BY BRIAN RIGGS
Fort Madison Area Arts Association
FORT MADISON – The feature exhibition for August at FMAAA gallery opens up a portal to an international artist from Nepal via a Lee County Connection. Watercolors by Sujan Tamang and artwork from his Nepalese students will transform a view to another land. Holtkamp’s Floors, Decor & Furniture are the sponsors for the August event.
A reception occurs on August 14th from 5-7 p.m. Swed coffee will platoon outside during the reception offering beverage refreshments. New hours for FMAAA gallery are Tues-Thur-Fri-Sat from 12-7pm. Sujan has previously exhibited his work in France, England, Australia, Ireland, Korea, and Turkey. His debut gallery exhibition in the United States occurs at FMAAA gallery at 825 Ave G.
Ernie Schiller has developed strong ties to the region and people of Nepal and acts as conduit to share their story in Lee County.
Ernie relays, “Rebuild Nepal Education Foundation came about by shear accident. In 2014, the US Government wanted me to escort five 16-year-old girls to India to study there for a year, but because of their age, I was asked to chaperone them to their families in Delhi. Well, India is next door to Nepal and my second-grade teacher showed our class the newest tallest mountain on the planet one day, Mt. Everest and some Nepalese people with their colorful clothing. So, after I dropped off the girls with their family in Delhi, I set up a tour with a Nepalese Tour Company and toured India and took a short hop over to Nepal for a quick tour of Nepal. Well trekking down a mountain we walked by a mountain school, and being a former science teacher here in Iowa, I walked in and was amazed at the intuitive nature of education in Nepal. No supplies, but the kids were so engaged. I went in five different schools on my visit. I told the Nepalese Tour Company that I would return in 2015 and volunteer in the school but 3 weeks before I was to fly to Nepal the major earthquake occurred. 8.7 on the Richter Scale. Major earthquake, major damage. 9,000 people died instantly. Several thousands were never found. The tour company contacted me 6 months later and said that everything that I saw in 2014 was wiped off the map. They were desperate, as the world’s donations never even made it out of the hard-hit capital city of 7 million people of KTM. So, I raised what money I could and headed to not sure where in Nepal I was going and spent 6 weeks in October and November of 2016 in the remote mountainous regions helping rebuild the educational system. Exhausted I returned for Thanksgiving and our Holidays. After the Holidays, in January of 2017, the Pothitakis Family contacted me to organize a 2nd Educational Mission Trip to Nepal so their children could volunteer in the schools. Well that trip many other people joined us in these remote mountains and with Kara Pothitakis’ help a foundation was formed: Rebuild Nepal Education Foundation, whose sole purpose was to support the extreme poor children in Nepal and try to keep them in school, where sometimes the few dollars to attend school makes it financially impossible for them to come up with the finances. So a new Foundation. Ernie Schiller of Donnellson, Chair, Kara Pothitakis of Ft. Madison Vice-Chair, Reverend Bob Molsberry of North Liberty, Iowa is the Secretary, Arie Schiller of Donnellson is Treasurer. Nadine Allen of Donnellson is Member-at-Large. Tylor Johnson of the DC Area is also Member-at-Large. Fundraising and donors from our area and across the USA and The World has helped keep this foundation’s mission focus on the children in Nepal. www.rebuildnepaleducation.org Our foundation is fully vested by the US Government and is a true educational foundation.
Well on the 2018 Volunteer Trip, this biologist/scientist came across some of the Nepal student’s art that they were working on. I have always enjoyed art, but not being an artist myself, I ask the teacher is the student’s art was for sale. That started the beginning of a year’s planning setting up a Nepal Art Exhibition which would occur in May of 2019.
Enter, an art teacher named. Sujan Tamang was born of an extremely poor family in remote Nepal. His family was so poor that he did not have any clothing until the age of 18. We went to school without any clothing, unheard of here in America, but their extreme poverty only gave him the means to work hard in the village fields and try to get to further education. His hard work and dedication got him to attend a Plus 2 Education which is like 11th and 12th grade. He worked every chance he could get. He eventually received his Bachelor degree in Art and became a teacher, now teaching Art in 4 schools in Kathmandu, Nepal. Teaching art in 4 schools for the salary of $200/month, with no health insurance and no retirement. Meager wages in a country where even living in KTM is extremely expensive. He and his wife have one son. Sujan paints art for the tourists whenever he can find a vendor to display his art. I met Sujan in May of 2019 on our 4th Educational Mission Trip to Nepal through our foundation, Rebuild Nepal Education Foundation. I worked with Sujan and my volunteers in Nepal to orchestrate the 1st Nepal Art Exhibition, where students all across Nepal were invited to submit their artwork in the first ever art exhibit. Sujan helped tirelessly to get the word all over Nepal and even helped me find a school willing to display the artwork. Thanks to Manasalu School in KTM for allowing this exhibition to take place. And the University of Iowa Art Department under the direction of Clara Baldus who joined our team in Nepal displayed the art from the students of Nepal. We invited Sujan to display his art for us and his students. To our amazement, Sujan’s artwork impressed the U of IA Art Department that was with us. We convinced the students of Nepal and Sujan to allow us to pack up the art and bring it back to the USA. Here we sell the Nepal student’s art and the student gets 100% of the sale of the artwork to help them to continue to attend school in Nepal. Sujan’s art also is sold here in America and 100% of his sales goes to him….however, he buys all the art supplies for his students and he is also a donor to our educational foundation and supports many students in their quest for education. So, we brought the artwork back to America, and Linda Heitz, Kristi Reid, Mary Jo Scheetz, and Angie Sodey have donated their time and talent to help get the artwork ready for display. There have been many art shows exhibition the Nepal art. These 4 ladies have organized a Nepal Art Exhibition at FMAAA for August, and I have asked Sujan to create more art in his no work time over the past 2 months. These art pieces arrived in the USA yesterday, July 23rd and will be displayed at the art exhibition.
Well now with COVID-19, Nepal has been on total lockdown since March no school is in session. No school, no need for teachers, no work, NO PAY. Over five months all of Nepal has been lockdown. Five months Sujan and other teachers and school employees are like everyone else, NO PAY. So, our Foundation with the help of volunteers in Nepal have started to deliver Food Boxes to families who are extremely hard hit by the COVID-19 lockdown. We constantly collect donations to help with the student’s education and now for $19.88 we can provide a family of 4 with enough rice, lentils, sunflower oil, seasonings, etc. for one month (however these Nepalese are so creative, they stretch this 4 week of rationing to 8 weeks of foodstuffs for themselves). Even during this difficult time, Sujan and other volunteers have helped us feed thousands of Nepalese who would otherwise starve.
After COVID-19, Sujan plans to help us orchestrate the 2nd Nepalese Art Exhibition. Even though our trip was canceled this year we hope 2021 will allow us to return to continue our Educational Mission work.”