"Rose Removing Thorn for people with Disabilities in Nepal"
Robert Rose is a founder/president of The Rose International Fund for Children (TRIFC), a non-profit organization helping people with disabilities in Nepal. Rob started TRIFC to help educate, empower and provide opportunities for people with disabilities in Nepal. He is also the owner of Brant Photographers in Bellevue, Washington a small, family portrait studio which has been in Bellevue since 1949.
He started helping impoverished children in Nepal from 1997 when he read an article about an organization that was helping impoverished children living in Nepal. He felt compelled to call and volunteer as a photographer to help document the wonderful work they were doing. That one call started a cascade of events that has led to a volunteer odyssey spanning twenty-one years and dozens of Rotary projects helping children and adults with disabilities in Nepal.
From last two decades, Robert Rose has been putting efforts in removing a sharp thorn like stigma, discrimination, illiteracy, poor health which is very much hurting to person with disabilities in Nepal. The Chief Editor of the MangoPost Mr. Rewati Raman Dhakal has tried to dig more into Rob's inspiring and spectacular philanthropy journey.
Here is the excerpts:
- How was your journey of philanthropy started?
My journey started when I was 16 years old and was a Rotary Youth Exchange student to Calcutta, India in 1974-1975. Coming from Seattle, USA at that age to Calcutta and living with the Indian family, going to the school and spending 8 months in that culture totally changed my life and broadened my perspective towards the world.
It made me think about my place in the world, why I ended up in a nice middle-class family in North Seattle and why so many people were struggling not just day-to-day but meal-to-meal in Calcutta?
During those eight months, I was very fortunate to be placed with two middle-class Indian families who gave me real-life perspectives about life. That shifted my world perspective then and it has helped shaped me ever since. 45 years later it still impacts me and drives me to serve people in need.
- You are a professional photographer; however, you are very involved in philanthropy. What attracts you to be so engaged in philanthropy?
Being involved in the photography business allowed me to join and get involved with Rotary International. My father was in Bellevue Rotary Club. When he decided to retire from the club I decided to join and 33 years later I am still a Bellevue Rotary Club member!
When I speak about my motivation toward philanthropy I always share my experiences with Rotary.
It has been my golden ticket to human impact from the days I was an exchange student in India to being with Bellevue Rotary all these years, then initiating so many projects that serve people with disabilities in my own community and also in Nepal. Rotary helped introduce me to so many quality human-beings.
- What are the key drives to you to the philanthropy journey?
Philanthropy is about getting like-minded people working together on worthy projects that are going to impact those less-fortunate, whether it’s in Nepal or in my own community. I have had the opportunity to work together on some amazing projects that have the chance to improve lives and create human-impact that will outlive my meager lifespan. For me that’s the ‘draw’….that’s the ‘pay-off’- to focus on projects that will positively impact those less fortunate and create projects and programs that will live on past my life-span. Leaving a legacy that is measured in human impact, not money.
- Why did you find disability-related issues more compelling than other issues in Nepal?
In the first six or seven years, I was mostly focused on doing Rotary work in Nepal. Some of the projects at that time impacted people with disability, particularly children. From my first trip to Nepal in 1997, I met so many wonderful people with disabilities. And sadly, about the societal stigma attached to disability. People used to think that having a disability was related to a curse or some past-life sin. This societal stigma and subsequent discrimination struck me as unfair and unjust.
Whereas, I saw so much potential in those kids with disabilities. If they are given education and opportunity they just took off and were able to do better than regular students. That drove me to focus in that area of service. This area was also underserved in my view and also that some of the larger organizations working for people with disabilities were not as effective as they could or should be.
- What are the key services The Rose International Fund for Children (TRIFC) is offering to the children with disabilities through your partners in Nepal?
We are offering education scholarships for students with different kinds of disabilities. Educational tools like talking i-pads for children with autism and cerebral palsy. We provide food and nutrition, health and surgery support to children with physical disabilities. We provide educational materials and facility support for blind and visually impaired students. We also provide sanitary pad kit sewing training to deaf women under our deaf women’s empowerment project. In coordination with that program, we also initiated a menstrual hygiene program for girls and women with disabilities where we provide free reusable sanitary pads along with extensive hygiene education.
- What are the current situation and intervention need in your project area?
Only a few weeks back we traveled long and far in province number one of Nepal to survey 10 public schools where students with blindness/visually-impairment study. In many of the rural areas, nobody in the community even knows that there were visually impaired students in those schools we had visited. They are like an invisible population. Some of the schools don’t even have basic educational tools like braille paper and slate/stylus. If you are visually-impaired, not having the basics of Braille paper and slate/stylus is the same as a sighted student not having a pencil and paper. You can’t take note and you can’t learn properly. You have to memorize your school lessons using your imagination as there are no tactile learning materials to touch and feel to help you experience your world.
It means children with disabilities are lagging behind in their basic rights in Nepal.
- You led the building of an inclusive and sensory park in your home town based on what you had learned in Nepal. Could you share with us what motivated you to build that park for children with disabilities?
Building the inclusive and sensory park was dedicated to children both with and without disabilities. It was like a jump off a cliff for me. That was a huge undertaking and the idea was to bring my learning of many years working in Nepal with children with disabilities to my home town in Bellevue, Washington, USA.
I learned in Nepal that when people with and without disabilities get together then perceptual changes will take place very quickly. People would come and meet a child with a disability and their initial response will be a pity. But once they interact and play with that child they forget about the disability and are just playing with a child. This is just a child who is doing things in different ways. So I saw this perceptual shift take place many times with volunteers in Nepal. It was like a light bulb moment for me which motivated to work through Rotary to build an inclusive and sensory park.
- What is your next dream project for Nepal?
My next dream project for Nepal is changing education for the blind and visually-impaired and multiple disabilities and that will probably my last big endeavor. Along with that, I hope to improve education for children with other disabilities too. Once we get this in place for blind and visually impaired, I believe a lot of this program knowledge is transferrable to other help children with other disabilities.
- What are the strategies of your partners' and project's financial sustainability strategies in Nepal?
Financial sustainability is a huge challenge in Nepal. People generally do not have a donation mentality. Many people are trying to maintain their families and send their kids to a good school. So, this kind of ethos of helping other people is not in everybody’s nature.
Corporation-wise, they have CSR (corporate social responsibility) requirements mandated by Nepal's government but again, this donation ethos is still in its early stages of development in Nepal. Our key strategies will be continuing network with the Nepali diaspora because they like to impact people in their own country and do that through a responsible and transparent organization like TRIFC.
- Could you kindly share us some innovative approaches and attributes you apply for raising fund?
Building a warm, trusting relationship is critical. Developing a good understanding and friendship, finding out the potential donor’s interests and priorities are the keys for fundraising. Most importantly, we also have to treat all big or small donors with equal dignity, interest, and recognition.
- What has been your most important learning experience after investing most of your life in philanthropy?
I think that we all have a responsibility as human beings to do what we can for people in need. We also have to appreciate what we have and have to share with people that are in need. Except for basic living, if we are accumulating more and more money, putting less to humanitarian purposes then we should understand that we are not going to be able to take those treasures with us when we die.
If we are leaving too much money and property our children it can be a burden to them and hurt their personal development, as they will never have a proper chance to know the realities of the world and life. More, importantly, they will also miss learning that
how much those funds can impact those people in need and the joy of giving, sharing with those in need.
- Do you have any message to like-minded people and organizations?
We are a smaller organization so we have more personal involvement and oversight. But, we welcome better ideas and love to meet, talk, collaborate and see if there’s a synergy there so we can jointly make a difference in the lives of people and communities in Nepal. We do what we do solely because the need is there. We have no political or religious agenda.