This week, a remarkable woman was on board with six hundred lesbians on Olivia’s Turkey and Greek Islands Cruise. Her name is Olga Murray and she can teach us all some new insights about how women can make a difference in other women’s lives. When she was in her early sixties, she was trekking in Nepal and fell in love with the Nepalese children she met. The image of a family she met in a remote village, whose two children walked two hours each way to school and were considered the lucky ones, stayed with her when she returned to her life as an attorney in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lying in her sleeping bag on her last night trekking, she made a promise to herself that she would do what she could for the welfare of children in Nepal.
A few years into this project, she retired as an attorney and founded a non-profit 501(c)(3) called The Nepal Youth Foundation. She became aware of a practice in several districts in West Nepal called Kamlari, where indigent young girls were sold into bondage to wealthy Nepalese families as servants. Since family is so important in Nepal, these girls were completely unprotected outside of their families and villages, and were overworked, physically and sometimes sexually abused. When they reached an age where they might be taken as sexual partners by men in the families they served, they were often sent home to the rural villages they had been taken from as children but found it difficult to fit back into village life. Olga was determined to stop this practice, and discovered that if the foundation provided a pig or goat to the families of the girls, they could be persuaded to not sell the girls into slavery. She worked with Nepalese activists to create a change in attitude towards Kamlari, and successfully sued the Nepalese government to enforce existing laws. To date, NYF has rescued more than 13,000 young girls in West Nepal. In addition the organization has started homes for rescued girls, provided micro-loans for them to start businesses such as motorcycle repair shops or other businesses, and has empowered the freed Kamlari to advocate for themselves. Nepali staff carry out other sustainable projects sponsored by NYF in nutrition, education, health, earthquake relief, and homes for orphaned and HIV-affected children.
Rachel Wahba, co-founder of Olivia, rediscovered Olga and her work from a newspaper article. She and her granddaughter, Becca Wahba, traveled to Nepal in 2014 with Olga, met the Nepali men and women working at NYF, and saw the incredible work being done to educate and empower young women. Rachel, with support from co-founder Judy Dlugacz, took on the task of raising money for NYF as part of Olivia’s commitment to give back to women and girls in need.
On this trip, Olga made a presentation to Olivia customers, and we successfully raised $20,0000 for NYF! Incredibly, on the cruise she celebrated her 90th birthday. Quick of mind and body, independent in spirit, and topped by a fabulous head of silky white hair, Olga and Jacqueline Frost (NYF staff member) were a huge hit with the ladies of Olivia. For those of us imagining our retirement dreams, she reminds all of us that there is life and service after our professional lives. For those of us who may never retire, she models a way to stay alive to the opportunities that may present themselves for us to reinvent our activist selves and to truly make a difference.
Help Olga keep on celebrating her 90th! Make a donation now to the Nepalese Youth Foundation, and watch this documentary about NYF. Check out Olga’s book ‘Olga’s Promise’ describing her story at NYF, and remember how little it takes to change lives. Come on, ladies, get on Olga’s Nepal Youth Foundation bandwagon! Here’s one way you can make a big difference with the price of a fancy dinner out or a new pair of shoes. $100 buys one year of education for a girl in Nepal! A little from us goes a long way there.
“Just because you can’t do everything, doesn’t mean you can’t do anything”– Olga Murray