A Road into Retirement: Building a School in Nepal

A Road into Retirement: Building a School in Nepal

by Hans U Juttner


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781546206835
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 08/31/2017
Pages: 68
Product dimensions: 8.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.18(d)

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My background and how it all started

For it is in giving that we receive. St. Francis of Assisi

I have never been the type of person who is content with a quiet easy life. My medical studies began in Germany and Switzerland. After a visit with Albert Schweitzer in his hometown in Gunsbach, France in 1959,1 ventured to his African jungle hospital in Gabon, West Equatorial Africa to work with him as a young physician for almost two years.

Then I went to the United States of America for five years for my medical specialty training at the Mayo Clinic. There I got to know my future wife, another resident in training: an American lady with a refreshing intelligence, a beautiful soul and love of life, and who was fun to be with. During an interim of a few years in Germany I no longer felt at home. Abroad, I had experienced invigorating professional and private freedom and being rewarded on the merit of my work and personal qualities. Here, heading into life as a newly married couple, I was confronted with an oppressive and restrictive atmosphere, taking the oxygen out of the air. I therefore decided to spend my entire professional life in the United States.

Years later, I celebrated my 60 birthday climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with my younger brother Dirk. A few years following this first taste of the mountains, retirement was pending, and I was heading into unknown territory, following a path without a destination - determined by my inner voice, my ideas, and my dreams. There appeared to be a red thread through my life for "pushing the envelope," for stepping outside the box, for challenging myself.

In 2003 at the age of 67,1 stepped out of a totally absorbing and grinding job of 31 years as a radiologist and 11 years as chairman in a group practice at a hospital. Two years later during locum tenens radiology work in a small Wisconsin town on the shore of Lake Michigan, I was approaching my 70 birthday. I had left behind my home and wife on the East Coast for those extended periods of professional activity and lived in a motel. I had enough time during weekends to come up with several "great" ideas.

One of these thoughts was to uproot our home on the East Coast and relocate to the Midwest- to Wisconsin! When I suggested this idea to my wife, she eventually agreed and was glad to move back closer to her childhood home. Her family's roots were in Iowa, and she loved the Midwest. Living in Wisconsin would bring her back closer to her family. As for myself, I was drawn to the nature along Lake Michigan and liked the concept of living closer to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and Joan's family.

We found a spacious lot and built a luxurious dream retirement home in a remote rural area on Lake Michigan. Looking ahead and planning, I came up with another crazy idea. I wanted to celebrate my 70 birthday in a memorable way. I had always enjoyed the outdoors and photography. Health and fitness had long been my top priorities. I thought to myself, "What an opportunity and challenge for great photography and testing my physical strength to trek through the Himalayas to the base of the ultimate mountain, Mt. Everest!" My dear wife thought I had lost my mind, but my response was, "you only live once!"

Throughout our entire relationship I traveled extensively and frequently - often without Joan. In addition, in those last six years of semi-retirement with locum tenens radiology assignments far away, I was absent from her for many months at a time. Along with many work-related and leisure trips within the United States, I flew abroad to Nepal five times, to Germany, England, Switzerland, and France many times, to Africa, to Saudi Arabia for one month in 1982 (Riyadh - King Faisal Specialist Hospital), and for photo workshop expeditions with Tom Murphy to Canada and several national parks. Never once did she reproach me or even hint that I should travel less. She was always tolerant and understanding of my need to spread my wings, to have fun or take care of "business" and wander familiar and unfamiliar paths. Memorable trips with Joan were to Greece in 1985 (Athens, Delphi, Lemnos, Santorini), to China in 1986 (Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong), to Africa in 1996 (Tanzania - Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti) when I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with my brother, to Nepal in 2011 and to Rome and the Vatican in 2012.

When I completed the American Outfitters application of Mountain Madness for the trek to the Mt. Everest Base Camp, I felt butterflies in my stomach. I paid their deposit fee and my dream became a reality. I was in awe of the magnitude of my decision. I asked myself, "Am I still fit enough, mentally and physically, to undertake such an adventure?" But how would I know without trying it?

The design of a fitness program and a thorough checkup for approval of my altitude hike up to 18,500 ft (5,639 m) had to be the next steps. A medical "green light" from the Mayo Clinic with a customized structured training program sent me on my way to be well prepared.

On April 13, 2006, the date of my 70 birthday, I was on the flight Denver - Frankfurt - Bangkok - Kathmandu.

The 15-day Himalayan trek from Lukla to the Mt. Everest Base Camp was my "HAPPY BIRTHDAY - CELEBRATION OF LIFE!" gift to myself.

On the one hand it was the most awesome, inspiring, and beautiful venture of my life. The scenery was spectacular: surrounded by snow-covered mountain peaks and glaciers, deep valleys spanned by long swaying cable bridges over a large whitewater river originating from the snow and glaciers of the high-altitude areas of Mt. Everest.

The expansive and extreme Himalayan mountain range had quite an impact on this first- time visitor: divine creation - purity - respect - humility - uniqueness - a terrestrial heaven. "Mountains have a 'psychic gravity' enticing us into their grip. There is a magic among great peaks as a location of splendor filling you with a sense of the supernatural. In ancient times they were holy places and in some cultures were considered sacred. In Asia, millions of the devout regard the Himalaya as the dwelling place of the gods ("God's residence" (Emily Dickinson)) and a pathway to the heavens." (from the Foreword of his book Fred Beckey's 100 Favorite North American Climbs, by Fred Beckey).

On the other hand, it was indeed the hardest, most arduous challenge I had ever faced in my life, much more so than the ascent of Africa's Mt. Kilimanjaro. The continuous shortness of breath at high altitude was forcing me at every uphill climb to stop, catch my breath, and occasionally drink some water. I eventually had to hand over my backpack with camera equipment to my Sherpa guide. I had to reduce my pace, advance slowly and let the group of youngsters get further and further ahead of me. There were the cold evenings and nights, the very cold winds on the last days before reaching the Everest Base Camp, the sunblock ending up in my eyes interfering with my vision and photography, as well as the constant dripping of my nose. With each day the climb became more daunting.

The more I got to know the local population passing through villages and entering tea houses and lodges, the fonder I grew of these people.

On the second day of the trek we arrived at the Namche Bazaar Guesthouse where we had our first day of rest.

The wife of the Nepalese owner had made a birthday cake with candles for me and put the traditional ceremonial silk shawl around my neck as a gesture of good luck, prosperity, and friendship. High in the mountains on steep hillsides in a harsh and desolate setting, on a subsistence level, I saw their neat garden patches and terraced plantations of rice, potatoes, millet, or barley and watched them making baskets and smiling at me. I was struck by their industriousness and commitment to making their life self-sufficient.

We walked under prayer flags, around mani stones, mountain rock formations carved or painted with Tibetan Buddhist prayers, and along mound-like Buddhist religious structures called stupas. After removing our shoes and hats we entered gompas, Buddhist monasteries, in Tengboche and Dingboche. We listened to mantra chants. I was enthralled by how content they were with their lives. The answer appeared to lie in their Buddhist culture and spiritualism, which was all around us.

Finally, after 10 days we reached our destination - the base camp of the world's highest mountain, the "Mother of the Universe." All I remember is: Cold! Rocky! Icy! Hundreds of tents! The view of the Khumbu Icefall and a crashed helicopter! And no view of Mt. Everest!

I wrote a short note to my friends after I had accomplished the strenuous trek:

"It was THE experience of my life!!!! I did the entire trek, about 65 miles (105 km), up to 18,500 ft (5,639 m), without skipping any segment of the hike, and without any altitude sickness or injuries. The Himalayan mountain range scenery is unique, spectacular, simply magnificent, and of divine grandeur. When you see this wonderful and distinctive piece of nature for the first time, you are in awe; you are 'blown away.' The strenuous physical challenge of trekking at the oxygen-deprived altitude was extreme and no 'walk in the park.' My six-month-long almost daily training - including the last month in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado at an altitude of 7,500 ft (2,286 m) - and Joan's well-balanced nutritional program certainly did the trick. The people, the Sherpas, and their Buddhist culture were impressive: their skill, their hardiness, their loyalty, their friendly outgoing nature and good humor."

Witnessing the poverty of the village population, their industriousness, their diligent approach to subsistence agriculture and being filled with gratitude for the cheerful team of Sherpas and porters who had made it possible for me to endure the rigor of this trek up to the base of the world's highest mountain, being the oldest and slowest member of the group - all this had instilled in me a strong feeling of compassion, humility, appreciation, and gratitude. I needed to do something for them.


Philanthropy and getting serious - Finding a friend in Nepal

You ask me to give you a motto. Here it is: SERVICE. Let this word accompany each of you through life. Albert Schweitzer 1875-1965

At the age of 73, during my last locum tenens work in radiology and being a "wanderer" toward self- realization, I arrived at a point in my life with many questions. It seemed that I had to fill a void, find myself, be myself, fulfill myself, and continue my life's pilgrimage.

One issue surfacing intensely was the restructuring of my last will and testament regarding donations and passing on my belongings and assets during my lifetime and after death. I had also been struck by the sudden unforeseen death of my sister and my keen awareness of my brothers and me not having any children. I brainstormed this issue with my wife. I thought of contacting local high school principals and college administrators to learn how to create a scholarship fund. I was rethinking my prior decision to name the Mayo Clinic and Washington National Cathedral as beneficiaries of my living trust. Medicine in the United States had undergone such drastic changes in its social transformation from an almost private patient-doctor matter to a corporate-system industry that it blew away the halo of my medical alma mater. The days when I started in medicine were long gone and forgotten. The consideration of the Washington National Cathedral in regard to a beneficiary of my living trust had to take a backseat in view of the excessive nursing home expenses for my wife with Alzheimer's disease without any insurance coverage.

My attempts to sponsor a student with the highest ranking among his graduating class or a high school scholarship winner at a local school were thwarted by the administrative process when the selection process did not allow me to choose and keep in contact with a particular student. As a result my desire to give back to those people in Nepal who meant so much to me emerged more and more.

Why philanthropy? - Words like charity, altruism or philanthropy were not at the forefront, nor were they my signpost or decision-making platform. They did not lead me into my school project in Nepal.

Having worked during my younger years with Albert Schweitzer, I knew of his motto, "Everyone must work to live, but the purpose is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others," but I did not live accordingly. Stepping out of an all-consuming grinding profession with the gift of having more leisure time during my semi-retirement and thereafter gave me the chance to take an inventory of my situation and allowed for focus and contemplation.

In March of 2010, four years after my last visit, I was heading back to Nepal on my inner journey. This time I approached the Nepalese trekking and mountaineering operator, High Altitude Dreams, directly. It was their manager and CEO, Sagar Kumar Poudyal, who responded promptly with a detailed welcome letter, a suggestion of a 15-day itinerary and his personal email address. I invited three friends to accompany me. I notified Sagar that the major personal goal of my visit to Nepal was philanthropic research. I wanted to find a village in a remote area of the Himalayan mountain range with a need for educational tools, a small school, or a medical facility asking for support.

Anticipating that there would be logistical delays working in another country, my mind was set to transfer some funds because I knew there would be a need to have resources available as soon as we identified the project. Therefore, my first priority was to open a bank account in Nepal. Since the regulations of the Nepal Central Bank did not allow me to do this without a resident or business visa, I decided, after some deliberation, to use Sagar's name and have him open a joint savings account for both of us. At this time I had already had enough exposure to Sagar and knowledge of his background to feel confident in trusting his honesty and integrity. He spoke English fluently and had a master's degree in Business Administration. He had been an auditor of a highly reputable chartered accounting firm. He belonged to the Brahmin caste, the highest Hindu caste. He volunteered to be the confidential liaison person and the intermediary between the school staff and me, as well as to administer the finances and to control, monitor, and track the management of any project. He explained to me that his prior job had been in that function with a government institution. He provided me with the user ID and password to access the account at any time. I told him to think of a salary for his ongoing services, but he refused any monetary or other compensation and to this day has not received any payment for his invaluable services.

What impressed me about Sagar? I was drawn to his cool, calm, and collected manner and his quiet, intelligent, friendly, seasoned, and kind demeanor. He never raised his voice, and he never got excited or angry. He was a good listener. He was able to troubleshoot every situation with a clear constructive approach and take action. We had similar life experiences that created an immediate common bond; we both were the oldest child and had both lost our fathers at an early age, he at the age of 21 and I at 17. Without him I could never have completed my projects. His commitment and dedication to monitoring the 'Hans Education Projects,' providing regular updated reports and photo documentation, and releasing the money in installments according to contracts made him indispensable to me.

The first project Sagar brought to my attention was a community school in Kathmandu with a real need of educational tools and financial support for the poorest students. Sagar had arranged a meeting between the headmaster of this secondary school and me. The school was located in Sagar's neighborhood. It had 745 students in grades 1 through 10, about half of them from very poor families. We met in the Yak and Yeti Hotel. The principal, speaking a limited amount of English, presented a written proposal to me with a list of "extremely needed items." The next day we met in the headmaster's office with four teachers. I received estimates and the principal and teachers prioritized the most needed items. They put measures in place to protect the investment against theft or vandalism. I presented a contract to them requiring proof of the available 20% of the budget funds as co-investment from them and participation in the implementation of the project.


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Copyright © 2017 Hans U Juttner.
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