With a faint return I struggled to stay alive in the most challenging game of ping pong I had ever played. And to make matters worse, things were just heating up as a bevy of 10-13 year old Nepalese kids swarmed the table waiting to beat me on their home turf. These were no ordinary children; in fact they had been rescued from the clutches of poverty, prostitution and despair and given a new chance at childhood.
The Friendship House is nestled in a busy city neighborhood of Kathmandu, Nepal with a large yard and play area and was just that, a happy home off the streets; a place where kids could be kids. Instead of scavenging for firewood from the countryside, begging on the streets, or being trafficked into the sex trade these children went to school, lived together as a family and played like a team.
The Friendship House was started by Kim Reynolds an accomplished climber and Marmot athlete, who wanted to give back to the indigenous mountain community in which she had climbed for years. With Kim�s initial plans to climb Pumori, 3 miles west of Everest at 23,000 feet, the expedition�s goal was to raise funds for a girl's house which was failing financially. Kim Reynolds and her husband Jim Nowak founded the dZi Foundation providing for a healthy and hopeful future to thousands of children all over Asia with over 21 projects in 5 countries in 2005. Ranging from Dental Clinics to Nutritional Homes the effects of the dZi Foundation are clear to see in the smiling faces of the children. They become healthy and robust with opportunities that we westerners generally take for granted such as basic hygiene, schooling and social services. In many areas I had traveled, children became beggars as soon as they could speak and their pleas for sweets and candy outweighed their need for simple necessities like clean water, a square meal a day, and the chance for an education.
More cheers erupted from a few of the older boys bragging to each other about how they were going to beat me at a game I had considered myself to be pretty good at. One by one, each kid lined up and played their best. There were serves I could barely return and then a few forehands that whizzed by me as a white blur. I was having the time of my life and losing like never before. My wife Jaime and I were given a tour through the home and welcomed as if we were part of the extended family of dZi. The girls we met lived together as sisters and each enjoyed certain aspects and subjects of their school, in this regard were quite similar to kids anywhere. In the living room were shelves overflowing with prizes, awards, and trophies from various competitions in a number of different sports from basketball to table tennis. There were academic awards as well, as the main component of the program is based on education. Even the walls of the girls� rooms were decked out with posters of Hindi movie stars, a few horses, and shockingly a Britney Spears poster. So maybe kids in Nepal were not all that different from kids in other parts of the world! What I noticed most of all was the girls� enthusiasm and motivation to succeed. This was not just shown in their competitive focus but instead they seemed to realize they were given a very special gift. The opportunity to fulfill their dreams of being a child, going to school, playing games, making friends, and living healthy, happy lives. These kids had started with next to nothing and soon developed into bright stars that illuminated everything in their world.