A cyber-café (remember them!) is not the obvious place to found a charity, but that’s what happened in Kathmandu, Nepal in 2006 when Leander met Raju.  Raju was the proud owner of the café, while Leander was a visitor from Yorkshire in town to pursue some voluntary work and escape from the Corporate world for a while.  The chance to send a few e-mails while chatting over a coffee was great, but I don’t think at the time they could have imagined how many lives would be changed by their discussion and this included their own lives, of course.

As part of her voluntary work, Leander had come across a young girl named Anita, who lived in poverty in Kathmandu unable to read, write or even speak Nepali.  Although she continued to use the dialect language of her home village, she had lost touch with her family there and was dependent on care, if we can call it that, from a local hostel.

Although Leander couldn’t communicate directly, something about Anita’s body language and demeanour worried Leander, so she asked Raju to translate next time they met up.  It soon became clear that Anita’s situation was desperate and that even the roof over her head wasn’t guaranteed for much longer.  A tough situation for someone in their early teenage years.

It doesn’t always happen, but adversity sometimes sparks moments of creativity and progress to overcome seemingly insurmountable problems.  Leander and Raju both felt that they couldn’t (and shouldn’t) just walk away from the situation and so they set to work to help Anita find a better path in life.  To help Anita and other kids in her situation, Leander and Raju created MySmallHelp charity.

Over the years since the charity was founded in 2007, MySmallHelp has developed into a network of friends in countries across the world who all share a passion for helping to look after and educate some of the poor, underprivileged kids in the Kathmandu Valley.  There is a Nepali social welfare organisation run by Raju, Pramila and Binod who organise and deliver educational and welfare programmes on the ground in Kathmandu as well as a registered UK charity that raises funds from donors to fund these projects.

Beyond educational and welfare sponsorship programmes for children up to the age of 16, MySmallHelp has also run a higher education programme to equip young adults with the skills to join a profession.  Our first group of students includes an optometrist, a civil engineer, a computer programmer and a wonderful chef.  A total of more than 60 kids have been helped by our programmes since 2007.

From the beginning, one of our most important relationships has been with Marybert School in Kathmandu.  The school is a social enterprise that offers a mix of fee paying and free places to local students according to their means.  Many children sponsored through the charity have been educated at Marybert and Anita has been a mentor and inspiration to many of them.  We hope to develop our collaboration with Marybert School to the next level in the next couple of years as Raju, Pramila and Binod have recently joined the management team of the school.  Watch this space for exciting developments!

Sixteen years on from the founding of MySmallHelp, recently I met with Anita and Raju at the Himalayan Java Coffee shop in Satdobato in Kathmandu for a catch-up meeting.  By now she is a well-educated young lady, speaking Nepali and English fluently, with a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Ganpat University in India.  She has just been promoted to Project Director in a local NGO.

It was such a pleasure to join the meeting and see first-hand what a difference these programmes have made.  It was a nice contrast to my usual role handling the bookkeeping for the charity in the UK.  As well as meeting a talented and determined young Nepali setting her sights on improving life in Nepal, I also realised the effect that MySmallHelp had on Raju’s life.  You could call Raju a Project Director, but I think a better job title would be ‘Dad’.  His gentle encouragement and sage advice have been vital to the kids and it’s quite clear that he found his life’s work in the foundation and management of the charity.

Pramila, an inspirational, passionate and spiritual friend, has been working with Raju from the very start and she proved a perfect match for the charity guiding us through all the legal and administrative complexity of NGO life in Nepal.

MySmallHelp changed Leander’s life too.  She never returned to the Corporate world but moved into teaching and she continues to visit Nepal whenever she can and inspire the charity today with her vision of small practical steps to make lives better in Nepal.

If you are interested in following the work of the charity, there’s a wealth of information on-line:

Anita with the author in Satdobato, Nepal (December 2023)