Schiller on a mission to help people of Nepal

October 14, 2016 GMT

For Ernie Schiller, it started out as just taking a trip to India in 2013 to chaperone some students for a foreign exchange program.

A trip to neighboring Nepal was just a side venture, as he enjoys trekking outdoors and enjoying nature.

Before his stay was over, however, “I fell in love with the people of Nepal,” said Schiller, of Donnellson.

As a former science teacher at Central Lee High School, Schiller also has a passion for education and saw learning conditions woefully deficient.

“They struggle with education,” he said. Then things got worse.

He wanted to make a return trip in 2015. But an earthquake hit the country, and, “it wasn’t safe to go there,” Schiller said.

Things are a go this year, however, and Schiller will leave Oct. 26 for a five-week mission trip in Nepal.

His destination is a mountainous area that didn’t get much in the way of relief.

“Their homes were destroyed, and the schools were destroyed,” Schiller said. “All the people I met are still living under a tarp,” he said.

“I will be living with families with no running water, no toilets,” Schiller said. “Wifi is iffy. Hopefully there’s a mat or linoleum to sleep on.”

His itinerary is simple.

“I’m going to teach science and English to Nepali children during the day and during the evening I’ll be building the schools,” said Schiller, an Iowa Teacher of Year during his tenure and recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching.

After living with the bare essentials, he plans to treat himself at the end with a trek “through the mountains and around the lakes of Nepal.”

Poor but happy

Nepal is best known as the site of Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain at 8,848 feet above sea level.

“They have the tallest mountains and the shortest people,” Schiller said. “They are the second poorest country on the planet, but they have the happiest people.”

Because of the poverty, however, funds are needed to help educate and rebuild. Schiller is paying his own expenses but has set up a gofundme account – visit www.gofundme.com and search for Rebuild Education in Nepal – with the hopes of raising $25,000 for the cause.

“You can even donate after Oct. 26,” Schiller said. He can access the money there. He’s already raised about $6,000 through the web site and other fundraisers.

He planted a large vegetable garden and sales from the harvest will go to Nepal.

Schiller is looking for science textbooks written in lower grade level English for the Nepalese, and there are about 600 students in the school.

“Being a science teacher all of my life – planning creative science lessons adaptable to students in the Midwest and my home town school – I learned early on to challenge oneself to motivate students to become independent thinkers, independent researchers, independent scientists,” Schiller said.

“One of my former science students, Dr. Peter Kaboli, will be joining me” for part of that stretch, Schiller said. Kaboli is Chief Medical Officer of the Veterans Hospital in Iowa City. He will meet up with Schiller for a couple of weeks.