From the Schoolyard to the Sky
School was just starting by the time Poonam, Jeremy, and I were ready to leave at 10 o’clock. We had just met with the principal of Shraya’s new school, Step By Step, and taken care of her first months admission fees when the students began lining up for morning assembly.
Each morning at Nepali schools, teachers arrange their students in front of the flags. For about 15 minutes the students perform simple exercises, sing the national anthem, and recite a prayer. I didn’t spot Shraya in the sea of students, but I knew she was there and probably nervous for her first day at this new school.
I was encouraged, however. Step By Step is a well-constructed, organized, clean school. We liked how the teachers spoke to the students in English and we praised the peaceful ambiance of the neighborhood. It was a good visit, making us all feeling good about the decision to enroll Shraya.
I mentioned previously that Poonam is an incredible woman with an inspirational story of her own (worthy of publication, if you ask me). When I met Poonam four years ago, she was in the spotlight as one of Nepal’s Top 10 Women to Watch for VOW (Voice of Women) magazine. As Director of Pokhara’s first paragliding company, Poonam was creating quite a stir. She was one of the first women in Pokhara to reject her expected role as an inferior woman. Instead, she had chosen to live the “American Dream” in her own country. And as if that wasn’t enough, she was also helping poor children from her community go to school and get a good education in her spare time. This was where our paths crossed and I asked her to manage Shraya’s sponsorship as well.
Lucky for Nepal, Poonam is the same strong-willed, honest, independent woman I met four years ago. As Jeremy and I were enjoying a lunch of dal bhat at Poonam’s house, she told us, “I don’t work for money, and I could never be rich because I am always giving my money away. But this is what makes me happy.” And I truly believe her.
After a ten month battle with the corrupt Nepali government, Poonam finally owns and operates her own paragliding company, Phoenix Paragliding, while personally managing sponsorships for 16 Nepali children in Pokhara.
As if this woman isn’t charitable enough, she also gave Jeremy and I the most incredible wedding gift – a free flight over Pokhara. Returning from Shraya’s school, we immediately hopped in her jeep and headed for the take-off. With Poonam’s Austrian fiancé as my pilot, the rest of my morning was spent soaring thousands of feet above Pokhara. With Jeremy flying by as well, my head (and stomach) pulsated with every rush of adrenaline. Unfortunately, the clouds were covering the peaks of the Himalayas at the time of our flight, but the view of the Pokhara valley was gorgeous. Spiraling down – at what felt like a hundred miles per minute – to our landing near the lake, I was all screams and smiles. My cheeks were sore for the rest of the afternoon.
Thanks to Poonam, Jeremy and I had the most incredible day in possibly the most stunning place in Nepal. From the schoolyard to the sky, we were able to witness the immense beauty of Pokhara from every angle. A truly unforgettable experience.