BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON – He stops just short of calling it a pilgrimage, but he’s quickly realizing that’s the course it’s taking.
A former science teacher at Central Lee, Ernie Schiller, who’s reach as an educator spans most of southeast Iowa, is just four weeks away from taking his third educational trek to Nepal in a volunteer capacity. He’s also helping set up a foundation to help offset the cost of educating and raising children in the mountainous region off the northeast shoulder of India.
Schiller leaves on May 29 with about half an 18-person contingency including 11 from Lee County, but also people will be joining from the Des Moines area, and other countries around the world. His quest this year is to raise $25,000 to take to villages where he stays to help pay the $250 yearly cost of sending one child to school and to provide funds for disaster relief from the last major earthquake to hit the area in April 2015.
But Schiller said he never had thought of the trips as pilgrimages or missions.
“I spoke at our church on Sunday,” Schiller said. “My minister in Donnellson and I had this dialogue and he says, ‘Ok, this ministry you’re on…’ and I’ve never ever thought of it that way. I thought WHOA I never thought about it like a pilgrimage, ministry and mission. and he says back to me, ‘Well Ernie, that’s exactly what you are doing’.
“But then I started thinking people on a mission dedicate their life to it, but I’ve done that in Lee county. When I spoke at Embury church the same thing came up. I guess the more I think about it it’s probably exactly what I’m doing.”
The efforts aren’t just having an impact on the people in the villages of Nepal, but also a “pay-it-forward” mentality is growing for the effort in America.
“I can tell you this. What I’m doing seems to be affecting people here. I had a guy who said we have touched his life. Poeple who have money, made money and now they are paying it forward. I never thought about what I’m doing as changing lives here in America as well.”
He speaks of a gentleman he met from Bhutan who is moving into Nepal to help keep the work going.
“This guy from Bhutan..he’s 39 with two kids and no wife. He’s going to relocate, he’s moving next week, back to Nepal, through our interaction over the Internet and he’s going to dedicate his life to these people to rebuild after the earthquake. We’re going to spend a month together and try to figure this out and then set up a permanent foundation to join this little thing that Ernie Schiller is trying to set up.”
Next Friday Schiller will be speaking to the Holy Trinity elementary students and challenging them to create a small care package to take to another child in Nepal with a handwritten note, a small token or possession that speaks to the local culture, and possibly a small donation.
“I’m going to challenge them to write a handwritten note or computer generated note to a kid in Nepal. Maybe a card or little letter stating who they are, where they’re from and their age and put in a few prized possessions and small donation and get it to me by the 25th of May.”
Schiller said he will be flying over with the first contingency on the 29th and then on June 12th other contingency will leave with the group flying back on the 27th of June.
“I thought when I went last fall this would be a one-time deal. Not knowing that what I’m doing people are wanting to pay it forward and I’m kind of enamored with that. I wasn’t going to go back but with so many people wanting to go..it’s a pretty darned good place to visit.”
He’s quick to say that the Nepalese people live like the westernized world lived 150 years ago, but some of the things they do are beyond the primitive lifestyle. Schiller said there are no guns allowed in the country and the only place he’s ever seen them is at the airport or on the police. And the way they solve arguments is usually some very loud talking.
The concern for the environment and the ecosystem is a culturally high priority. And he had one situation he would never have in Donnellson.
“I was walking to school one day and four or five kids were walking with me. It’s a 45-minute walk around curves and up the hills. All of sudden one of the kids got really freaked out and he was one kid that didn’t speak a lot of English. He came really close to me and then all came close to me and we continued our walk to school in a big huggle. When I got home I was talking with a translator about it and he said “Oh..yes..what they heard was a Siberian Tiger that had been in the area that was looking for a cat or a goat. But I feel so safe there, I never saw a snake or spider. I did see a mosquito though, you worry more about the bugs and carrying disease.”
The topic of conversation on most days…politics. The children and adults alike want to know about American politics.
“The last time I went it was fall and during election season and that’s all they wanted to talk about,” he said. “They are not active in their own politics and they would want to talk about all this politics. That caught me off guard.”
The Nepalese live off three crop seasons, rice, potatoes, and corn or barley. Schiller said they eat what they grow and grow what they eat. They don’t have grocery stores, but they do have markets, but their diet is comprised solely of what can be raised on the land.
“When they grow crops they have these terraced hills and they don’t lose an ounce of top soil. No erosion takes place. You’re living like our people did 150 years ago yet you’re so ecologically sound that you don’t lose an ounce. The earthquakes, which they have about every 75 years, damages the fields but they immediately go to rebuild them.”
He said they are starting to use more durable materials with the adobe, including mesh and concrete for foundations on the homes to help structurally.
Donations can be made at https://www.gofundme.com/2f2mgsek or Ernest Schiller, Rebuild Nepal Education, 2224 204th Avenue, Donnellson, Iowa 52625