Ten years after a chance visit to Nepal exposed the primitive living conditions of many children in the country, a local woman has helped improve the lives of 1,800 children through her nonprofit organization.

Trish Ginnelly was traveling across Europe when a friend suggested she visit Nepal. While there, Ginnelly saw numerous children begging in the streets and decided she wanted to help.

"Our first group was comprised of four children and we started by helping with cleaning clothing and giving a stipend to help buy supplies," Ginnelly said.

After returning to Darien, Ginnelly told residents about her experience in Nepal, and was able to raise enough money to open a shelter.

"Nepal is the poorest country in southwestern Asia, and because of a lack of education many families don't realize how important education is," she said.

Ginnelly's nonprofit, SATHI Nepal, focuses on education, health care and income opportunities in an effort to break the cycle of poverty that affects many families in the region.

"What often happens is that children will be on the streets and they will receive love and care from tourists, and then they aren't interested in returning to their home," Ginnelly said. "Tourists provide food and drink, and without realizing it, they enable the children to live on the streets."

In order to keep more children with their families, SATHI Nepal has been working with families to help the parents accept more responsibility for their children. Many of the children who end up on the streets of major cities in Nepal tend to come from more rural villages, Ginnelly said.

As part of the education process, SATHI Nepal assigns a case worker to each child depending on whether the child lives in an urban or rural area. The case worker works with the child and family to make sure the child is attending school as well as motivating the parents to stay involved. Over the years, Ginnelly said one of the greatest challenges for the non-profit is finding ways to keep the parents involved in the child's education.

While a child is working with SATHI Nepal, the child receives health care, casual and holiday clothing, and there are various clubs to participate in.

"We have a community center at our office and we work with a consortium to provide different services," Ginnelly said.

Since it's inception in 2001, SATHI Nepal has sponsored 1,800 children, Ginnelly said. Child labor presents a challenge to SATHI Nepal, so children who are being sponsored through the organization have the opportunity to receive training in a professional field such as hotel management, Ginnelly said.

SATHI Nepal also provides grants for nursery schools to help them create a better educational environment.

Even as the organization continues to sponsor more children, Ginnelly said she is happy with the size of the organization and wants to make sure SATHI Nepal continues to work on a personal level.

"Many people in Darien who are supporters have watched the kids grow and receive more training. We would like to continue the grassroots work because I think that has been the key to success," Ginnelly said.

Currently, SATHI Nepal employes 13 full-time staff members. However, the organization hires liasons in the rural villages to help work with children, Ginnelly said.

"We recently opened a medical hostel where people can get treatment after they are discharged from the hospital," she said. "It's right in front of the government hospital and it can take up to two days to reach some of the villages so people can stay in the hostel and recover."

Whenever Ginnelly and her staff head to one of the local villages they have to use a variety of transportation. All of their supplies for the town have to be packed in backpacks in advance and it can take days to reach some of the more remote areas.

"We'll travel as far as we can on the roads but then we might have to leave them and pack everything onto mules and walk in the rest of the way," Ginnelly said. "Usually there isn't electricity and we sleep on straw mats."

Ginnelly spends 10 months of the year in Nepal before she returns to Darien to sell jewelry to help cover the cost of providing services to children in Nepal.

To sponsor a child,send a donation to SATHI Nepal, 207 B South Trail, Stratford, CT 06614.