Nepal has been in Maria Santangelo’s heart since the moment she stepped foot in the country as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1985. Falling instantly in love with its rich natural beauty and its warm, welcoming people, she said, she felt instantly at home.
Nothing has changed for Santangelo, who now serves as executive director of Pine Run Retirement Community in New Britain Township.
“Living among the Nepali people was transformative. It is one of the happiest places I’ve ever been privileged to live; families open their doors to everyone and share everything they have,” she explained, sharing her first impressions of the South Asian nation.
Santangelo has returned many times since her Peace Corps experience, bringing desperately needed supplies and helping Peace Corps trainers and Habitat for Humanity volunteers assist in recovery from the 2015 earthquake, which, she said, “set the country’s development back in time 40 years.”
Later this month, she’ll return once more, this time as head of her new nonprofit – the Ama Chhori Foundation of Hope.
Ama Chhori, which means “mother daughter,” in Nepali, will further Santangelo’s ongoing mission to support women and girls as they create sustainable, productive and independent lives. She hopes to bring $10,000 with her to complete a third women’s training center, where women and girls learn a variety of skills, such as reading, how to count money and how to apply for a low interest loan. Over the past four years, she has raised $25,000 privately from family and friends to continue the work that means so much to her.
“Women and girls run their families,” said Santangelo, “but they are entirely financially dependent on the men. My goal is to give them the tools so they won’t have to be dependent. Knowledge makes them powerful and resilient, which deepens the foundation of the country itself.”
Change, she noted, takes place on a small scale – village to village. “We don’t go in loud,” added Santangelo.
During her time there with the Peace Corps, she focused on Rural Income Generation, which helped men and women buy goats and chickens with low-interest loans from the Bank of Nepal. For some time, the thinking was that economic sustainability was best built with these types of efforts.
But, now, Santangelo said, she wants to focus on buying sewing machines and looms that can help women and girls strengthen their economy and grow small businesses. “If they can’t make clothes, they can’t make money … women will always be dependent and unable to move out of poverty if they can’t create their own income,” she noted.
In Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world, rising from poverty means having regular meals and having a home (200-square-feet for four people), explained Santangelo. Most villagers live in tents.
Creating the foundation, she said, “legitimizes and formalizes” the heartfelt effort to “pay the goodness of Nepal forward.” All donations are tax deductible.
To learn more about Ama Chhori Foundation of Hope, visit amachhorifoundationofhope.org/
Santangelo noted too, that she has had tremendous support from Doylestown Health and its CEO, Jim Brexler, which owns and operates Pine Run Retirement Community.