In early 2016, 57-year-old Kathryn Lowe found herself on the precipice of turbulent life, wondering if it was all worth it.
Struggling through declining health and a bitter divorce, she decided to follow the promptings of her younger sister Carol who was keen to travel to Nepal for a trekking adventure. Despite a wariness to visit the small, environmentally unstable country that had only a year earlier been devastated by a massive earthquake, Kathryn soon found herself on a small plane coming in to land at Tenzing-Hillary airport, the site of the world’s most dangerous landing strip.
At times, usually in the hardest moments during 10-hour treks, Kathryn would peripherally glance at the high cliff falls and question whether she ‘had it in her’ to complete not only her Nepali odyssey, but to continue her life’s journey. With the help of her sister and the guides, the Queenslander maintained enough resolve to complete each day’s endeavor. While resting in the isolated village of Lukla and preparing for their next trek, food poisoning struck both sisters.
The trek was postponed and Kathryn instead found herself getting to know the locals. One of these villagers was to become a friend who would help Kathryn discover the true purpose in her journey so far from home. In conversing with Lhakpa, the son of the lodge owner, at the place where the sisters were staying, Kathryn learned of the philanthropic efforts of this family and their focus on improving the educational opportunities for the community’s impoverished children.
“What became the major catalyst for me deciding to become involved with education in Lukla was the tragic story of a young child who was denied formal education because his parents couldn’t afford the $15 a month asked for by the school,” Kathryn explained.
The 8-year-old boy begged to be allowed into the school only to have the door closed on him.
At first, Kathryn decided to sponsor the classes for some of the most destitute children. “I asked Lhakpa to scout out the poorest children who had very little hope of financing an education. He created a register and I began with that.”
Kathryn soon realized that more than sponsored education was necessary as there were already great burdens on the pre-existing schoolhouse. Talking to Lhakpa, the two friends determined that what was needed was a permanent structure for students to come to, before and after the main school day.
Reaching deep into her savings Kathryn purchased a block of land and with further self-funding, donations from family and friends, community involvement and, as the philanthropist puts it, “a lot of prayer,” a new four-roomed schoolhouse became the hub for education in the village and the manifestation of Kathryn’s newfound passion.
When asked what the ideal outcomes post-graduation would be she truthfully shrugs. “I don’t know if these kids will take their education and go to university overseas or stay and build up Lukla. Some say they want to be doctors, police, pilots… some say that they want to be parents that can better educate their own children.”
“What I know for sure is that the education that these children are getting, is improving their outlook on life which consequently enhances their confidence—and that is the most pleasing thing for me to see. Some kids, from neighboring villages, will walk for up to 2 hours just to get there in the morning. Often, they’ll be 40 minutes early! The students have really taken ownership of their learning.”
You can learn more about the school by visiting the Learning For Lukla Facebook page.
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