One of the best things about the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU) global conferences is the opportunity to connect with other Unitarians & Unitarian Universalists from around the world. To be able to hear and even sometimes see how they live our shared faith into action. This past conference in Kathmandu, Nepal was no exception. Answering my unexpected call for help with some ‘on the ground’ logistics for the conference, Earle Canfield stepped in and stepped up. Earle and I didn’t know each other, only our mutual Unitarian/Universalist faith connected us. But that limited connection was all that was necessary. Earle is a UU hailing from Denver, Colorado with connections to Nepal… deep and strong connections to Nepal as it happens!
More than 20 years ago Earle started an organization called ANSWER (American-Nepali Students’ and Women’s Education Relief) with the desire to educate one child. It has since grown to a multi-site program throughout Nepal, educating more than 600 children in 120 schools and colleges. ANSWER “is a non-religious, non-partisan organization dedicated to helping the people of Nepal address problems of poverty through education, primarily by providing educational sponsorships for low-caste and impoverished students.”
As the ICUU worked to finalize the many details of its biennial conference being held in Kathmandu, Nepal, this past February, I reached out and Earle responded without hesitation. It wasn’t just Earle who was quick and eager to help. The team of amazing young people who run the office of ANSWER in Kathmandu also didn’t hesitate to jump in and help someone they have never met. With only a couple of weeks to go before the conference, Kalyan Silwal, the first of ANSWER’s college graduates, took up our cause and not only helped with all the particulars needing last minute attention, but ensured we had smooth conference by being with us on site every day. ICUU would not have had such a great experience if it had not been for Kalyan, Earle, and the rest of ANSWER’s office team (all of whom are graduates from the ANSWER program). After learning more while we were in Kathmandu about what ANSWER does it’s not surprising that there was a deep desire to help others.
Giving back and paying forward are central elements of ANSWER’s practice as a non-profit. It isn’t just about educating children or youth, it is about building a society that responds to the needs of all people. Not unlike our UU faith, ANSWER teaches the children and youth they work with that help does not stop with you; each person becomes responsible for helping someone else. ANSWER isn’t only offering much needed education to young people who may not have the opportunity otherwise, they are shaping the very communities in which these young people live. The values that drive ANSWER could easily be ones that any Unitarian or Unitarian Universalist congregation or community might espouse:
- Social Justice – We believe education is essential to address the problems of poverty, social inequities and injustices and to support representative institutions and government through non-violent means.
- Compassion – We recognize the impact of disruptive events on a child’s education and shall do what we can to assist the families of our sponsored children who whose education is compromised by such events.
- Empathy – We provide opportunities for sponsors to learn about the lives and problems of the developing world.
- Stewardship – We ensure that every sponsor’s donation goes directly to the children’s education.
Sometimes it takes a moment where we are in need for us to reach out beyond what we know to ask for the assistance from people we don’t know. In taking that risk, asking for help and hoping others will step in, our worlds and our hearts are broadened. These are the values our U/U faith shares with ANSWER, that together we are able to do more than we could ever do alone; that together not only our lives are changed, but so too are the lives of everyone around us. ANSWER and the young people who it serves and who ensure the continuation of its important work will always hold a special place in the heart of the ICUU for we found not just good people willing to help, we found kindred spirits working to make the world a place all people may find hope, community, and friendship.
Rev. Sara Ascher, Executive Director
International Council of Unitarians & Universalists