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South Kitsap nurse daring to care in faraway Nepal
For most of us, money goes to the basics of life — food, gas, housing — and our time and energy to caring for our families.
Others are called to do something more, something greater, something beyond our own shores.
For South Colby resident Dawn Bove, that something has been serving the poor and indigent in Nepal. After raising her two children and enduring a painful and demoralizing divorce, the hospice nurse realized a call that was buried deep within her.
“Go to Nepal,” it said most clearly. “You’re needed there.”
Why Nepal? In fact, where is Nepal?
As a child, Dawn knew the answers to both those questions. Nepal was her “myetee,” her home.
Her parents, Dr. and Mrs. Maynard Seaman, brought the family to the Himalayas in the late 1960s to serve as medical volunteers at a TEAM hospital in the Doti district of the country.
There, her father pioneered (or founded) a hospital 39 years ago, and years later, a second in Dadeldhura.
Together with his loving wife, he spent 26 years as a missionary doctor in Nepal.
Watching how they served the poor and sick left an impression on the child, but it was her own involvement in the work that anchored her need to go back.
That, and prem.
Prem, which means “love” in Nepali, was a 3-year-old orphan, a child of parents with Hansen’s Disease — better known as leprosy — who captured Dawn’s heart.
Dawn had watched her father try, but fail, to nurse Prem’s mother back to health and hold her while she died.
Leprosy patients and their children were ostracized in Nepal and Dawn’s parents knew that Prem and his older brother would be safer in India.
The 17-year-old Dawn volunteered to make the 100-mile long journey and did so, on foot, carrying Prem on her back over the mountains for the three days it took to deliver the child and his older brother to an orphanage.
Dawn returned to the United States as a young adult, earning a nursing degree from an offshoot of Wheaton College in Illinois.
Prem lived his life in the orphanage until the fateful day that he decided he no longer wanted to live with the shame of losing both parents to leprosy.
Drinking a bottle of DDT, the eighth grader prepared to die. Why he didn’t is just one of the many mysteries and miracles that brought the two together again to work for the poor and suffering in Nepal.
Not knowing where Prem was or how to reach him, Dawn returned in 2003 to the hospital in Dadeldhura to offer her skills.
She was greeted by Jayanti, a young nurse, whose training her parents had sponsored years earlier.
She quickly discovered that Jayanti had married Prem, now a minister serving the only home he ever knew.
Realizing they were brought together for a reason, Prem, Dawn and Jayanti — also a child of parents with Hansen’s Disease — founded an orphanage with a $500 donation and a monthly stipend for maintenance of $75.
In Nepal, Dawn was drawn to the widows, the crippled, the indigent women and others who suffered from physical ailments and a caste system that keeps them firmly entrenched in a life of poverty.
To serve them, she, her brother Dave Seaman, and a long list of supporters created a nonprofit organization called Dare to Care.
“I’m just really moved by the widows,” Dawn said. “They have so little and yet sacrifice so much. Life is so hard for women there. It takes two hours to cook a meal. No real jobs are available for them, aside from that of carrying heavy loads through the mountains. We don’t want to offer handouts, but ways to teach people skills, so they can not only feed their families but help them go to school.”
While based in Chicago, Dawn’s home for over 24 years, the nonprofit gathers support from around the world and specifically from individuals, many here in Port Orchard — another of Dawn’s adopted villages.
She came to South Kitsap partly because her daughter moved to Seattle to attend school and partly because old friends and South Colby residents Karen Miner and her mother, Jeannie Thiessen, live here.
The connection — Karen’s younger sister had been Dawn’s best friend at a high school in India, and Mrs. Thiessen’s husband, Dr. Arthur Thiessen, was a surgeon in India who performed many operations for Dawn’s father on the hands of leprosy patients.
Dare to Care operates by “seeking to assist the poor and needy, oppressed and downtrodden, and offer them hope and a future.”
To accomplish this, the programs the nonprofit has undertaken are innovative and far-reaching.
They include the orphanage, classes on a variety of topics — including basic health, natural healing and herbal medicine — and a new vocational training program.
To serve this aim of helping people create their own jobs, Dawn and a good friend and expert seamstress taught knitting, crocheting, felting and sewing to groups of 40 women or more.
With Dawn’s help, five of the Nepali women have created businesses for themselves as artisans.
Two are paraplegics, having broken their backs falling from trees in the mountains as they cut leaves to feed water buffaloes.
They would have been left to die, but now create beautiful beaded jewelry, which Dawn periodically brings back to sell in the United States.
In addition, Dave, a furnace and ventilation specialist in Chicago, has designed a prototype stove that can both cook food and heat a house.
Since heat is used to cook food in Nepal, but not heat homes, and nights are often frosty, Dave hopes to teach people how to build the stoves.
I met Dawn when she opened her home to allow the KNOW (Kitsap Network of Women) group and members of her church to hear her story and see the craft work of the Nepali women.
She showcased necklaces, bracelets, bags, hats and beautiful beaded tapestries.
What would it take to help?
“Not much,” Dawn said. “It costs a mere $500 to start an orphanage. A new church can be built for $2,000. And, while the government provided land for the leper community, seeds and tools are always welcome. ”
The woman who makes the felted hats (which require hours of soaking in boiling water to shrink down the crocheted material to fit a head) uses a plunger, which she moves up and down for two to three hours to agitate the water.
“She could really use a washing machine,” Dawn noted. “And we could use transformers for two sewing machines that were donated, as well as knitting needles, crochet hooks, zippers, zipper toggles — and donations. Always donations.”
While waiting to obtain a more permanent visa, Dawn is in the United States and back to work as a hospice nurse. She is available to speak to groups of all sizes and types, from Bible studies, to civic and networking.
Anyone, she says, who would love to hear stories from Nepal and learn of the lives of these people.
She can be reached at (630) 272-0512 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Colborn is a Port Orchard resident.