By Linda McIntosh
Ever since Ingrid Hoffmeister saw the children at the Chhahari orphanage in Nepal, she made up her mind that she would do whatever she could to help them. Hoffmeister is running a used book sale on Feb. 7 outside the Stratford Court Cafe in Del Mar to raise money for the orphanage, which is home to 21 children who would otherwise be living on the streets.
"I'm hoping everyone will come and buy a used book for $1, which would cover school fees for a Chhahari child for an entire week," Hoffmeister said.
"Education is a great gift that we can bring to these children, so they can lift themselves out of poverty and into a world where they can sustain themselves."
Several hundred donated books will be on sale, including fiction, nonfiction, biographies, coffee-table books and children's works. All proceeds from the sale will go directly to Chhahari, which is a nonprofit that provides food, shelter, education and health care to orphaned children of Nepal in a familylike setting.
Chhahari founder Christine Casey writes on her Web site, www.chhahari.org, that her mission is to rescue Nepali children from poverty, malnutrition, drug addiction, sex trade and murder for organs.
A year ago in February, Hoffmeister, a retired therapist and free-lance writer who lives in Del Mar, met the children at Chhahari.
"We can learn from these kids about gratitude," Hoffmeister said. "I found out you don't have to bring anything to make these kids happy — of course everything is appreciated and wanted — but what is really important to them is that I came and was interested in them."
Hoffmeister said she watched as the children washed their clothes, scrubbing them on concrete and hanging them on the roof to dry. The children accepted with joy a meal of dal and rice and lived with only two hours of electricity each day.
Hoffmeister painted a series of wall murals for the children, the subjects matched with words to improve their vocabulary. Each day, she walked with them to school, where she volunteered to teach writing.
"Teaching five classes a day in life-story writing presented an unforeseen challenge in a culture that rarely encourages children to ask questions. Once asked, nothing prepared me for the traumatic tales that unfolded. Poverty, beatings and death lingered on each written page," Hoffmeister wrote in her journal.
Nevertheless, Hoffmeister said the children had kind hearts. "The children loved most of all to sing and dance and draw pictures," she said.
Carol Kerridge, a Del Mar resident, returned from a visit to the Chhahari orphanage in November and plans to help Hoffmeister at the book sale.
"Chhahari is a good place for these poor and orphaned children. It is a loving place — warm and comfortable with lots of care," Kerridge said.
Kerridge visited the orphanage in the early evening while the children were sitting together doing homework. "The children were all well-behaved, and the older students helped the younger ones," she said. Later, they sang together and told stories.