The MISSION of the TARA FOUNDATION USA is to improve the lives of people living in the Himalaya and help them to preserve their traditional culture.
In 2007 TARA FOUNDATION USA was formed by Leeli Bonney to enable fundraising for a variety of projects, mainly in the Khumbu and Solukhumbu regions of eastern Nepal. Village committees and schools request help from the Foundation and the local Associate Directors, Chhongba Sherpa and Khari Tulku Tenzin Yonten, guide the Board in the selection of projects. The Nepali Directors organize and supervise the work which is done by the villagers, whenever possible.
What originally began in 1999 as a trip to Nepal to hike in a new part of the world evolved quickly for Leeli into a commitment to work to improve the lives of people living in the Himalaya and to help to preserve their traditional culture. The initial project that brought 23 fleece jackets to children that first year continued as the “Himalayan Children’s Project,” and more than 3,000 jackets have gone from school children here to school children there, “sharing the warmth.”
Nepal is a small country about the size of Wisconsin with a population of 27 million people. It is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. Nepal is landlocked, bounded by Tibet to the north and India to the south. The enormous peaks of the Himalayan Mountains form the border with Tibet. This region is drier and colder than the south, limiting the farmers’ crops to staple foods: potatoes, barley and wheat.
Tara Foundation focuses on helping in the northern part of the Sagamatha region of eastern Nepal. There are no roads, so everyone and everything still must travel on foot most of the time. The country is 80% Hindu, but in this mountainous region Buddhism is prevalent and evident in the villages as trekkers and climbers pass through.
TARA Foundation USA Board of Directors
There are at least 8 reasons that Leeli has traveled to Nepal over 19 times since 1999. The first three are her love of travel and hiking, combined with the luring lyrics of “Katmandu,” the 70’s hit by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. Two more are the astonishing beauty of the Himalayas and the people who live there.
The sixth reason came in March 2004 when Leeli met Chhongba Sherpa. He became her trekking guide, facilitator of projects, and good friend. He understood her desire to help in Nepal before she did. To this day he identifies the needs of people in small villages of SoluKhumbu and skillfully manages the resulting projects to completion.
In December 2004 Chhongba and Leeli brought red jackets to Khari Gonpa, a Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in Thamo. These jackets for the nuns there led to the seventh reason she keeps going back: Khari Rinpoche, the head of Khari Gonpa. In November 2005 Khari Rinpoche came to meet Leeli in Kathmandu to thank her for the jackets. Since then, he and Leeli have become close friends. Part of her mission is to provide for the nuns’ welfare, based on requests by Rinpoche.
The eighth reason Leeli returns regularly to Nepal is her desire to introduce others to this magnificent country and its people. Annually she takes a small group on a trekking adventure led by Chhongba, usually with a stop at Khari Gonpa.
At home Leeli enjoys volunteering locally and spending time with her husband, Jim, their 3 children and their spouses, and 8 amazing grandchildren.
Denise first knew Leeli as a casual acquaintance through their children at Middlebury College. A perchance meeting on a hike up Camel’s Hump (VT) in 2002 ignited a conversation about Leeli beginning the Himalayan Children’s Project. In 2008 Denise had the opportunity to travel to Nepal with Leeli for the Tara Foundation USA and also to travel to Malawi, Africa with World Camp for Kids. These two trips in 2008 led Denise to the realization that differences could be made in people’s lives one person/one project at a time. Since then Denise has had the opportunity to travel back to Nepal yearly with Leeli and the Tara Foundation USA checking on the projects funded by the Foundation and meeting many wonderful people of Nepal.
Denise and her husband, Fred, are the owners of Peak Performance Ski Shop in Killington, Vermont. She is a State of Vermont Emergency Medical Technician and Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (WEMT). Denise is the proud mother of sons Fred, David and Scott, daughter-in-laws Melissa and Grace and proud grand mother of Frederick and Ava Rose. She is known as “Ama D” to the grandkids, short for Ama Dablam, her favorite mountain in Nepal. In her spare time Denise enjoys skiing, hiking, kayaking, rock climbing and spending time with her family.
Jane and Leeli met at Boston University in the late 60’s and have remained friends ever since. Over the years, interest in contemplative practice drew her to Tibetan teachings and culture. Not long after returning from a memorable pilgrimage to Tibet, she met up with Leeli, who told her of her own remarkable meeting in Nepal with Kari Rinpoche and his nuns. When Tara Foundation came into being, Jane was eager to join in.
A teacher for much of her life, Jane has taught middle, high school and college English in the Boston area and ESL to young adults from around the world. At Haley House in Boston, she assisted with the start-up of a bakery-training program for at risk teens and adults. While her two children, Matthew and Ann, were growing up, she taught flute and coached chamber music. Jane has practiced Tai Chi and qigong for 20 years and teaches at the Council on Aging in Lincoln, Massachusetts, with Tree of Life Tai Chi in Watertown MA, and in Boston area hospitals. She is a Meditation Teacher with Natural Dharma Fellowship and an NDF board member. Jane lives with her husband, Pip, in Lincoln, MA, with whom she enjoys hiking, sailing, and music.
Carolyn Frye, Norwich, VT
Carolyn has been a teacher, a professional weaver and currently is an event planner for non-profit service organizations. Traveling adventures have always opened doors to new cultures, new ideas, new relationships and new commitments. Two extraordinary trekking opportunities in Nepal with Leeli Bonney and Chhongba Sherpa in 2011 and 2012 were the inspiration for becoming involved with the Tara Foundation in order to support the work to provide educational opportunities and the necessary resources for developing critical infrastructure in the Solu-Khumbu region of Nepal.
For many years Carolyn and husband, Milton, and daughter, Krysta, have had Dartmouth College international students from countries including Nepal, Afghanistan, Mexico, Haiti, Kenya, Namibia, Uganda, Ghana, Swaziland, South Africa, Albania, and Pakistan living in their home. One of these students, born in poverty in Nepal, had the course of his life change when a generous sponsor in Kathmandu gave him support for early education. There is no doubt that was a stepping-stone to his graduating with a Masters degree from Dartmouth College; an example of the power of education and how we, the TARA Foundation USA, can make a difference in the lives of children and families in Nepal.
Tracy Beers is a fun-loving everyday adventurer. In her free time, Tracy enjoys living an active lifestyle through mountain biking, road biking, white water kayaking, snowboarding and skiing. She is a hard-working ski industry professional with a love of the outdoors and travel. It is through her career in Killington that she met Denise Coriell and ultimately, Leeli Bonney. It is her curiosity of other cultures and desire to help those in need that has led her to service with the TARA Foundation USA.
Tinka McArdle, Lebanon, NH
Tinka became aware of the importance of intercultural understanding when, as a high school student, she was an exchange student with The Experiment in International Living in Eisenstadt, Austria.
Throughout her life, Tinka has worn many hats. After completing college at The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill with a degree in English and Art, she became Assistant Director of Public Relations at North Carolina National Bank, now Nations Bank. She worked for The Toledo Museum of Art as Director of Public Relations, and later Sunshine Children’s Home as Director of Public Relations. In 2002, she expanded her studies of peace and cultural understanding when she received a Master of Arts degree in International and Intercultural Services from World Learning in Brattleboro, Vermont. Recently Tinka has worked as a pastoral counselor at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, NH.
Tinka began her “Pilgrimage for Peace and Intercultural Understanding” in the spring of 2015, walking Le Chemin de Saint Jacques from Le Puy-en-Velay to Conques, France. In the spring of 2016, she walked the Camino Portugues, or Medieval Pilgrimage, from Porto, Portugal to Santiago de Compostelle, Spain.
As a photographer most of her life, Tinka expresses her joy in the natural world and the diversity of its people and places through photographs. Through her commitment to the Tara Foundation, she actively honors and supports the people, culture and natural resources of Himalayan countries.
Chhongba Sherpa, Kathmandu, Nepal
Chhongba Sherpa met Leeli Bonney in March of 2004 and became her trekking guide, facilitator of projects and good friend. He is from the village of Nunthala in Taksindu-4 in the Solukhumbu region of Nepal. Chhongba’s mission in life is to identify the needs of people in small villages of the region he is from and to help the people there to improve their lives. He has facilitated and managed to completion many of the projects that the TARA Foundation USA has funded.
He has spent over 3-decades in trekking and expedition, assuming many different positions with various trekking agencies. He began working for Adventure Consultants in 1992 as Base Camp Chef on Everest and has made numerous trips for Everest expeditions and other peaks above 8,000m. He jointly founded the Nature Adventure Trekking and Expedition agency in 2001. He is instrumental in implementing the vocational programs at Khumbu Climbing School in Phortse.
Chhongba’s greatest joy is introducing people to the country and people that he deeply loves.
Khari Rinpoche and Leeli Bonney have been close friends since they met in Kathmandu in 2005. Rinpoche is the Lama of Khari Ganden Tenphil Ling Monastery, also known as Khari Gonpa, in Thamo, a small village in the Everest region. In 2003 His Holiness the Dalai Lama requested Rinpoche to renovate the existing prayer hall. With the blessings and guidance of His Holiness, Rinpoche did the architectural and other design work, hired the best workers he could find, and oversaw the work until its completion in November 2014. He was greatly supported by Geshe Tenzin Dhargyal and the Khari nuns, as well as many others. “The purpose of the construction is to make a peaceful home for the many Tibetan refugees and local people, to share and preserve the Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan culture, and to practice the Buddha’s teaching which is to develop kindness and compassion in every individual’s daily life and to live a meaningful life.”
Rinpoche is dedicated to teaching his nuns and providing for their welfare. When he has time, he likes to travel and visit friends in India, Australia, and the USA.
Where did the name Tara foundation come from?
Tara is a beloved Tibetan diety. She is compassionate, knowing, and ready to take action to protect or help beings who call/pray to her. She is like a mother to those who believe in her. She “eases the travails of worldly life,” and she can also be playful. It is her dedication to caring for and helping others that inspired Leeli to call the foundation by her name and that is what the mission of the Tara Foundation is in many ways. Everyone involved in the foundation are Tara.