During his 35 years in the US Diplomatic Service, Scott DeLisi served in four Asian capitals and three African ones. But magical, mountainous Nepal has always occupied a special place in his heart. In fact, the day he retired six years ago, the former ambassador decided to devote all his energy to Engage Nepal, a nonprofit organization that helps fight poverty in one of the world’s poorest countries.
That mission has taken on a new urgency in light of the pandemic, which has decimated Nepal’s tourism industry—adding to the suffering Nepalese have endured since an April 2015 earthquake killed more than 9,000 people and leveled some 600,000 structures throughout the country.
“As we address the COVID pandemic in Nepal, we need to find every way we can to raise funds,” said DeLisi, who served as US ambassador in Kathmandu from April 2010 to June 2012. “People are tired. This has been going on awhile now, and donor fatigue has set in.”
According to official government statistics, COVID-19 has infected more than 742,000 of Nepal’s 29 million people and killed nearly 10,500. But DeLisi says the real number of infections and deaths is considerably higher.
“During their second wave, it was the equivalent of our worst days in the United States,” DeLisi told us. “Only 10% of the population is vaccinated, and we know there’s going to be a third wave. We’re already seeing reports of an increase in pediatric cases.”
Determined to do something about it, Engage Nepal has organized a two-day exhibit at Reston Art Gallery & Studios in Reston, Va. The event, set for Sept. 1-2, from 12:00 to 7:00 p.m. each day, includes a reception on Sept. 1 at 5:00 p.m. It features 50 paintings by Nepalese and Ugandan artists ranging in price from $75 to $1,000.
DeLisi, whose last posting as ambassador was in Uganda, from 2012 to 2015, said that after he retired and agreed to head Engage Nepal, “a number of young artists in Uganda that I had come to know fairly well reached out to me and said ‘we’d like to help.’ So they donated their art.”
Proceeds from sale will go directly to Engage Nepal’s COVID-19 Crisis Relief Fund, in order to set up a pediatric hospital intensive-care unit in Thimi, an ancient city in the Kathmandu Valley. The 12-bed facility will cost between $150,000 and $200,000; Engage Nepal has committed itself to raising $60,000 of that total. It’s also seeking grants from large private foundations.
“If we’re able to raise even $10,000 or $15,000 from this art sale, I’d be thrilled,” said DeLisi, adding that several donors have sustained Engage Nepal over the years—especially the Heinz Family Foundation. “We’re very careful in the partners we choose. We expect them to share our commitment to accountability and transparency, and this hospital has been a model during the pandemic.”
Besides Nepal and Uganda, DeLisi was also US ambassador to Eritrea, and he was also posted to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Madagascar and Botswana. During his time in Nepal, DeLisi befriended a puppy—an experience that resulted in a children’s book, “The Ambassador’s Dog.”
DeLisi said that as of 2018, Nepal had only 93 intensive-care pediatric beds to serve nine million kids under 14 years of age throughout the Iowa-sized country.
“Right now, there’s a desperate need. People have lost jobs and the tourism industry has collapsed,” he said. “So many young Nepalis were sending back remittances from abroad, but that’s dried up significantly because of COVID. They need to create livelihoods and help keep girls in school, so they don’t get sucked into trafficking.”
Added Pat Macintyre, director of Reston Art Gallery & Studios: “All artists are world artists, and we are honored to host this event and help raise awareness of this global concern. We hope that our community of Reston and beyond will enjoy Engage Nepal’s art show and support the work of this important organization.”
The event is a precursor to the month-long “Illuminations” show by Rosemarie Forsythe, who was instrumental in bringing Engage Nepal to Reston.
“I learned about Engage Nepal through a former Foreign Service colleague who is on the board of directors,” explained Forsythe, who spent more than a decade as a Foreign Service officer in the 1980s and 1990s. “I like to think that this event is my way of showing appreciation for the time I enjoyed traveling, hiking and mountain-climbing in Nepal.”
The glass-front lakeside entrance of Reston Art Gallery & Studios is located at 11400 Washington Plaza West, Reston, VA 20910. For GPS directions and parking, search “Lake Anne Plaza.” For more information, contact the gallery directly, or follow @RAGSReston on Facebook and @RestonArtGallery on Instagram.