We were schoolchildren at Azad High School when this fair-skinned and mysterious looking lady walked into our classroom and introduced herself to us with a warm smile. We’d never actually interacted with foreigners before, and I felt a tad bit quaint and uneasy in the beginning. But as time passed, my friends and I found ourselves waiting impatiently for her classes. Her name was unpronounceable to us so we called her ‘Barbie Miss’. We still do! She was American and taught us English mostly.” So spoke the shy Deen Dayalu Bade Shrestha, now 56 years of age, as we caught up with him, his friend Tika Bhakta Bhochhibhoya and their ex-teacher and current friend ‘Barbie Miss’, Barbara Butterworth (who coincidentally was called ‘Barbie’ by her parents during her childhood) at the residence of one of Barbara’s friends in Ekantakuna.
Barbara was the first one to greet my colleague and I before sitting down to brief us on their annual fundraising event for school children, ‘Walk, Eat and Do Good’. We indulged in some small talk while waiting for Tika and Deen. They showed up shortly and, after a brief round of introductions, the five of us got to talking about the event and its history. Barbara had mentioned earlier that Tika would know and recall most of the things, and boy was she right! Tika has an elephant’s memory. There he was talking about how the whole thing started off with a bingo game while Barbara was refreshing her memory.
“I’m getting quite old to recall things,” Barbara laughed.
Tika resumed, “The concept came to be with the proceeds from the game going to school children. Barbara, her husband Mike and more Americans along with us gave this a good thought and decided on doing it every year since the first time had proved so fruitful. Then, along with Barbie Miss, who had the right connections and the money, and ourselves, who had the required manpower, we started doing it every year. The first time around, we could only support one child, but now we are supporting 30 government schools! It’s been a huge leap and we feel we are doing better with every passing year. The first time was in the year 1987, so that makes 22 years now. We’ve been doing this every year since then except in the early 2000s because of the Maoist insurgency.”
On being asked about the activities during the event, Barbara spoke, “We eat, drink and make merry, obviously! During the earlier years, we used to walk up the hill at Chandeshwori. It’s a beautiful place and about a two-and-half-hours’ walk. A musical band accompanies us to keep us entertained, and once we get to the hilltop, we eat the succinctly prepared Newari food, which consists of Aila (Newari liquor), Samaya baji (appetizer) and loads of meat all prepared in the traditional Newari fashion. The band plays on and dancers perform their traditional dances. The people gathered relax and have a good time, enjoying the beautiful view from the hilltop. More food and liquor follows! Most of us are older now and so we climb smaller hills that take lesser time to climb. This time we climbed up Nagi Hill. There’s a motorable road there and we transported the food and drinks, and even people (who were unable to walk) in an SUV. For the last couple of years, the Banepa Mothers’ Club has been doing all the cooking. This year, we also had children from S.O.S School entertaining us with their excellent dances.”
“My husband Mike and I had returned to the States in 1989 and we stayed there until 1998. But that didn’t stop our cause. We were living in San Francisco at the time and had a couple of Nepali friends, one of whom had a restaurant. So we called up our friends there, asking them to contribute to our cause, which they did. The food was prepared by the restaurateur Nepali friend, Narayan, who used to cook for the event when he was in Nepal; and there he was, cooking the same thing for the same cause in another country. We had all the food except the Aila. So we substituted that with beer. The American version was going to a park and having a picnic. We did this for three years in the States.”
‘Walk, Eat and Do Good’ has been providing children with more than just scholarships. Fundamental items like toothbrushes, toothpastes, school backpacks, pens and other necessities are also provided for needy children. A good 22 years have passed and Barbara, Tika, Deen, Mike and lots of others are still going strong, raising more money with every passing year. The money that remains unspent (after the scholarships and necessities are provided for) is deposited in a bank and is used for the upcoming event the following year.
It’s been a long journey from their childhood days with Barbie Miss in the 1960s to the present, but a strong relationship, which started off as a student-teacher one and then to friendship, and now to being colleagues working together for such an important social cause, is a thing to be very proud of.
As my colleague and I were leaving the place, I turned back to watch the three of them talking endlessly with huge smiles on their faces. And whilst Tika was doing the most talking, Deen still had this slightly shy look, the kind of look that a school student gives his favorite teacher.