Davidsonville’s Mike Church graduated from St. Mary’s College in 2004, having met his three primary goals—have no debt, no wife and no job.
Just four months after graduation, Church and three of his friends went on a bike ride through Europe, spilling over into Asia as part of a great, post-college adventure. Their travels took them through Syria, Turkey, Holland, Egypt and India.
But as they trekked through western Nepal, warfare between Maoists and guerrillas forced Church to seek refuge in a village -- an event that would forever change his life.
In the village of Bauniyan, Nepal, Church met two brothers, Bol and Ujjwal Bhat, who aspired to form an English school that taught local children how to read and write. The sons of illiterate farmers, their parents decided to educate them in hopes for a better future. It was a notion that struck a chord deep inside Church. He spent a week working in the village and left promising that he would help establish a school as soon as he could.
He also went on to give the brothers his parents’ personal phone number.
Church's time to help didn't come until three years later, when he married his wife, Ali. Instead of asking for gifts at their wedding, the young couple told guests to give money—funding that they sent to Nepal to establish the Mikey Medium English School.
A few years and a couple trips to Nepal later, Church’s parents, John and Barbara Church, now run a not-for-profit organization that seeks to aid and support about 92 Nepalese children more than 7,000 miles away from their home in Davidsonville.
In 2008, the Churches made a few donations to the school and helped get it launched, but eventually it ran out of money. That’s when John and Barbara Church knew it was time to either back out, or dive in headfirst. But before making that decision, the Churches wanted to visit the school for themselves.
For five weeks, Barbara Church worked alongside Bol and Ujjwal Bhat, and learned every aspect about the school named after her son. An educator herself, Church said the children’s eagerness to learn was inspiring.
“I’ve been a teacher all my life. Here I was teaching in a room with four cement walls and wooden desks. These kids had nothing and they were so engaged and so interested in learning,” she said. “It was so interesting to me. I was really tugged by that.”
Upon returning, the Churches began an official non-governmental organization (NGO) called Grass Roots Education Nepal to raise money, volunteers and teaching resources for the children of Bauniyan, Nepal.
Funding A Future
Since 2009, the Churches and the organization’s board of directors have served primarily as financiers of the school and it’s children. It takes about $200 per year to provide all the necessary funds for one child, Barbara Church said.
However, as the years pass, the Churches admit that they need more help from the community and volunteers to continually make a difference in the far-off nation. The local nonprofit has helped send local high school graduates for service trips and encouraged church youth groups to host fundraisers.
One of the biggest fundraisers they’ve ever done is currently underway. The nonprofit is hosting a raffle event that gives the winner a two-night vacation in historic Quebec at Le Chateau Frontenac, including airfare from BWI and a tour of the city.
“There’s only 1,000 tickets being sold and it’s our major fundraiser so we really need support. Just like the name [of the organization] this has been grassroots on both ends,” Barbara Church said.
The students’ families and teachers in Nepal have personally built the school, using wood, mud and thatch, so the money from the raffle will go towards helping individual student scholarships and resources.
Barbara and John Church said they are set to visit Nepal in January and provide teacher workshops for staff at the Mikey Medium English School.
“Education is the key to international peace and justice,” she said. “It’s everything.”