BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON – With COVID knocking down a lot of intercontinental travel over the past 18 to 24 months, former Central Lee teacher Ernie Schiller hasn’t been able to get back to see the youth of Nepal.
But that comes to an end next month when Schiller will head back to the Asian mountains with three groups, including two Central Lee High School students.
Sydney Jones and Paisley Grafton will join Schiller starting May 24, just one day after Jones graduates.
Schiller said the small country, nestled in the Himalayas between India and Tibet, is in worse shape culturally, then they were after a major 7.8 magnitude earthquake almost leveled the country in 2015.
“Nepal is in worse shape than when we started going in 2016. We were making progress in education. We were making progress in keeping kids in school and progress with the kids we had worked with so long that now they were in college,” he said.
“But they’ve had a lot of shutdowns. Worse than here. When the government shuts down there you don’t go anywhere. So kids taking college classes were suspended and the kids that were taking classes in the mountains, it just stopped. They don’t have computers and they can’t go online.”
Schiller had plans to go back in 2019 and 2020 but both got derailed by the pandemic. Jones had planned to go to the country with Schiller two previous times, but couldn’t get there because of the cancellations.
Jones said she’s very excited to be going and is just looking forward to being part of integrating with the culture and people.
“I’ve been waiting two years now,” she said. “Helping. I think that’s the big motivator for me. I’ve always had the drive to help other people.”
The senior will be entering college in the fall where she wants to major in cyber security engineering, again to assist others.
“After seeing (Schiller’s) presentation and all he’s done to help, it made me want to go, too. The first time I saw one of his presentations was when I was in elementary school,” Jones said.
Grafton said being a part of something bigger is the drive for her.
“I’m excited because I know that I’m going to be a part of something. I just want to be there and be a part of it all,” she said.
Schiller said both girls have to bring at least 100 lbs. of supplies each. In addition, they are working toward raising funds to provide educational funding for the kids in the country.
“We’ve been trying to gather a bunch of art materials – markers, crayons, colored pencils, paint brushes. We’ve reached out to art centers and they are sharing our information. And I just reached out to Montrose Health Center and they are getting us some shampoo, conditioner and and toiletries,” Grafton said.
Jones said The Madison donated some supplies for the trip last year that included toothpaste and deodorant.
Schiller said there are no dentists in the area so toothaches can become major health issues up to and including death. He said the youth there spend 10 minutes brushing their teeth three times a day.
The pandemic took a heavy tool on the Nepalese culture. Schiller said 70% of the population is engaged in tourism and, when the pandemic shut everything down, there was no income.
“You’re either a Sherpa, or a guide, work in a hotel or farm tomatoes or lettuce for tourists, so during that time, 70% were unemployed.
“In early 2020 we found out 10,000 Nepalese committed suicide because they couldn’t provide for their families…all within two months.”
The two girls leave from Chicago and fly to Abu Dabi and then to Kathmandu, but before they go, they still have some fundraising to do.
On Friday, a music trivia night is being held at the Donnellson Community Room beginning at 7:30 p.m. Central Lee elementary principal Heather Fuger will emcee the event. Tables are $100 for up to eight people with children and adults alike invited. There will be prizes and adult beverages as part of the night’s activities.
On April 1, the girls are hosting an adult prom with the assistance of Kingsley Inn’s Chi Eastin.
“She’s been really helpful in setting this up and helping us market it,” Jones said.
The event includes a formal prom with beverages provided by River Rocks and DJ services from Thin Blue Line Productions. The after-prom will be a dessert auction.
All the funds will be used for scholarships for the Nepalese students.
Schiller’s Rebuild Nepal Education Foundation is a non-governmental non-profit with more than 60 volunteers from around the world.
When the pandemic shut operations down, Schiller said the volunteers went to work putting together food packages that included 50 lbs. of rice, 20 lbs. of beans or lentils, sunflower oil, and spices. The packages would feed a family of four for a month – and were assembled at a cost of $19.88 per package.
“They would throw a garlic clove, or tomato or onion in there and could eat for a month,” he said.
Vaccines were donated from China, India, and other countries which allowed the population to get vaccinated quicker than most countries.
Jones said she has no preconceived expectations about the trip.
“It’s gotten even crazier in that half of the world, so I honestly don’t know what to expect,” she said.
Paisley, who made hand-created signs to help raise funds over the holidays, said she’s energized about bringing art to the youth there.
“We’re going to bring all the arts to Nepal,” she said with a smile.
Schiller said that would probably include some dancing on a dusty floor somewhere on the side of a mountain.
“They’re going to teach art, which is a good thing, and they will help host Nepal’s 2nd art exhibition,” Schiller said.
The art exhibit will include prizes for the artists and some will be brought back and displayed locally. Schiller did a similar shared exhibit during a previous visit to the country.
Those looking for additional information can connect with Schiller at the group’s Facebook page at by searching Rebuild Nepal Education Foundation.