20 years of saving young lives in Nepal

June 25, 2010 10:49:06 PM PDT
It is hard to say enough good things about Olga Murray. Olga is a Bay Area woman who just turned 85 years old, and she has got a list of accomplishments in the last 20 years that is almost unbelievable. Next time you think one person can't make a difference, think of Olga.

Olga has a lot to celebrate. She has saved thousands of children from starvation, poverty, and even slavery. Donations from generous Bay Area benefactors certainly helped, but none of it would have happened without Olga.

Twenty-five years ago, Olga was about to retire from a lifetime spent as a lawyer.

"I didn't want to sit around and play bridge with my friends, it just wasn't me," she said.

Olga took a vacation to Nepal and found her future. Nepal is home to some of the poorest people on earth -- children who sleep in the streets and dig through garbage to find food.

"What they all wanted more than anything was to go to school," she said. "I just had this epiphany, that's what I'm going to do with the rest of my life. I'm going to send Nepali kids to school."

Olga started giving scholarships. Then in 1990, she founded the Nepal Youth Foundation. They opened group homes for children the rest of society had abandoned. When we talked with Olga 10 years ago, those homes were flourishing.

"I'm a sucker for Nepali kids. They are just really wonderful," she says. "They are grateful for what they have and they are full of fun and they are able to leave these horrible experience behind them so quickly."

Olga was just getting started. Half the children in Nepal are malnourished, so her foundation launched a Nutrition Rehabilitation Center. First there was one, now there are 10. Malnourished babies arrive on the verge of death.

"More than poverty, it's ignorance of the family," says Olga. "There is practically no knowledge of nutrition in Nepal at all."

Before and after pictures show the results; 5,000 children transformed in a few weeks simply by improving their diet.

"And while the children are being restored to health, their mothers are being trained in all aspects of nutrition," says Olga.

Next, Olga's organization is fighting child slavery. Poor Nepali families sell their daughters as servants. The girls rarely go to school and are often abused. But Olga's team figured out a solution.

"We convince the parents to bring their girls home by providing them with a baby piglet or goat which they can sell at the end of the year," she says. "They'll get as much or more money than they got from their daughter's labor."

Ten thousand girls rescued; now the government has pledged $1.5 million to send them to school.

"We didn't start out to have a big program, but when you see these needs, and you think, I can do something about that, and that's how it grew and grew and grew," she says.

It is a big program, but each success is personal.

"You know, those fairy tales where you have fairy godmothers? She's just like that to me," says Santosh Basnet who was rescued from the streets of Katmandu. He grew up in one of Olga's group homes and came to the Bay Area for education. Olga was at his graduation.

"This little runaway kid and here he is with an MBA from Dominican University," says Olga. "It can't get better than that."

Durga Thapa was severely burned with no hope of a good life in Nepal. Now thanks to Olga's organization, she has had extensive surgery and plans to be a nurse. Durga was one of 200 people who gathered in San Francisco to wish Olga a happy 85th birthday.

"She makes each and every one of us feel really, really special," says Durga.

Olga's supporters had another tribute ? a $100,000 donation that will go a long way in Nepal. And Olga is by no means slowing down.

"I don't think so. I mean, I have big plans," she says.

ABC7 salutes Olga Murray, who one Nepali newspaper called the "Mother Teresa of Nepal." All the good work Olga does is on a shoestring budget. If you want to donate, visit the Nepal Youth Foundation (formerly Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation) website at www.nyof.org

Writen and produced by Jennifer Olney.

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