Tsering’s Fund gives Big Sky residents the opportunity to change lives 7,000 miles away
Big Sky local Kathy Bouchard burst into Dr. Pete Schmieding’s office with an $800 check and the declaration that she wanted to sponsor a premature baby in Nepal. Schmieding had just made a Facebook post about the abandoned five-day-old baby who weighed well under five pounds. Without the funds, healthcare workers were likely going to let her die. Premature children – particularly girls – are not often saved in Nepal for myriad reasons.
Schmieding smiled recently as he said that the premature baby girl lives and all reports from the orphanage assert that she is doing well. Orphanage workers honored her helper by naming the baby Kathy Sharma.
In another instance, Schmieding was sent a photograph of a forlorn five-year-old girl sweeping a tea house while carrying a baby on her back. Little Mingmar Tamang’s mother died in the earthquake in May 2015, and her father sold her to the shop owner to – basically – be a slave.
He posted the photo to social media and immediately Mary Grace Wilkus, another Big Sky resident, said she would sponsor the girl’s education in Nepal. A group of famous Sherpas volunteered to drive for hours to rescue Mingmar Tamang and take her to Shridiwa Boarding School in Kathmandu. According to Schmieding, young Tamang has developed into a wonderful and happy child as she receives a “first-rate English education.” Wilkus and her husband, Thomas, further decided to sponsor the girl “for life.” Schmieding glowed as he called her one of the luckiest girls in the world.
“She might even end up going to college in the U.S.,” he said.
This is how it works: Tsering’s Fund facilitates good, giving people in Big Sky and beyond the opportunity to change and sometimes save lives over 7,000 miles away.
The primary goal of the fund is to sponsor the schooling of Nepalese girls through high school – to protect them from the sex trade or specifically the red-light district in Delhi. The fund currently sponsors nearly 200 children at boarding schools.
Volunteers are trying to break the chain of poor rural subsistence farming families. Traffickers visit these families and make false promises: Along the lines of, the girls will have nice jobs watching children in the city; the families will get money every month.
“We feel the best way to stop child trafficking is to educate them. If you put them in a good school, then there’s no reason for the traffickers to take them,” Schmieding said. “We’ve really made an effort to get the kids [individually] sponsored. That does a number of things: they develop a relationship with those kids. It also means that we don’t have to constantly be fundraising.”
He specified the costs to sponsor a child: If they walk to school the cost is $300 a year for the uniform and tuition. If the child lives at the school it ranges from $600-1,200, a fee which includes everything.
When Schmieding said sponsors build relationships with the children they help, he didn’t mean just a post card or a photo of the child via the mail. He meant a tangible connection could be created: Sponsors can travel to Nepal with him in the spring or fall and actually meet the children they are helping. Some people go on the journey only to discover the children they feel inspired to help.
Big Sky’s Interact Club – the high school version of Rotary International – did just that in 2017 and 2018. The youths had been raising money for the fund and wanted to actually meet the people they were helping. So, they did.
“I love taking people over there. It changes their lives. It’s very humbling. We take so much for granted. The girls especially: hot water, schooling, equal rights, safety. And then they go over there and see girls working in the fields where no one in the family ever went to school ever,” said Schmieding.
For Schmieding’s wife, Karen Fellerhoff, the journey began some 35 years ago. A professional mountain climber and the first woman to ever lead an Everest expedition, she began informally helping children with her best friend – Tsering – whom Schmieding described as the “heart and soul of everything.”
“When I met Karen, with my business experience, I said, ‘Why don’t we start making this a formal charity.’ We got our 501c3 in 2007. Once we become a 501c3, people could donate, and it was tax deductible,” he said. “The reason Tsering’s Fund is so extraordinary is we don’t own anything. No salaries. No building. It’s 100 percent effective. If you give $1,000 – $1,000 goes to the kids.”
The idea was to fully differentiate from nearly all other nonprofits. The mission statement with the Internal Revenue Service says they cannot use any funds for administrative purposes.
“Not even a phone call,” he specified proudly. “People are inherently very generous, but they like to know that their money is not going to someone’s Maserati or a home in the Caribbean.”
He explained that the core group of Tsering’s Fund is made-up of people of great faith, but of different faiths. “My wife and I are Christians. Tsering is a devout Buddhist. Bishnu –who does the books on a volunteer basis – is Hindu,” he said.
Schmeiding found himself with a group of people in a van doing relief work after the 2015 earthquake. A sense of the diversity in the vehicle suddenly hit him and he chuckled before mentioning his observation to the group. Occupants consisted of a Jewish ER doctor, a Muslim radiologist, an MBA who is Hindu and – referring to himself – a Montana dentist who is Christian.
“It doesn’t matter our faith: Our faiths all tell us we should do something,” he said.
Visit www.tseringsfund.com for more information.