As we adjust to the new year and think about our goals for 2020, it’s also a good time for us to reflect on our blessings and just how fortunate we are. Terry Mikeska, a local philanthropist and volunteer, knows how true that statement is, having recently come back from his 61st mission trip to Nepal.
Mikeska, along with his sister, Rebekah Ocker went to Nepal in November of 2019. Having been a nurse and in the health industry for many years, Ocker had expressed her interest in joining her brother on his next trip to Nepal. This information ended up being shared with the CEO of HMS, the company shenow works for in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. In response, the president and CEO, Bill Lucia, generously surprised them by personally funding the entire two health mission portions of the trip.
Together, they spent eight days in the eastern side of Nepal where they completed six big projects, working diligently to fulfil important needs every single day. From delivering rice pots and much needed supplies, to sharing water purification systems and visiting the orphanages where they provided clothing, personal care products and knitted items, Mikeska and Ocker were driven to help as many people as possible in the poverty stricken and more remote areas of the country.
Yet, even as they helped hundreds of children and families in need, Ocker was brought to tears when she saw that it still wasn’t enough to help everyone. Many children standing in tattered clothing, and of poor health, happily waited for supplies to be delivered off a truck but did not end up receiving anything.
Ocker shares, “It was very difficult to handle at times, and overwhelming, to see the needs of the children in these poor villages.”
After a devastating earthquake in 2015, Nepal was left in shambles, and is still a long way from a full recovery. Many people died during the natural disaster, and children and elderly were left without parents or caregivers. Mikeska has watched kids grow up in the orphanages that he visits and notes that these orphanages are so full that food is a big need for these children, along with more space. Another critical need is restrooms and kitchens.
He plans to go back to Nepal later this year and would really like to tackle some of these bigger projects, along with delivering more supplies and hats. One of the first things he delivered on his initial mission trip was a box of knitted hats and baseball caps that had been donated by volunteers. Mikeska says that everyone who received one was overjoyed and grateful for their gift, and he thinks it is time to have another cap drive.
“Each time I go on these trips, I see my friends with their knitted hats and caps, and they have taken such care of them; just cherishing what they have,” says Mikeska.
As far as the bigger projects are concerned, he says a U.S. dollar goes a very long way in Nepal. Plus, the citizens are extremely willing and happy to volunteer their time and labor so that all donations can be put towards supplies. As an example, in 2017, he was able to have a school built in Nepal for less than $10,000, due to a generous donation from a San Angelo community member and philanthropist.
“I try to stretch every dollar, and rarely incur any expenses, because I want all donations to go towards helping the people of Nepal,” Mikeska explains.
To save money, he uses sky miles for his mission trips, and packs very lightly to allow more room for supplies in his luggage. He also stays with his friends in the villages and enlists their negotiation skills to ensure the best prices are achieved for each project.
Looking back to 2012, Mikeska was first introduced to the people of Nepal when he was contacted by a random stranger on Facebook and decided to respond back. After a year of chatting back and forth, he became friends with this stranger and his brother, Sujan and Rajan Kaffle. It was at that time that a lifelong friendship was established, and he ended up helping them attend college to earn their degrees.
Then in 2015, when the earthquake hit, he didn’t hear from them for several days. He became very worried. Finally, after over a week, he received a call letting him know they were safe, but the situation was not good. People had spent days under tarps, in rainy conditions with little food.
Mikeska knew he had to help however he could and asked his friends, Rajan and Sujan, to drive around and take pictures of the damage in the area. In looking at the pictures they collected, he noticed that most people were simply in need of rice pots to boil water and cook their food. Most of the pictures showed people digging in the trash looking for cans or anything they could use for this purpose.
That is when he knew how he could help, and his first mission trip plans were established. He named his project, Fill the Rice Pot. Mikeska says he never intended to get the public attention that he received after sharing his plans to travel to Nepal and lend his help. However, he ended up with $17,000 in donations for his first trip, along with several knitted hats and caps that were given by volunteers.
“I am humbled by all the people that hear my story and want to help every year. I couldn’t do this without them,” he shares.
(Visit www.terrymikeskafoundation.org to see hundreds of photos and videos of the most recent 2019 mission.