By Donna Furey | LB Indy
Rosalind Russell, founder of the local nonprofit R Star Foundation, is affectionately known around Laguna Beach as the “goat lady,” but R Star’s endeavors to fulfill their mission of “women helping women and children in Nepal…therefore the world” have gone far beyond providing goats to women in remote Nepalese villages.
Today, Russell is involved with and supports the building of greenhouses to extend the growing season in Nepal, drilling wells and re-building houses in earthquake ravaged areas, helping to run Top of the World School-North, introducing new corn crops, and helping women attend cosmetology school through Rotary grants.
Russell describes herself as a “great collaborator.” Her work affects the lives of 44,000 Nepalese people, by her own estimate.
Dan Laney is making his 24th trip to Nepal this week. Since 1990, he has donated his time and expertise in goat husbandry through the Africa Asia Destitute Relief Foundation and the Farmer to Farmer program, in addition to performing volunteer work of his own. Laney grew up in a small Ohio farm town, and was searching for “goat projects” he could assist with when he met Russell on Facebook in 2013. He knew he could help with her goats.
Russell’s goat program, created in 2003, is like Heifer International’s in that women in rural villages are given goats to provide milk, meat and income to support their families. There is a micro-financing component as well that enables families to pay for school tuition and uniforms on time and cover unexpected expenses.
“It’s a pay it forward program,” Russell said. “It’s called the kid-chain,” said Laney. Pregnant or fertile goats are delivered to the villagers who are required to pass the kids to another farmer. It is a cooperative project that requires women from different castes to work together, which is very important, Russell said. Her program differs from Heifer International’s in that R Star continues to monitor the welfare of the herds with Laney’s help. He brings equipment and trains farmers, mostly women, on herd management techniques during his twice yearly trips.
Recalling his first trip there in 1990, Laney said he knew he was “always supposed to be there.” His first stop was the Department of Livestock. He was looking for a herd of Saanen goats from the United States, known for superior milk production that had been delivered to the Nepalese government as part of a World Bank project. At the Bandipur Goat Research Station, he found the animals “in bad shape.” His modifications to their diet and methods of feeding proved successful, and word spread through communities, thus helping farmers throughout the region. “The miracles happen in the villages,” Laney said.
At Top of the World School-North (TOW-N), which opened in 2009 and serves 55 preschool through sixth graders, the Tibetan Buddhist Society teaches a class in peace. Female students are often awarded scholarships, and male students pay just 50 percent of the $125 tuition, which is less than the cost of tuition at the government school.
School administrator Sandy Ramsey, one of Russell’s collaborators, welcomes foreign teachers from around the world to TOW-N, located in the village of Wojethar, to teach art, dance, English and more. Kindle readers with English and American classics became available to students in 2012, with a reward system allowing them to take a Kindle home for an evening or weekend to read to their families. In a system than leans heavily on rote memorization, Russell is proud of the enrichment classes offered at TOW-N.
R Star partners were on the ground within three days after two earthquakes struck Nepal in 2015, destroying more than half a million homes and disrupting the economy by ravaging terraced farms, hillside water systems and livestock. Russell expanded R Star’s reach by placing bamboo greenhouses, which created year-round income for families needing to re-build their homes. She also partnered with Rotary clubs to bring well water and new bathrooms to a school in the Terai area, which was damaged by flooding. Currently, she is working with government agencies that have received funding to pipe water from the mountains to the doorsteps of homes in 20 villages. It is slow going, she says, because of the 27 political parties governing the country, eight of which are communist. Despite once being detained and questioned by government officials, Russell says she remains “fervent about social change.”
Rabindra Sitaula, whom Russell met in 1988 when he was 11 years old on her first trip to Nepal, has become her major collaborator. Over a few days during her visit to his village, the two became close and she promised to return. At his insistence, she did return, and arranged to have goats delivered to his village as a gift to his family, who had shown her great hospitality despite their limited means. Sitaula, who speaks English well and has since he was a child, acts as R Star’s eyes and ears in Nepal.
He travels to the 51 villages R Star serves to determine their needs, monitor the progress of R Star’s programs, facilitate deliveries, or do whatever is needed to keep projects moving forward. He also coordinates with Laney and interacts with other “deputy mayors” in the region who oversee R Star’s various undertakings. Sitaula, a father of three, also works other jobs, which often pay only gas money and some food, to support his family. Neither he nor Russell draws a salary from the foundation.
Making it Work
R Star has received grants from local Soroptomists International clubs, the San Juan Capistrano Christian Science Church, Laguna’s My Hero project, Neighborhood Church, Impact Giving and local Exchange Clubs, among others.
Russell, who says she works at least 40 hours a week, is in constant motion giving talks, making connections, and assessing new projects. Recently, she arranged for Tenpa Dorjee of Laguna’s Tibetan Handicrafts store to transport an Aztec variety of corn seed donated by Pierson from her family’s Wyoming farm, to Nepal. Even in drought conditions, the crop was moderately successful.
Russell’s ingenuity never flags.
“I just need to teach the farmers to dump the dish water on the crops if rainfall is scant,” she said.
Russell is available for speaking engagements and can be reached at 949-497-4911, [email protected] or RStarFoundation.org. Donations, including travel rewards points, which are tax deductible, are also appreciated.