The Little Sisters Fund was founded in 1998 by Usha Acharya and Trevor Patzer. The seeds of the passion that fueled the effort, however, were planted much earlier, as both founders had received generous assistance for their own schooling.
When Trevor was a young teenager, a family friend offered to financially support his education at boarding school if he could gain admission. In 1989, Trevor was accepted and, true to his word, the family friend generously paid for Trevor’s education at St. Paul’s, an experience that deeply impacted Trevor. From his first day at the school, Trevor had in the back of his mind the idea that one day he support someone else’s education, just as his own had been supported.
Usha, for her part, also received a lucky opportunity for education as a young girl. The daughter of village parents who could not read or write, Usha went to Kathmandu to be a friendly companion to the child bride of a close relative. In return, she got to go to school. Eventually, she finished first in her class in university and then became the first woman from her village to earn a master’s degree (her first of two).
Later, while working at the Harvard Institute for International Development in 1996, Usha received a letter from Nepal, which she happened to open while at lunch with her friend Kay. The letter was from a mother of three girls, and it described all of the hardships she was facing trying to send her girls to school in Kathmandu. Upon seeing a picture of the three girls, Kay jokingly said she wanted to adopt the youngest girl. Knowing that the mother would never separate herself from her children, Usha instead suggested that her friend could support the girl’s education.
Usha returned to Nepal at the end of same year, 1996, and became more involved with organizations working on the issues of girls trafficking and child labor in Nepal, quickly establishing herself as a leader and expert on the topic, publishing books and articles.
In 1998, fate and a mutual friend connected Usha and Trevor in Nepal. While together, they discussed the many risks and challenges facing girls in Nepal and the importance of education. Usha also introduced Trevor to Bindhaya, and he committed to supporting her education.
1998 Little Sisters Fund founded. At the time, it was known as the “Bahini Fund” after the Nepali word for “Little Sister”.
2005: Establishment of School Scholarship Program
2006: Establishment of Coordinating Mentors program for mentoring
2013: Primary Educator Training program established
2015: Little Sisters Alumni Association established
2005: St. Paul’s School Alumni Association Award, “the highest honor the association can bestow on an alumnus or alumna to recognize the excellence of his or her lifework and commitment to the spirit of community.”
2009: Unsung Heroes of Compassion Award from His Holiness the Dalai Lama
2009: Alba Ratna award from Kantipur Publications & Yamaha Motorbike Company for “a local hero in society.”
2011: Token of Appreciation from Rotary Club of Kathmandu North
2012: Social Service Award from the Social Welfare Council of Nepal
My own experience of being a daughter of poor and illiterate parents from a rural village made me personally aware of how vulnerable young girls can be in Nepal. Every year I walked six days in a row to Kathmandu for education and returned home during the two months of winter vacation. As there was no other mode of transportation at that time, walking up and down the forested mountains and crossing the rivers in wooden canoes was a challenging experience for me. However, I finished my school, college and university education through hard struggle against heavy odds. It was almost a mission impossible. Today I am where I am, and doing what I am doing thanks to my education.
At that time, nearly 55% of girls did not attend primary school. Given this fact, Trevor and Usha decided to formalize and expand their efforts to match the magnitude of the challenge in Nepal. The organization grew slowly at first, with both Usha and Trevor volunteering their time for many years before jumping in full time.
Today, Bindhaya is a nurse and is “paying it forward” herself by funding the education of another girl, Ashmita, through Little Sisters Fund programs. Bindhaya’s mother, Indira, who had married at a young age and never had the chance to complete her education, returned to her studies and earned her School Leaving Certificate in 2011. She now serves Little Sisters Fund as Parent Liaison.
Since 1998, the Little Sisters Fund has grown to support the education of nearly 2,000 girls in 21 districts of Nepal through ten complementary programs that tackle multiple dimensions of injustice. Trevor and Usha remain integrally involved in the day-to-day work of the Little Sisters Fund, with Trevor leading fundraising and management in the United States and Usha leading a team of eleven in Nepal and continuing to visit villages around Nepal where girls do not have a fair chance to learn.