German traveller Stefan Utke is busily brushing up on his Nepalese cooking skills to tempt locals along next week to a special “benefit evening” he’s planning at Solscape Eco Retreat’s cafe overlooking Manu Bay.
But this will not be your typical foodie event. Instead it’s more about sharing the good work being done by a small family-style orphanage with which Stefan’s been closely involved in Nepal – and raising funds for its 11 children who, he says, need only US$2 a day to survive.
That’s all it takes to house, feed and educate long-term the orphans of the Blessed Child Welfare Home, he says. “And for me it’s the most important thing (to do) in my life at the moment.”
Stefan’s nearing the end of a six-month stay in New Zealand, most of which he’s spent at Solscape “woofing” or working for his keep by cleaning and putting his cabinet-making skills to good use.
He and a German friend came to Raglan to surf for five days back in April and Stefan stayed on. “I got stuck here … it’s so nice, so beautiful.”
The 27-year-old’s been travelling around the world on a bicycle, starting last year from his hometown of Dresden. For seven months he biked throughout 13 countries including Eastern Europe, Turkey and Iran.
From Iran he transported his bike to Nepal, went trekking with a friend, then headed to the orphanage he’d heard about in the little village of Dhapakhel next to Kathmandu. “I wanted to do something good with my journey,” he says of his time spent at the Welfare Home as one of several German volunteers.
And while he’s carried on with his pre-arranged travel plans, Stefan’s determined to return to the orphanage soon with the funds and motivation to really help make a difference.
The non-profit orphanage is run by “parents” Bal and his wife Sharmila – from a small mountain village themselves – who have two young children of their own to add to the family of orphans, ranging in age from six to a now 18-year-old aspiring to university-level education.
Some of the kids have one parent who is too poor to support them, and working on the land in other villages. The children all have “tragic” stories to tell, says Stefan, but don’t really talk much about how they ended up on the street. They’re just grateful to be cared for and schooled, at a cost of US$15 each a month.
The orphanage occupies a large rental home and was set up recently by a fellow German who’s organised a support team behind him, Stefan explains. It’s run as a registered organisation affiliated to the Social Welfare Council Nepal but gets no support from the Nepalese government, depending entirely on help and donations from other countries.
It operates just like a really big family, he adds, and while Stefan was there he learnt to cook good Nepalese food – rice, lentils and curries – alongside Bal. Now he’s keen to put into practise those new-found cooking skills, at the same time engender interest in and support for the work of an orphanage that currently survives on the goodwill of Austrian and Australian sponsors.
Stefan admits he’s a bit nervous about next week’s benefit evening, his first ever, but reckons he can pull it off because it’s such a worthy cause. “Every single dollar counts,” he says.
No-one knows how lucky they are, he adds, more than the 11 young Nepalese orphans who relish their chance to go to school – the “AVM Higher Secondary School and Future Stars High School” – and to get a good start in life after all.
Stefan’s Nepalese night is Thursday August 14 at 6pm. So he knows how many to cater for, please book through Solscape 825 8268 or text Stefan 021 085 40876. Cost: $15pp.