In last week’s article, Matt Haley talked about sponsoring two sisters through Himalayan Children Charities (HCC) and of his instant love for Leela and Laxmi when he first met them at Katmandu airport. Yet, he said, he was wary of pushing their relationship.
“They were in school for the first few days, but HCC arranged at the end of the week for the girls, four of their friends, a series of Sherpa guides and me to go on a trek to the Solo Kumbo area outside Lukla,” said Haley. “We were all excited, although I started off a bit worried about how their little legs would take them so far up the mountain.”
“It turns out Nepalese children come out of the womb prepared to trek,” he said. “It was me whose legs gave out… about an hour before dark, on a 3-foot-wide, iced-over ledge with a 1,000-foot drop to the right and a 1,000-foot-high rock to the left.”
It was decided that the children should go ahead, leaving Haley, a big man, to literally be carried the rest of the way.
“I thought I was going to die on that mountain and had decided that, if we stumbled again, I’d let go of my sherpas so I would plummet alone,” he explained. “I thought I had found my girls, experienced love, was at peace with myself and was ready to go.”
By the time the bedraggled, exhausted group reached their destination, it was dark, the moon was out and a tea house could be seen in the distance. From the chimney curled plumes of smoke and, through the windows, candles glowed.
And then Haley saw beams of light rushing toward him.
Leela and Laxmi had been waiting outside with flashlights. They were screaming, “Dad.” They pushed aside the sherpas, pulled him into the house, removed his boots, covered him with a blanket and, with the a girl snuggled in the crook of each of his arms, they all fell asleep.
“It was beautiful,” said Haley. “I knew then I would love and provide for them forever.”
Since that first visit to Nepal about three years ago, Haley has been back and forth, there and to India, on numerous occasions. His infectious enthusiasm for the people and the land, and the ability to make a difference by getting involved, has touched the lives of all who know him.
One of those people is Shannon Colburn, who has worked in Haley’s restaurants since leaving high school 10 years ago.
“I love to travel,” said Colburn. “Matt made it easy for me to take off whenever the travel bug struck and still come home to a job. When I heard about Nepal, I said, ‘I’ll come.’”
Last October, with Haley and two friends, Colburn experienced Nepal’s magnificent scenery, as many tourists do. But she also spent time at the Reliant boarding school where Leela and Laxmi attend and at one of HCC’s orphanages.
She helped “Matt Uncle,” as Haley is known to the kids, institute poetry readings at the local bookstore, arrange for lotion to become available for the children’s dry skin, and applied antibiotic cream to the face of a child who had such bad impetigo that he was, to many, untouchable.
“I watched a bunch of our 5-year-olds getting involved by breaking up a fight and not just watching from the sideline,” said Colburn. “They knew right from wrong.”
In Haley’s words, “Shannon really connected.”
Colburn is still, in her own words, “just a server” at Blue Coast restaurant. But, significantly, she is now a board member of the Global Delaware Fund, to which she is contributing much personal time, as well as planning her next trip to Nepal.
Global Delaware, a non-profit organization, was established by Haley to account for the time and money that he gives personally, that SoDel Concepts and his other businesses donate officially and that the public contributes voluntarily to all the charities with which he is involved, here and abroad.
Designed to be an umbrella fund with 100 percent transparency and accountability, the organization has a Web site at www.globaldelawarefund.org. In it, each charity is ear-marked so contributors know exactly where their donations are going.
“At some point, I realized that popping back and forth from ATM machines in Katmandu to retrieve cash for this, that and the other receipt-less item wasn’t going to cut it for my accountants,” said Haley. “It wasn’t fair for the people who trust me, and it wasn’t advantageous for those who depend on me.”
“We are hands-on,” emphasized Haley. “We will only allocate funds to places and organizations where we’ve actually been, worked with the people and seen the results. We want lots of people to be excited about getting involved at any level. My phone number is on the Web site, and I encourage people to call me personally.”
Haley said he plans to use ideas from Delaware non-profits to help somewhere else.
“For example,” he said, “there is a need in Nepal for senior assistance, as in Meals on Wheels. And the Rehoboth Children’s Theatre could be a great model in Katmandu.”
In order to ensure Global Delaware’s sustainability for the long-term, Haley has arranged to establish an endowment fund at the Delaware Community Foundation. Since 1986, the foundation has managed charitable funds for individuals, families, businesses and organizations. It distributes income from the funds as grants to humanitarian, educational, health and cultural entities throughout the First State and beyond.
The administrative costs of the fund are minimal. According to Haley, “The public needs to know that Global Delaware will incur negligible administrative costs, including no employee salaries. When we hold fundraisers, goods and services will be donated. When we travel, we will pay for it ourselves, and, of course, all costs associated with the sponsorship of my nine children are my personal responsibility.”
As mentioned in last week’s story, Haley posted on Facebook that he, Leela and Laxmi had had an adventure finding their little sister. Here is an abbreviated version of the rest of that story:
It turns out that the girls’ parents had 12 children – three of whom died young. The father was murdered by Maoist thugs as a statement to the community about his lack of cooperation with their ways. The mother became mentally distanced.
The oldest sister, Kamala, who is now 29, shouldered responsibility for her siblings. When offered the opportunity to place Leela and Laxmi in an orphanage, she believed that was the best she could do for them. She kept the baby, Jyoti, who is now 9 years old.
It is less than six months since the girls first told Haley they heard they might have a little sister and asked if he would help find her – and just six weeks since the joyous, tearful, laughter-filled, family reunion. All the sisters, their mother and grandmother spent the night together, intertwined. Haley and the men-folk slept on a carpet in another hut.
The girls, wise beyond their years, realize Kamala gave them away because of her love – just as she is now entrusting Jyoti to Haley, out of love.
“She has amazing strength,” said Haley of Kamala. “We’ve become good friends.”
This coming October, during the holiday of Dashain, for the first time, the entire family is coming together for a huge celebration in their village.
Of course, Haley will be there, too, lending a hand – but with his sleeping bag this time.