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ML: Can you tell us about Namaste, when and why it was founded?
ND: For many years, I had been organising charity events through my events agency Victoria and had raised a lot of money for worthy causes. But I felt frustrated because I never had the chance to see/feel/meet the beneficiaries. It was in February 2009, after a humanitarian trip to Nepal with Mrs Proust, the wife of the former Minister of State, and a group of volunteers that I decided to invest my time and energy in helping the villagers of Rigaon. NAMASTE was founded in October 2009 under the High Patronage of HSH Prince Albert II.
Since then, I have been to Nepal with a group of volunteers on a yearly basis in order to follow up our projects. This year, I will go for the 8th time. It is this close link between Namaste and the beneficiaries that makes, I think, our association so special.
ML: Can you share some key facts and figures about the association?
ND: The main goal of NAMASTE is to improve the living conditions of the villagers of Rigaon, which is located in a very remote area in the Himalayas at an altitude of around 2000 metres, at the base of Ganesh Himal. It’s one and half day’s travel, 60 kilometres northwest of Kathmandu. The people belong to the ethnic group of Tamang.
We concentrate our efforts on education and the empowerment of women. In general, we provide children with the learning tools and job skills necessary to raise the quality of life for themselves and for their community of 8,000 inhabitants, of which 2,000 are students.
Since its creation, NAMASTE has raised on average €100,000 a year thanks to memberships, donations, events and many other initiatives from NAMASTE, its 100 or so members and other friends.
ML: What is something people generally misunderstand about the Nepalese, and why is important to raise awareness of the Nepalese culture in Monaco and Europe?
ND: Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, located between two giants, India and China. Despite the country’s difficulties, the Nepalese culture, philosophy and way of living are fascinating and extremely inspirational. This multicultural country has many traditions that should be preserved and shared.
ML: What kind of projects does Namaste undertake to promote this objective, specifically in the fields of Education, Training and Health?
ND: In Rigaon, we’ve built:
– Two schools: the Shanti Primary School in Salleri for 70 students and the Ree Gaun Higher Secondary School in Ree for 400 students.
– An atelier for traditional crafts for women.
– An extension of the health centre.
– An extension of the Kailash hostel for students in Kathmandu (under construction).
And we’ve created:
– WEP – the Women Entrepreneurship Program, a training program for women to learn embroidery, sewing, tailoring, bamboo crafts, etc.
– 30 individual scholarships to help motivated students prepare for a profession (nurse, teacher, accountant, designer, etc…). These students are followed by a local coordinator who guides and motivates them during their studies.
– Several medical missions (with dentists, ophthalmologists, gynaecologists, generalists and nurses).
We want to assist the agricultural development of Rigaon as only 30% of the land is currently being farmed efficiently. Tea, coffee, and honey are some of the products for which farmers would potentially need guidance.
ML: Does Namaste have an annual fundraiser and how can residents get involved with the association?
ND: Since the beginning, the Metropole Hotel has been committed to supporting NAMASTE and backing our activities. With the hotel, we co-organised four charity events: Arty Spring, Qee Bear dolls, Namaste@Odyssey and Window to the Soul. Each fundraiser consisted of an exhibition and a cocktail party for hotel clients and friends of Namaste and during these different evenings, we sold arty objects, Qee bears personalised by VIPs, bracelets with a Nepal inspiration or photographs of your iris.
We have friends who donate regularly because they know that every euro donated is 100% spent on a project that is closely monitored. We try to give as much feedback as possible, which is greatly appreciated by the donors.
Everyone is very welcome to help NAMASTE and every donation will be used in the best possible way. We have no administrative costs and we do all of the work ourselves.
A few examples:
– The International school of Monaco (ISM) has been sponsoring 2 Nepalese students for a number of years by organising sales or small fundraising initiatives.
– NAMASTE has received donations during birthday parties or other special occasions.
– Other associations (Rotary Club, Soroptimist) have decided to dedicate a fundraising event to NAMASTE.
– The Metropole Hotel is associated with NAMASTE and has hosted/co-organised four special fundraising events.
ML: What does your role as President involve?
ND: My role involves representing the association and promoting its goals in the best possible way; raising funds; contacting our local Nepalese coordinator about twice a week to follow up our projects; creating a close relationship with the people from Rigaon and understanding their needs; constantly coming up with new ideas; being creative; exchanging ideas with ACFN, an association based in Avignon which is also involved in Rigaon and with whom we work hand-in-hand; organising events for the members and friends of Namaste, holding board meetings to keep track of our activities and goals.
It is a personal long-term commitment that I am proud of.
ML: How did you end up in Monaco?
ND: A little bit about my background – 26 years ago, I moved from Belgium, my home country, to Monaco for professional reasons; I started as an auditor with KPMG and moved to Monaco to work for Ernst & Young. For the past 10 years I have been the director of Christie’s, the international auction house, in Monaco and I am the Honorary Consul of Belgium.
ML: Monaco is said to have more not-for-profits per square kilometre than anywhere else in the world. Why do you think that is?
ND: Personally, I feel privileged to be a Monegasque citizen and to live in this magnificent country. Giving back to the community is a way to say thank you. I am sure many people feel the same way and this might be one of the main reasons why there are so many humanitarian initiatives. It’s also part of Monaco’s DNA.
ML: For you personally, what have you learned about yourself since starting Namaste and what are some of your most rewarding moments?
ND: Every time I come back from a trip to Nepal, I say that the Nepalese people give us so much more than we give them. Their lifestyle is a fabulous life lesson. They share, live in harmony with nature, have a sense of living together, and they respect the mountain environment.
Their country is as beautiful as their people.
My most rewarding moments are those I spent with children: when I see a smile on their faces (and they smile all the time) or when I see them on their way to school and they say “Namaste”, which means “Hello, I honour the Light, Beauty and Peace within you” … and much more.
I also experienced a sad moment with them as we were in Rigaon during the earthquake on April 25th, 2015. I will never forget this day, 24 hours after the inauguration of the high school. Rigaon was hit, as it was close to the epicentre of the earthquake. Ninety percent of the population lost their homes …but they faced this disaster with remarkable courage and dignity.
ML: How can we get people to become more involved than just writing a cheque?
ND: Visit our website – namastemonaco.com – every initiative is welcome!
Also, at the moment, I am looking for someone who can assist us with administrative work.
Article first published January 5, 2017.
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