Friends of Nepal provides support out of Jamestown, RI, home –

JAMESTOWN – About two miles north of Beavertail State Park, tucked away on a quiet residential road, is an organization called Friends of Nepal. It’s an unusual enough name in context to stop scrolling Google Maps and take a closer look; Jamestown not being known as an epicenter of Nepalese culture, one might wonder what exactly who the friends of this small, landlocked south Asian country in the heart of the Himalayas are, and what they are doing so far away from Asia and so close to sea level.
As it turns out, they are mostly retired Peace Corps volunteers, and they do a lot.
The organization, whose nationwide membership is culled from the ranks of the 3,341 individuals who have traveled to Nepal with the Peace Corps since 1962 but has been coordinated out of Rhode Island for 21 years, donates tens of thousands of dollars to grassroots development projects in Nepal every year.
Aaron Rome served in Nepal from 1991 to 1993 as a water supply engineer and then volunteered as the president of Friends of Nepal from 2002-2017. On his website, Rome, who lives in Saunderstown, calls his time with the Peace Corps “the source of some of his most meaningful experiences.” He also says the experience in Nepal “enabled him to understand, with first-hand knowledge, the need of under-served and marginalized communities.”
Rome explained to The Daily News the reason Friends of Nepal has a connection to Rhode Island is that he served as the organization’s president for 15 years from 2002-2017 and ran it out of his house. He passed the torch on to fellow Rhode Islander Dan Donaghue when he was ready to move on, moving the nerve center of the Friends of Nepal’s quietly effective operation into Newport County.
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Now it is Donaghue, who served in Nepal from 1974 -1977 as a livestock volunteer at a veterinary hospital, who from his home in Jamestown marshals the nationwide network of former Nepal Peace Corps Volunteers, former Peace Corps Nepal staff, and academics to select, fund and follow up on development projects every year. Donaghue and his wife moved to Jamestown in 1999 as he was preparing for a stint as the Peace Corps Country Director in Tajikistan, which was in a state of nearly total devastation in the wake of a five-year civil war.
“I was willing to go everywhere – I had never been anywhere,” said Donaghue, reminiscing on his decision at the age of 22 to join the Peace Corps. “And I got really lucky; Nepal is a really wonderful country…no war, not a lot of discrimination, four of the major religions are there – Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity – and everyone gets along in a very interesting and multi-cultured society.”
Since its founding in 1986, Friends of Nepal has successfully funded a wide array of grassroots projects including youth and adult literacy programs for girls and mothers, sustainable job creation programs such as training women to install solar panels, and most recently in 2022 sustainability-oriented projects focused on things like clean drinking water supply and macadamia nut farming.
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While the organization normally distributes small grants in the neighborhood of $5,000 per project, in the wake of the horrific 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal in 2015, Friends of Nepal’s members and their personal networks raised and donated over $100,000 for Nepalese hospitals and communities.
Jamestown may not have much of a Nepalese flavor to it, but that does not hold true for all of Rhode Island. Rome began helping newly arrived refugees from Nepal in 2009, when eight individuals from two families arrived in Providence. Within three years he watched Rhode Island’s community grow to over 200 strong, and by 2015 there were over 300 people of Nepalese descent living in the Providence area.
Donaghue, who went on to a 25-year career in refugee assistance and poverty alleviation programming with the U.S. State Department and Save the Children and now speaks Nepali, Hindi and Urdu, has also worked extensively with Rhode Island’s Nepalese community, noting in his bio on the Friends of Nepal website that in addition to working on development projects and with refugees throughout Asia, he has “spent quite a bit of time with Bhutan-Nepali refugees here where I live, in Rhode Island.”
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He has also worked with immigrants and refugees in Newport County, teaching citizenship classes for Newporters with Guatemalan, Salvadoran and other cultural heritage through the Newport Community School’s Aquidneck Island Adult Learning Center program at Thompson Middle School.
Whether he is helping Newporters attain the citizenship they have dreamed of since moving to Newport as children, fundraising for early-age literacy programs in the slums of Kathmandu, or organizing the Friends of Nepal’s efforts to install a tri-lingual Nepali, Tibetan, and English library and computer classroom for school-age nuns in the Himalayas, Donaghue and the Friends of Nepal are a great example of a small entity with an outsize impact on the world around it – very much in keeping with the history and culture of Rhode Island.


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