild, and this is just the very first part of the emergency. … We’re so pleased and so touched that so many of our friends and neighbours and teammates and school friends are all pitching in to help with this.

“I know so many people that have already given money to coalitions and various organizations in Nepal but these are the two places that are nearest and dearest to our hearts and we know the money will go directly to the school with no middlemen and no overhead, and we know we can get things to the village, with again very little to no cost, except for the cost of actually getting things there,” McCall said on Wednesday.

She’s talking about the residential school, Shree Mangal Dvip, in Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu, and the village of Lho where her foster son is from.

McCall and her husband lived in Nepal from 2001 to 2003.

She went there for a University of Calgary health and development project, funded through the Canadian International Development Agency. Besides being a doctor, McCall has a master’s degree in public health.

Her role in a small western Nepal town was to wind down a years-long project and analyze the data.

She took a two-year leave from her Red Deer practice at the Associate Medical Clinic and she ended up there during the Nepal civil war. The tiny airport was bombed and snipers were “picking off people” on the only road in and out of the valley to the town. There were death threats levelled at others by guerrillas soldiers.

“It got to be so bad, we had to end the project after a year,” McCall said.

So she and her husband moved to Kathmandu, where she worked with government aid agencies trying to improve maternal health at the village level. She helped develop training programs to better care for women who had pregnancy-related health problems.

At the same time, her husband studied in a Buddhist monastery. Hayes helped the monastery develop documents needed to solidify a program for an undergraduate degree in Buddhist studies. Students from the program have since gone on to graduate work at such universities as Harvard, Berkeley and Oxford.

It was while they were in Kathmandu that the couple began the long process of adopting Nina.

And McCall would help run a clinic once a week at Shree Mangal Dvip School, which educates and houses school children from the most destitute parts of Nepal. The school is run by Shirley Blair, a Canadian from Victoria.

“They had a lot of kids that were coming into the school who were from the very most remote places,” said McCall.

“They would be earmarked for this school because they were in high risk because one of their parents had died or something like that, or they had such severe health problems they might die in these remote places. We had a couple kids referred for heart surgery, and a little girl who had TB of the spine.

“When she was treated she was bent over, couldn’t stand up straight. After she was treated, she grew tall and straight and healthy.

“There were some kids we couldn’t do very much for except give them lots of love and support cause they had serious health issues. A couple of the kids died.”

It was at the school that McCall and Hayes became very close to a number of the children.

“One little boy, whose parents were so far away they could only come up once a year to see him … grew up to be a star student in the school.”

He is now their foster son. Urgen Dorje Lama came from the remote village of Lho and ended up finishing first in the country’s end-of-school exams.

They brought Urgen to Canada. Another family brought another boy from Nepal. The two finished Grade 11 and 12 at Lindsey Thurber Comprehensive High School.

Urgen did so well at Lindsay Thurber that he received a full scholarship to York University in Toronto. He’s studying science and has just finished his first year. He’s back in Red Deer for the summer, helping with the garage sale.

His village of Lho was in the epicentre of the first big quake, in the region of Gorkha. The village has seen very little relief because it’s so remote. While only two people from the community died, every home has been destroyed and their food is buried under the rubble.

McCall said half the money from the garage sale will go to help Shree Mangal Dvip School and the other half will go to help Lho.

At the school, which normally has 400 students, there remain 170 children who are unable to go home because trails and bridges have been destroyed, or their families have no food or place to stay. The children are sleeping under tarps and in tents. The walls on the school have large cracks.

In Lho, Urgen’s parents, brother and sister survived but they won’t have enough time to properly rebuild before the rain starts.

Part of the problem in Nepal is that there are “all the aid agencies with piles of stuff but they can’t get the stuff out,” McCall said.

Helicopters that cost $1,000 an hour before the disaster are now $3,000 to $4,000, she said. The Nepali government has turned down offers of heavy-load carrying helicopters from other countries for unknown reasons.

Through connections, the couple hopes to be able to get help to Lho.

“The reality is if we’re going to get things to the village before the heavy rains start, we have to do it soon and we’re going to have to do it on our own,” said McCall, a 27-year resident of Red Deer.

So on Sunday, McCall and others will be working at trying to make the world a better place.

Several driveways on Savoy Crescent will be full of garage sale items from noon to 4 p.m., with all proceeds going to help Nepal. People can also come and just make a cash donation.

There will be a few silent auction items and McCall’s daughter, Nina, and her friends will be doing face-painting.

As for the items themselves, they will have no prices on them.

“Our line is everything is free. How much do you want to donate?” McCall said.

barr@bprda.wpengine.com

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