FULLERTON (CBSLA.com) — “Eat Pray Love,” was the best-selling book about self-discovery made into a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts. While most women were eager to read the book, one Orange County mom and teacher lived the story.
As Heather Guay’s 20-year marriage was falling apart in 2005, she decided to start a master’s program in counseling. It was at a lecture when she found her passion – a problem in Nepal so horrific she doubted it was real, that children were being sold into slavery and prostitution.
“I didn’t believe that could happen, so I wanted to find out if it was true,” Guay said.
Guay, who had never been beyond Europe, accepted an invitation from a non-profit to travel to the Himalayas, knowing that in the shadows of Mount Everest, she would not find the food, the running water or comforts of Orange County.
“I was scared actually,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘I can endure anything for two weeks.’”
But what Guay found in Nepal inspired her. She was in one of the world’s poorest nations, where for much of the populations, regular meals are an uncertainty.
“When I got there, I realized who was poor and it was me,” she said. “They have this sense of appreciation for the basics in life and for educations, and for what they have.”
Nepal was an educator’s paradise, where children are so eager and happy to learn, they walk for hours to get to class.
In Nepal, desperation trumps the law. Unable to afford to educate their children, many parents sell or give away their kids to people who promise to provide for them. Instead the children are often forced to become servants, or worse, are sent to brothels.
Guay returned to the U.S. emboldened and determined.
“Nepal held up a mirror to me and caused me to look at myself in a different way,” she said.
Guay left her marriage, and then lost her job as part of California’s budget cuts. But she didn’t lose her resolve — she lobbied friends and family to help with a $100 donation so she could send one child to school and spare parents the agony of giving them up.
“For us, its a hundred dollars, a purse or a dinner. For them it’s or a year of education,” Guay said.
On a teacher’s wages, she continued her visits, finding partners in the country and founding Namaste Nepal to educate the children of the Himalayan nation.
On one trip, she visited a school and saw older girls who had been rescued from brothels in class with children half their age. She says that further stigmatized the girls because it was clear what had happened to them.
That’s when she got the idea to start a school where they would blend in and learn alongside others their age.
“Self-esteem is improved, they have hope whereas before they did not,” Guay said.
In a few short years, Guay’s organization has already had success stories, like Chavi who spoke to us from Thailand where she’s now in college on a full scholarship.
“She’s the most generous woman I ever met, she is the one who inspires me in my life,” Chavi said.
Guay says her middle class life in Orange County has given her the tools to provide a better life for those in Nepal and she will continue just because she can.
“Do what you can where you are, if it’s in your power to help someone why not?” Guay said.