By Justin Swanson | LB Indy
Rosalind Russell has been on this trip before. She hugs her legs close to the motorcycle, wrapping her arms around her driver as they venture between Nepali villages. She brings gifts. Chiefly, they are goats.
For nine years now, Russell has brought the inhabitants of Nepali villages goats through her Laguna Beach-based foundation R Star. Last December, she brought roughly 250 more goats, bringing the running total (which includes the offspring) to more than 12,000.
Her most recent trip was funded by a $20,000 grant from Impact Giving, a women’s collective giving organization, that also helped pay for an extra group of goats.
“We could see R Star was going to make a huge impact at the grassroots level, helping individual women and entire villages,” said Impact’s cofounder and chairwoman Karen Wilson.
Inspired by Heifer International, Russell is seeing the fruits of R Star’s work payoff. She donates animals to women who are typically without status or education in Kavre, east of Kathmandu. They are now earning money and developing their respective villages.
On this trip, Russell’s motorbike-riding friend Rabin squires her about. Rabin is from the first village that received goats and he oversees things when Russell is away. He makes sure that the women keep to their agreement when receiving goats. For every goat received, the women pledge to give a goat to someone who has none.
Russell also instituted a system of micro-finance, which she proudly describes as beneficial enculturation. Instead of usurious interest charges on loans, upwards of 150 per cent, R Star lends at 15 per cent interest and requires that loan profits be directed back towards the welfare of the village.
Both the goat dispersal and reinvestment in the local economy demonstrates to villagers how ideas can change their circumstances. “This teaches that helping each other is the best of all things to do,” she says.
What’s more is that the villagers are taking it upon themselves to promote good works within their communities. For instance, when sewing machines were donated recently and left mostly abandoned due to lack of interest, they were found by a group of single women, who are either outcasts or left without families. They established a cooperative and work together to provide for their own independence. Russell remarks that they are just happy to be kept busy, to have a purpose. “It turned from a failure to an outrageous success,” she observes.
Greater still, R Star has provided courses in the past, educating women to help achieve literacy. Women are now teachers in schools, earning wages and passing on their gifts.
Russell brought an electronic book reader with her, mesmerizing the literate and effectively providing the school children a library.
“The world will be saved by western women,” Russell recites, quoting the Dalai Lama. She is doing her part.
“We’re bringing in a program of peace for the children to learn. It’s something they’ve never had in their world. [Peace] is the ultimate goal. So I started with goats.”