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From mentorship to partnership:

A new phase for Wybe Bylsma’s work in Nepal

In the aftermath of the April 25 earthquake that violently shook Nepal this spring, many aid organizations are raising funds. Most of the money will provide emergency relief and help the people of this impoverished country rebuild. Wybe Bylsma, a Canadian Christian who survived the earthquake (“CRC man missing in Nepal,” April 27, 2015) and has been building friendships there for years, has started fundraising for a unique project. He needs $25,000 to provide a pay-it forward loan for two young men ready to buy a clothing store business in Kathmandu.

It’s a new phase for Bylsma’s adventures in Nepal. The retired globetrotter visited Nepal for the first time in 2012, planning simply to learn about Nepalese Christians, to see a new place on God’s good earth and experience Nepal as the Nepalese do. That plan led him to a cheap ($3.50/night) guest house/hotel in Kathmandu, where he met three young Nepalese men seeking their fortunes, but feeling totally lost. That first meeting blossomed into friendship and mentorship. 

“What are your goals?” Wybe asked the young man who knocked on his hotel room door and delivered a cup of tea after his first night at the guest house. Ram Magar struggled to understand the question, and finally responded, “I have no goals.” Wybe was deeply moved by the honest answer. He continued the conversation and resolved to help this young man find his way in life.

He soon learned that Nepal offers very few career options to the many young people who move to the capital city looking for work. Although subsistence farming feeds most of the rural families, the rugged rocky landscape of the Himalayan foothills can’t sustain large-scale farms. Tourism is the country’s largest industry. Many Nepalese, especially young people, travel to the oil-rich countries of the Middle East to find work. The remittances sent back to Nepal by these guest workers are the country’s second-largest source of foreign currency!

As Wybe took an interest in the plight of a young Nepalese man with no goals, Ram Magar also wanted to know more about this older foreigner who chose to stay in a cheap guest house rather than the five-star hotels preferred by most tourists. He introduced Wybe to two friends also working at the guest house – Duppa and Sandip. Wybe had already met Duppa, who had spotted the suitcase-toting foreigner on the street and invited him into the guesthouse the night before. Like Ram, these friends, all 19 years old, had moved from rural homes to Kathmandu looking for work, and found only the offer of room & board for service at this cheap guest house. They were considering the option of working abroad. Wybe wondered how a poor country like Nepal could ever prosper by sending its bright young folk abroad to trade their energy and ambition for currency. He decided to be a mentor to Ram, Duppa and Sandip, and to find some local support for his project in the Nepalese Christian community.

Three lives entwined
His search for the support of local Christians began with a ride on the back of Sandip’s motorbike to a building where local Christians met for worship. Wybe also contacted local representatives of the Youth for Christ organization. Through this network of Christian friends, he eventually found his way to Santosh Chetri. Santosh and his wife Rupa might be considered a power couple in the Nepalese Christian community (“Vibrant Christian church growing in Nepal,” May 26, 2014). Retired from the Indian navy with the rank of lieutenant commander, Santosh currently directs the work of Alpha: Business in India and Nepal. His wife Rupa, who has a master’s degree in social work from a British university, supervises the work of several NGOs in Kathmandu.

Santosh was attracted to Wybe’s Reformed world-and-life view and his idea of advancing Nepal by mentoring young men needing direction in life. He met with the three young men and made suggestions about how they could improve their situations. With Wybe’s regular encouragement by telephone and email, the relationship grew. In 2012, Santosh and Rupa invited Ram and Duppa to board with their family in their north Kathmandu apartment. They arranged for the young men to work at a clothing shop owned by Rupa’s mother. Wybe rejoiced to see the young men maturing and the mentoring project moving forward.

For the past 14 years, Wybe has made annual visits to Asia, mainly to China where he has built many relationships. In 2013 he visited Asia twice, spending time in Nepal on both occasions. I joined him for his November 2013 trip, and met the people he had described to our small group (“Mission to Chinese ‘cavemen,’” Feb. 10, 2014). We were guests at the home of Santosh and Rupa, where Ram was living and working at the nearby clothing store. Duppa had moved back to his small village to care for his ailing mother and engage in subsistence farming. Sandip had done a short stint in Kuwait, where a recruitment agency had promised him work as a camp cook. Upon arrival, he was given work as a dishwasher. Hating the boring work, the hot climate and the inhospitable local people, he returned to his home in Nepal, in debt to the recruitment agency for the cost of his plane fare to Kuwait. He married a young woman in his home village of Bagloon, fathered a daughter and found work as a construction labourer.

A pay-it forward loan
Fast forward to 2015. Ram has been baptized as an earnest Christian; he has completed a high school diploma by correspondence course while working at the clothing store. Duppa has also been baptized, and is improving his proficiency in English as he struggles to complete his first year by correspondence at the Indira Gandhi open university. Rupa’s mother is old and ready to retire. She wants to sell her clothing store to the young man who so diligently helped her to grow the business for the last three years. Duppa is eager to join his friend Ram in Kathmandu to help with the venture. Wybe has analyzed the business carefully, and determined that the asking price seems fair. He proposed to raise the funds needed to complete the deal from donors in Canada. He intends to advance the purchase price as a pay-it forward loan, supervised by the Partners Worldwide organization which has a presence in Nepal. He wants to raise the funds and complete the deal by the end of September, so that his young mentees will start their ownership during Nepal’s Dashain festival, traditionally the time when Nepalese people buy new outfits.

Alternative giving
If Ram borrows the funds from creditors in Nepal, interest rates will be 10 percent per month. “Pay it forward” loans give the debtor the option of paying the debt back by lending it to a third person, when able, instead of to the original creditor.

Do more
To support Wybe’s goal of raising funds for these young men, contact Wybe Bylsma at this address: ac.elgae@ebyW

Author

  • Ron Rupke retired from paid employment in late 2016 after more than 4 decades working in journalism. Christian labour relations, commercial landscaping and crop farming. With Margaret the wife of his youth, he now lives in Presqu'Ile Provincial Park on the shore of Lake Ontario where he serves as a neighbourhood handyman and volunteer, reads the great books, enjoys the great outdoors, and catches glimpses of the new heaven and the new earth.

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