A Stone of Hope

A Stone of Hope – By Audette Exel

By Audette Exel, Founder and Chair

25 years ago, I came to this remote place, Humla, high on the Nepali border with Tibet. My journey started thanks to a chance meeting with Kimber, a young anthropologist who is still my colleague today. I walked here in awe – at the remoteness, the primal mountains, the harshness of life, and, most of all, at the character, resilience and laughter of the people.

Quarter of a century later, I am here to thank our incredible Nepali teams for their work over all these years, and to greet the communities who have become part of the extended Adara family. We have partnered together in remote education, child protection, health service delivery, and widespread infrastructure support since those early beginnings.

The work has been deep and wide. The data shows us drops in birth rate, significant increases in school attendance (more than 50% girls), reduction in child trafficking, and significant improvement in water, sanitation and hygiene. There has also been a 103% increase in school enrolments across all Adara-supported supported schools in Humla from 2011 to 2022, and the number of annual visits to Adara-supported health posts have increased by 360% since 2013. There is electricity in places which are weeks walk from the Nepali road system. There is solar and greenhouses. Fruit trees.

Humla Nepal

We have put over $67 million to our work with people in poverty since that first walk, with more than $23 million of that coming from our corporate advice ‘for purpose’ businesses. Our ‘AdaraRemote’ work is matched in importance by ‘AdaraNewborn’ – our work with mothers and babies at high risk, centred in Uganda. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps more, have been saved or helped. Adara is a dream come true in so many ways.

I sit, listening to the hawks and the gentle fall of snow, and I feel a sense of achievement – but not a sense of completion. The dream is far from finished. I know that what we have done is nowhere, absolutely nowhere, near enough. And that the next 25 years may be even more important than the last.

Women breaking stones by hand for a few rupees a day. Children leading mule trains instead of attending school. The bitter, bitter cold and “untouchable” villagers with no shoes. Less than four hours of electricity a day. The regional hospital – much improved – yet with only eight nurses for the entire hospital, including to attend deliveries. People are hungry. Food is still scarce.

Today, Heidi and Molly, from our Seattle Global Health team, and I danced with a joyous group of midwives from across the region who came for Adara training in Helping Babies Breathe and Essential Care of Newborns.

Humla Nepal

These midwives work, usually alone, in such faraway communities. When babies are born, they are the only skilled attendant for many miles. They save lives. I wonder if I could ever be as courageous as they are, to choose that profession, with life and death in their hands and so little support.

As I wander from the training, I am snapped out of my existential angst by a group of girls – in Simikot for their end of school exams, skipping towards us. They come from the Yalbang School, where we first began, and they stay in the school hostel during term. Yalbang School is a Centre of Excellence now for remote education in the country. They walked three days to get here. They are shining in their uniforms, laughing. They bounce up to us to say hi to our Nepal Country Director, Pralhad Dhakal. It’s the mathematics exam today. A big day.

“How are you feeling?” I ask them. A tall, smiling youngster steps towards me. She slaps her chest and she grins at me. “CONFIDENT!!!”

I laugh.

As Martin Luther King Jr said, “Out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope.”

We will never stop working for the rights of women and girls. Our dream is just beginning.

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…to bring quality health and education services to people living in some of the world’s remotest places.

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Child in Nepal