The evening before Valentine’s Day, several women from Silver Spring (Md.) Christian Reformed Church gathered for drinks, snacks, and shopping. They circled tables filled with sparkly necklaces and bracelets, held nifty bags, and slipped on hand-knit gloves.
But this wasn’t just any home-based party. This night out was held to support Higher Ground, an organization that aims to end human trafficking and restore the lives of the people of Nepal.
Bimala Pokharel, a graduate of Calvin College, founded Higher Ground. Although raised in a Hindu culture, she became a Christian while attending Calvin under the mentorship of Susan Byker, wife of then-president Gaylen Byker. Their daughter Gayle is a member of Silver Spring CRC and helped organize the jewelry party.
“A lot of people come to the [U.S.] and don’t return [to their own country],” explained Byker. “But Bimala and her husband have a heart for Nepal.”
While her husband went into ministry, Pokharel developed Higher Ground, starting with a bakery in Kathmandu in 2007. While selling pastries, coffee, and meals, the bakery provides on-the-job training for people who might otherwise become sex workers.
In 2008, the crafting component began. Necklaces, earring, bags, aprons, and handmade gifts are sold at parties like the one the Silver Spring women attended. With the funds from the bakery and crafts, Pokharel set up a community development operation to to support the people of Nepal.
Byker explained that Pokharel wants to provide another option for the people of Nepal and tries to get to families before they go into sex trafficking. “Sometimes she’ll go to nightclubs and tell women, ‘I have something better for you.’”
Pokharel was recognized by the United Nations in 2015 for giving sustainable jobs to women. “She is a Mother Teresa type of person,” said Byker.
The women’s purchases that evening were wrapped in white tissue paper and slipped into brown paper bags including cards with more information on Higher Ground. As they left with their purchases, they knew they were carrying more than just jewelry.