Helping Hands Make A Difference

Fun For Everyone This Summer
May 21, 2012
Juried Art Exhibition at MSC Forsyth Center Galleries
May 21, 2012

An organic farmer stands in his field next to a pesticide-laden field.Local Doctor's Mission Changes Hearts and Lives

Lani Douglas Ackerman, M.D., associate professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center and practicing family physician at Scott &White Clinic, is more than just a doctor. She literally HELPS others, having founded the nonprofit organization Health Environmental Learning Program with her husband Tim, an ecologist. This grassroots, faith-based nonprofit helps the people of Nepal learn to develop their communities through education about using their natural resources to promote health and economic freedom.

Dr. Ackerman grew up knowing that she wanted to help people and share her faith in Christ. The child of university professors (her father has a PhD from A&M), she went to medical school with the intention of obtaining a medical degree so she could use it to help people around the world.

Texas A&M’s College of Medicine Class of ’85, Ackerman went on to complete family medicine residency and attended seminary to learn about different cultures and how to spread the love of Christ among them. With this experience, she and her husband departed in 1990 on initially a short-term mission trip, soon returning for two years of service as volunteers in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. They spent their time there providing medical care to the locals, and teaching and training doctors and young leaders.

After returning to the U.S. and working for five years in their respective fields with a focus on international work and development, in 1997 the couple had the opportunity again to return to the Himalayas as volunteers, but to the country of Nepal.  

An organic farmer stands in his field next to a pesticide-laden field.Local Doctor’s Mission Changes Hearts and Lives

Lani Douglas Ackerman, M.D., associate professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center and practicing family physician at Scott &White Clinic, is more than just a doctor. She literally HELPS others, having founded the nonprofit organization Health Environmental Learning Program with her husband Tim, an ecologist. This grassroots, faith-based nonprofit helps the people of Nepal learn to develop their communities through education about using their natural resources to promote health and economic freedom.

Dr. Ackerman grew up knowing that she wanted to help people and share her faith in Christ. The child of university professors (her father has a PhD from A&M), she went to medical school with the intention of obtaining a medical degree so she could use it to help people around the world.

Texas A&M’s College of Medicine Class of ’85, Ackerman went on to complete family medicine residency and attended seminary to learn about different cultures and how to spread the love of Christ among them. With this experience, she and her husband departed in 1990 on initially a short-term mission trip, soon returning for two years of service as volunteers in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. They spent their time there providing medical care to the locals, and teaching and training doctors and young leaders.

After returning to the U.S. and working for five years in their respective fields with a focus on international work and development, in 1997 the couple had the opportunity again to return to the Himalayas as volunteers, but to the country of Nepal.  

After struggling with language school and adjustments to a new culture for themselves and their three children, ages 1, 3 and 5, the couple moved to a remote village where they lived in a mud hut with few modern amenities. Nepal was still a Hindu monarchy and in the midst of a civil war between the army and Maoist Communist rebels. Though Lani was well traveled and had lived in several developing countries, she was not prepared for the extent of poverty, malnutrition, lack of sanitation and sewage, and poor health care that was a part of everyday life in rural Nepal.

She says her heart was broken for the people. She and her husband wanted to develop a way where they would not be “fixing” the scope of the problems but would instead teach the people of Nepal how to help themselves in a sustainable, grass-roots approach. In response to their vision and experiences, Health Environmental Learning Program (HELP), a non-profit dedicated to Christian community development in the Himalayas, was formed in 1999. Over the course of the six years they lived in Nepal, the Ackermans taught the local leaders how to teach their own people through literacy, animal husbandry, veterinary care, health and sanitation, agriculture, an orphanage, and income generation to utilize their natural resources in a way that would be sustainable over the long-term.

For Lani, the hardest part about starting the program was completely turning it over to the locals and entrusting them with the task of sustaining it, particularly the health department and the orphanage, Jyoti Niwas, which means  “House of Light.” Though she knew it was a necessary step if she really wanted to make a sustainable difference, she had a founder’s attachment to the organization and a physician’s need for control. Having fostered it from the ground up, it was time to let go and give over the majority of the reins to the locals. 

Lani and Tim continue to keep strict financial accountability, provide updated training, weekly email contact – when there is electricity – and once or twice annual visits, but day-to-day administration of programs involving thousands of villagers in literacy, health, veterinary, agriculture and children ministry work are left to the 16 full-time Nepali staff and hundreds of local volunteers through a Nepali Non-governmental organization (NGO). 

A Nepalese woman smiles for the camera next to a smokeless stove that was built to prevent sickness from smoke inhalation.Lani’s future hope is “one day, for them to be completely self-sufficient, not needing a penny from the U.S. or a minute of my time.” In her mind, that would be the true success: communities that can mobilize and HELP themselves.

What is HELP?

HELP is a grassroots movement dependent upon and empowering the local communities within Nepal and the Himalayas. It has four branches that are used to make a difference and help the people of Nepal: agriculture, animal husbandry, literacy and health. Though Dr. Lani and Tim Ackerman started it out of a desire to serve Christ and assist the people of Nepal, they have turned authority over to locals who now fully staff HELP. The unique aspect of this program is there are no paid U.S. staff, and instead, the Nepalese learn from each other how to teach their neighbors to love God first, and then love their neighbor as themselves, by teaching the skills they learn through HELP programs. To learn more about HELP or to donate, visit www.missionforhelp.org or email admin@missionforhelp.org

A Personal Account of Success

Binoj and his wife have two daughters and one son. He has a small house but lives on his landowner’s land as a caretaker. Even though he cultivated rice, vegetables, fruit trees, and kept livestock, Binoj still could barely feed his family.

About three years ago Binoj joined a farmer’s group started by HELP’s agriculture outreach workers. He soon attended the Agricultural and Animal Husbandry trainings.   Today, he is cultivating hybrid rice and corn in his irrigated field. He is also using an herbal pesticide (organic) and compost and produces enough abundance to sell the excess rice and corn at the market.

He says, “I am only applying manure tea and compost in all my crops and vegetables. I don’t need to use chemical fertilizer and pesticide. I use my sprayer for the application of manure tea. I don’t need to purchase vegetables anymore. My vegetable field is always green. 

“I built improved goat shed for goats. Fourteen goat kids died in one time before I took goat training. Now, I have 13 goats and one cow and all are healthy. There is no problem of infertility. I am providing internal parasite medicine regularly in six months interval. I am making mineral block and regularly providing to my livestock.”

Just barely literate, Binoj is a good example of a farmer who applied modern technology using sustainable agriculture taught by HELP agriculturalists in the field. He is sending his children to school with the income from his farm. He and his family also fellowship regularly in a local church.