BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Ernie Schiller has left marks locally on students, biology, science, and conservation. Keeping his life full while shaping those lives around him.
But his mind is always a bit adrift. Thinking about kids and families not only in Lee County, but those 7,654 miles away.
Schiller has made five trips, he calls them missions because they are, to Nepal after an earthquake left the villages in the shadows of Mt. Everest, literally, in ruins.
The quake, called the Ghorka Quake, struck near the city of Kathmandu in Nepal. It killed about 9,000 people in late spring 2015 and left systems, including education, in shambles.
The devastation caught Schiller’s eye and heart and since that time his pilgrimages have brought everything from food, clothing, and soap, to teachers and volunteers to the region. The families of the region that Schiller’s Rebuild Nepal Education Foundation have touched look upon him as a savior.
Now Schiller is reprogamming his endeavor for a pandemic world and is speaking again about returning to a land that probably misses him, as much as he misses them.
“I was going to go back last year, but then COVID happened and I postponed it,” Schiller said Friday morning.
“Two or three people emailed me about it and I’ve received requests from numerous counties in the area who want to find out more about it. I feel comfortable now being out in the public, so I’m going to try and meet that challenge.”
Schiller has had requests from Des Moines County, Johnson County, Van Buren County, Lee County, and Henry County to bring his new Nepal effort to libraries to explain more about what’s happening.
The presentation is entitled: Nepal- A look back at 5 Years After the Earthquake. It will begin by Schiller trying to raise awareness of the dire need in rural Nepal and to share information about the country and culture of Nepal.
His presentations are open and free to the public. A 15-minute PowerPoint Presentation, featuring scenery of Nepal and the effects of the 8.7 Richter Scale event that took place in May of 2015, will be shown.
Schiller will also talk about volunteers working in these remote mountainous regions and assisting in the schools.
Locally, Schiller will be presenting at the Fort Madison Library on Thursday at 7 p.m. A Keokuk presentation will be held on Monday, Nov. 8 at 6 p.m.
Other presentations include the Burlington Public Library Tuesday Nov. 9 at 6 p.m., the West Point Library at Thursday, Nov. 11 at 6:30 p.m. He will also give presentations at the Iowa City library on Sunday Nov. 14 at 2 p.m. and at the Farmington Library Tuesday Nov. 16 at 6 p.m.
“This is a brand new presentation that I worked on all summer,” Schiller said.
“It shows not only a lot of Nepal – the beauty of the mountains and serenity of the lakes, the culture of Nepal – but the biggest part is what they are doing there and why they live there. It also talks about the impact of the last five missions.
“I haven’t been there in 2.5 years, but we have 60 volunteers executing our mission in Nepal while I haven’t been able to travel. We’re still providing scholarships and reaching out to the villages.”
He said those efforts were supplemented over the past 18 months with soaps, sanitizers, and masks for villagers who Schiller said now can’t even afford a bar of soap.
Although the pandemic medically didn’t have the same impact as it had globally because of the remote nature of the culture, Nepal’s economy is supported by tourism to the tune of about 70% of the country’s gross domestic product.
Schiller said data shows that more than 10,000 people have committed suicide because jobs have been eliminated without tourism, which impacts all the way down to food and nutrition.
“Our foundation is now adding the responsibility of trying to provide 6,000 people with food. A family of four can be fed for a month for about $19.00 and that includes everything they’re used to having to eat including oils, rice, and lentils,” he said.
“We’ve been doing that and then are coming to find out that the families who get the boxes realize a family nearby is struggling and they share the food. So now we’re feeding eight to 10 people on that same box, on less than we would normally pay for a pizza.”
Schiller said his plans are to go back to Nepal in 2022. He said he has eight volunteers for sure going with several others thinking of making the trek now that is seems safer to travel.
Anyone wishing to donate to the effort can do so at Schiller’s GoFundMe page through Venmo at http://Venmo @RebuildNepalEducation-ErnestSc or at the following contact information: Ernie Schiller, 2224 204th Avenue, Donnellson, Iowa 52625. Home (319) 835-5689 – Cell (319) 316-2354. Rebuild Nepal Education Foundation at www.rebuildnepaleducation.org.
Donations can also be made at any Pilot Grove Savings Bank location.