Shoulder to Shoulder: Student carries lessons of compassion, education from Vail Valley program back to Nepal on her own | VailDaily.com

Shoulder to Shoulder: Student carries lessons of compassion, education from Vail Valley program back to Nepal on her own

VAIL — When teachers ask Ellie Raymond, "What did you do on your summer vacation?" her response reaches around the world.

Raymond, a high school student, spent part of last summer in Nepal with Students Shoulder-to-Shoulder, a local youth service organization, rebuilding school buildings destroyed by the earthquakes in the remote Himalayan village of Solukhumbu. Shoulder-to-Shoulder partnered Raymond with The Small World, an organization on the ground in Nepal.

When her three weeks were up last summer, Raymond trekked a classic Everest trail before returning home. Building schools and trekking through an area like that will change a kid.

"This experience was one of the most eye-opening encounters that I have had in my life," Raymond said.

She knew her work was not done, that more children should have an education. So Raymond raised another $4,200, to help educate 12 more children. She made that delivery on her own this summer.

Now she has a new goal: $10,000 to educate 35 more children. That money will provide tuition, fees, books, school uniforms and basic support for their families.

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Treated like family

Every time they step off their plane in Nepal, they are treated as family, Raymond said, with greetings of "namaste" and "welcome" coming from every direction.

"I immediately felt at home in this land. From that day forward, I was never treated as a stranger or a tourist, but rather a friend and even a family member," Raymond said.

As she learned more about education in Nepal, she began to understand the extreme importance of the work they were doing, Raymond said.

"Ellie is helping demonstrate and validate her caring and dedication for students helping other students," said Karma Sherpa, executive director of The Small World.

In Nepal, education is often considered a luxury, lining up behind survival, Sherpa said. According to Unicef, 54 percent of Nepali children do not complete their primary education. Sherpa contends that educated children will get better jobs and help themselves, both financially and intellectually.

"As they grow older and realize the opportunities that their education has provided, the citizens will want to educate their own children. This will cause a domino effect that will, over time, increase the number of people being educated in the country," Sherpa said.

Shoulder to Shoulder

Students Shoulder-to-Shoulder is a small, growing group with a huge, growing heart.

Bob Bandoni runs Students Shoulder-to-Shoulder, a locally based network of partners across four continents that create field studies in ethical leadership.

So far, the organization has sent 500 kids around the globe. The organization takes 10 to 12 kids on a field study. It started with about 30 kids a year the first few years. Now it's up to 100 — 10 kids on 10 field studies.

"We don't take students on trips. Trips have their place, but it's critical that we create an educational context," Bandoni said.

The mission was always to prepare young people to be active, ethical leaders and members of society, particularly a democratic society.

Bandoni said democracies are inclusive, not exclusive, and we are stronger together than we are divided. The object is to help organizations around the world and also help local families achieve more than getting the right sticker on the back of their car.

"I'm trying to inspire their moral imagination, so that they see themselves as ethical leaders. If you can see it, it's no longer theoretical. It's not just a political science class," Bandoni said. "We are trying to demonstrate the impact, the transformative nature of programs like this."

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

About Shoulder to Shoulder

Students Shoulder to Shoulder’s mission is to inspire and support generations of ethical leaders. For more information, go to shouldertoshoulder.com.