By Robin Pierson, Special to the Independent
Rosalind Russell may be homeless and facing financial
ruin here, but in Nepal she’s a heroine.
Over two years ago, “the goat lady,” lost her home by fire
and is in litigation withher insurance company over
rebuilding it. Her personal funds are diminished
and she’s living in a one-room pool house, thanks to a
friend’s generosity. But in over two dozen rural Nepalese
villages, Russell is credited with giving hundreds of
women opportunities to elevate their lives and the lives of
those they love.
Because of Russell, women who barely
had a chance to even touch money are now earning it.
Children whose opportunities for education were dismal
now attend classes at a newly opened “Top of the World-
Nepal” school. Mothers and grandmothers who never
thought they would learn to read, now attend literacy
classes, while others who once could only dream of
starting a small business are making candles, incense and
The author in the village school funded by donors to Laguna’s R Star Foundation.
On a recent trip to Nepal, I saw and heard first hand from
the women Russell has impacted. And I got to meet,
Rabindra Sitaula, Russell’s “adopted son” and the other
half of R Star Foundation, a multi-faceted non-
profitorganization determined to decorate the
impoverished Nepali countryside with goats, schools and
In villages perched up rocky roads and down dusty trails,
struggle just to get the basics for life – enough to eat,
access to clean water and medicine when they or they
children need it – I was treated like royalty, simply
because I knew the Western woman responsible for
providing opportunities for them to get what most of us
take for granted.
In dwindling light, the setting sun turning the ice white
Himalayas rose, our battered taxi approached the hill top
village of Palanchowa Sathighar. After waiting for hours,
dozens of women and their children jumped to their feet,
clutching necklaces and bouquets of brilliant orange and
red marigolds, excitedly welcoming Sitaula and me.
Maya, a middle-aged woman wrapped in a sky blue shawl, moved
to the front of the throng. Badly burnt as a child, never
married and without family, Maya – which means love in
Nepali – had inhabited the lowest rung of her village’s
status ladder. Now Maya’s standing has sky rocketed, for
she was the one who brought Russell – and her life-
changing goats – to her neighbors.
Villagers shower Rabindra Sitaula, Rosalind Russell’s “adopted son” and the author with flowers for the life-changing gift of goats that the pair’s non-profit brought to their village.
Six years ago, Maya approached Russell and Sitaula when
they stopped to rest at a nearby resort. She told them how
two women in her village had just died in child birth
because they couldn’t afford to stay at – or even get to –
the hospital, an hour’s drive away. Maya told Russell and
Sitaula that while many villagers want to send their kids to
school, they can’t affordthe government tuition, about $50
a year, not including books or uniforms. And when
moneyis scarce, as it usually is, Maya said, it’s the women
who go without food or medicine.
Maya had heard about the goat giving the pair had done in
neighboring villages. Would they, she asked, consider her
village? Russell and Sitaula had their next challenge.
A beneficiary of Russell’s and Sitaula’s goat giving project
Two and a half years later, goats came to Maya’s village –
via pickup truck filled with the animals and the women
from a distant village who had raised them. All villages
that receive goats from R Star must agree to pass goats
forward to a different village in two years. And the goats
delivered to Maya’s village, were the progeny of R Star’s
first goat giving project, begun in Wojethar, the village
where Sitaula was born.
As darkness enveloped Palanchowa Sathighar, the women
showed me those first gifted goats and the throngs of
others that had sprung from that original offering.
Squatting beside a tethered female, one woman wrapped
her arms around the four legged creature’s neck, grateful
to the animal that had made it possible for her to send one
of her children to boarding school.
Another brought out the candles she had made; the fruit of one of R Star’s many collaborations with local organization to bring cottage
industries in the villages.
And then there was the gray haired woman who, speaking
through Sitaula, told how she had thought herself to old to
learn to read and write. But when Russell’s non- profit
began offering literacy classes in collaboration with local
Rotary Clubs, she went. Now, she is one of the best in her
class, and will soon by one of the 1,400 who have already
graduated from the program, breaking the cycle of
illiteracy in a country where the majority of women and
about half of the men are illiterate.
What began as an improbable relationship between a
compassionate Nepali boy and a plucky Western woman
has transformed into an enduring and powerful
Sitaula and Russell met 22 years ago on the streets of
Kathmandu. He was 11 and attending boarding school
since there was no school in his village. And she was a
glamorous doctor’s wife on a global spiritual quest.
“I practiced my English with her and she came to my
boarding school and saw my room, Sitaula recalled.
Russell invited Sitaula, and his uncle, just two years his
senior and also a student, to her hotel, a five star
establishment, the likes of which the village boys had
never before set foot in.
After that first meeting, Russell and Sitaula began
corresponding. “Those letters really helped me,” Sitaula
said. “There was a true sense of sharing. We used to write
quite a lot about the world, life, and our stresses. She
wrote long letters.” For Sitaula, lonely at school away from
his family, and for Russell who was going through a
divorce, the correspondence deepened their relationship
– and it continued for years. Five years into their letter
writing, “I began calling her mom,” Sitaula said. Once
email arrived, the month or more between
correspondences shrunk and the communication between
the two flourished.
In 2003, 15 years after their first meeting, Russell decided
it was time to see her “son” in person. Russell wanted to
give Sitaula and his family a gift that had meaning. And it
was that initial intention that propelled Russell and
Sitaula onto a path that has impacted the lives of
thousands living in the desperately poor Kavre district of
“I used to write to her about how we bought goats
for our festivals,” said Sitaula, a Hindu. But when Russell
struck on the idea of gifting Sitaula’s family a goat, she ran
into an obstacle. Sitaula, then a manager at a radio
station, lived with his family in a rented room in
Kathmandu. They had no room for a goat. But he knew
people who did.
Situala brought Russell to Wojethar, the multi-caste
village, where he grew up without running water,
electricity or a school. Nothing had changed since Sitaula
moved to the capitol, about a 3 hour drive away. Women
still spent hours each day hauling water from a river of
questionable cleanliness and the majority of the children
did not attend school. “When Rosalind saw the hardships,”
Sitaula said, “she was willing to take on hardships of her
own to ease the villagers’.”
After researching similar projects and speaking to
government officials, the pair plunged in with their goat-
giving scheme, giving women in Sitaula’s village two
pregnant goats each, with the condition that within two
years, they “pay it forward.”
They couldn’t have started their project at a worse time.
The Maoist insurgency raged, finding ready sympathizers
amongst rural villagers who had received little or no help
from the government. The pair attempted to remain
neutral as they travelled by motorcycle through the
warring countryside, contacting both the insurgents and
the government security forces before they ventured out.
“At that time Nepal was very scary,” Sitaula said. “The
Maoists were trying to get rid of Western influences.
Rosalind used to say, ‘If I die, burn me atop amountain.
Don’t put me in a polluted river.’”
The pair persevered, bringing goats to village after village,
with those villagers, passing along pregnant goats to their
neighbors. The result: In seven years, more than 11,000
goats in 28 villages decorate the hills of Nepal.
With the goat project flourishing, Sitaula wanted to tackle
a void in his village that had bothered him since he was a
boy. While attending boarding school in Kathmandu, he’d wait
until the other students had left before he collected pencil stubs and
paper scraps they’d tossed away, bringing the discards
back home. In a secret spot, he used to share the second-
hand school supplies – and his knowledge – with the
Dunwar kids, the untouchables, in his village for whom
the chance to go to school was merely a dream.
Sitaula and Russell built a school, fulfilling Sitaula’s dream that all of the children in his village have an opportunity to get an education. Peace flags made by children in Laguna Beach wave on the roofline.
Now an adult, with children of his own, Sitaula was
dismayed that there still was no school in his village.
The nearest government school was a dangerous 1-hour
walk from Wojethar. Children who made the trek had
been abducted by rebel forces and child traffickers or
attacked by tigers and venomous snakes. Then there was
the $50 annual government tuition, an astronomical fee
for many of the families, especially the Dunwars. Those
families who could pay the fees – and accept the risks of
sending their children out of the village – almost always
opted to send a son to school and rarely, if ever, a
Pooling their own money, Russell and Sitaula decided to
make a safe place for every village child, regardless of
gender, caste or income, to attend school. It took two
years. All the building materials had to be hand carried on
a narrow trail, nearly a mile from the nearest road.
Longlines of villagers hauled water from the river. And in
May 2010, in that “secret spot,” where Situala once taught
less fortunate village kids, Wojethar’s “Top of the World
School – Nepal,” opened to all of the village’s children.
Girls’ tuition is waived and the tuition for boys, whose
sisters attend class, is half price, still less than the
Students at the newly opened “Top of the World School – Nepal” who for the first time have the opportunity to go school, regardless of income, caste or gender.
Sitaula and Russell are anxious to build another school in
another village where the need is even more extreme.
Up a mountain, on a road more suitable to foot and animal
traffic, our taxi lurched. Seeing the approaching vehicle,
villagers of Bhedabari raced from their rice fields to talk
about their vision. In the shade of two ancient, expansive
trees, the chiseled, bronze faced men and women
explained how their children must walk 6 hours roundtrip
to the nearest government school, a journey wrought with
the same perils: kidnappings and tiger attacks. Parents,
who can afford it, send their children to a boarding school.
The young students don’t see their families for months at a
time and wail when they are left.
One of the villagers, Shiva, the village’s mayor, had been to
India. Seeing the development there, he realized how
backward his homeland is, concluding that education is
the key to move Nepal forward. To Russell and Situala,
who had already brought them goats, the village elders
proposed the idea of building a school. The people of
Bhedabari have donated the land, a rolling meadow
beneath the ancient trees and they have committed to
providing the necessary labor. School plans have been
engineered and necessary documentation has been filed
with the government. All that is needed now is money.
As she threads her way through the legal challenges that
she is hopeful will result in her home being rebuilt,
Russell is soliciting funds for the school in Bhedabari,
through grants and individual donations.
Meanwhile gifts of goats continue to be exchanged from
village to village, women who never had the chance to go
to school or start a business are learning to read and are
making money. And the lower caste children in one
village, who have known nothing but illiteracy and war,
are not only learning to read and write, but are receiving
20 minute daily lessons on how to live peacefully in the
world – part of Russell’s signature peace curriculum – all
in a school less than five minutes from their homes.
“We had nothing in our mind that we’d be doing this,”
Situala said. Our plan was no plan. We are learning by
doing it and still there’s quite a bit to learn.”
Donations for the new school project in Bhedabari – or
for goats – can be sent to The R Star Ministries, P.O. Box
4183, Laguna Beach, CA. 92652. More information can be
found on the non-profit’s website at
or by calling (949) 497-4911