Fall 2014

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92 Venice EAST SIDE STORY It took a trip to a remote region in Nepal to forever change John Christopher's life. BY MADISON FLAGER PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF JOHN CHRISTOPHER 84 Venice ohn Christopher sleeps on a wooden plank. He's been doing this for the better part of a year without complaint. The setting is radically different than his life three years ago, when the Fort Lauderdale native was working at a financial consulting firm in Washington, D.C., traveling frequently and spending many nights in cushy Marriott beds. These days, he runs a nonprofit called OdaKids in Nepal. His salary? Nonexistent. The change seems drastic, even to Christopher. "A couple of years ago, if you had said this is what I'd be doing, it would have come as a huge surprise to me," the 27-year-old says. What he's doing is improving the lives of families in Oda, a town of about 2,500 in the Kalikot District of Nepal, which is, by most standards, one of the most dif- ficult places to live on the planet. In past winters, an av- erage of 40 people died from avoidable illnesses. Still recovering from a civil war that ended in 2006, the town lacks paved roads and there is little economic infrastruc- ture. Most families subsist on remittances from sons working in India. Not too long ago, Oda residents had to walk two days to receive substandard medical care— medicine was often expired, priced well above what most could afford, and doled out by doctors who were not al- ways properly trained. Then came John Christopher. After three and a half years in finance, the business- man felt like he needed a change. A Cardinal Gibbons alumnus, Christopher grew up steeped in community serv- ice, participating in Big Brothers Big Sisters and coaching young wrestlers. He studied abroad in Ireland while at Washington and Lee University, but had never visited a developing country. On a whim, he applied to a fellowship for a nonprofit in the Surkhet District, a region south of Oda reached by a 10-hour car ride and two-hour walk. When he was accepted, he left his job in D.C. and began the adventure that would shape his life. The fellowship lasted six months, but Christopher ended up staying for 10. About halfway through, he real- ized his life was changing. Visiting the house of a local girl named Sunita, he saw how far limited resources would go in her life —he now sponsors her for just $25 a month, which allows her to attend school, something she otherwise would probably not get to do. "It was a really touching thing to see how challenging their lives can be, but how much hope there is for their future with really a modest amount of help and a boost in the right direction," Christopher says. He says it was at that moment, seeing the beat-up shack roughly the size of a small car that housed Sunita and her four family members, that he knew he had to do something. "I knew that I wouldn't feel right or fulfilled going back to my life as a consultant," Christopher says. Many of the people he met in Surkhet had family liv- ing in Oda, where little aid was being provided. After visit- ing Oda with a native named Karan Singh, Christopher knew this was where he would focus his efforts. He re- turned to the U.S., and for two and a half months fundraised and developed the OdaKids foundation. In September of 2013, he flew back to Nepal. With the help of Singh, who now serves as a translator and community- outreach liaison for OdaKids, Christopher was welcomed into the community with open arms. J

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