A Strong Commitment to Humanity
Some photos compliments of Penny Strong
"Be a doer, not a talker" is her motto. Penny Strong, a one-woman Peace Corps, walks the talk. Through a fateful coincidence, I had the pleasure to met this remarkable woman who impacts people's lives in the 2nd poorest nation in the world.
Penny’s U.S. home may be near mine, but her heart is in Nepal, a country half way across the globe, high in the Himalayas, bordering China and India. Her place reflects this love and is full of bright colorful rugs, and handmade tapestries. Statues of Kuan Yin, Buddha, and Ganesh seem to be everywhere. Having just returned from nine months in Asia myself, I felt I had been temporarily transported back to this exotic location!
Woody, still a heartfelt presence
One special altar held photos of Penny’s late husband, Woody. There was no question of the love and devotion they shared for each other.
On the opposite wall was a photo of the Dalai Lama giving Penny a prayer shawl in commemoration of her years of work for the Nepalese poor. My mouth was wide open, and I was nearly speechless. Not just anyone gets a private audience with the Dalai Lama, and to be awarded a silk prayer shawl personally by him is even more rare. I was so fortunate to happen upon this woman and her stunning life’s work. In only moment’s time, I realized there was something quite special going on here.
Penny would be making her 40th trip to Nepal this November, checking up on her foundation’s work, and delivering the hand knitted or crocheted hats that local women made for the children there. I wanted to get the scoop.
We made plans to get together the following Monday. Penny is quite fit, she climbs the ‘fourteeners’ – mountains over 14,000 feet – all over the country. She lives simply, eats simply, and her enthusiastic, authentic attitude is obvious. We walked to a neighborhood restaurant on this bright and sunny morning, and ordered breakfast.
As we relaxed, Penny shared her story of having met her husband, Woody, the love of her life, in 1974. They began a friendship based on humor and sharing their love of hiking in gorgeous places of the world. Woody had been traveling to Nepal originally to hike the mountain ranges there. A chance meeting with Sir Edmund Hilary changed his life forever. Hilary had been building schools for the children in remote regions of Nepal, and Woody saw how this man had been dedicating his energy and focus to help out a nation not as fortunate as his own. Woody caught this internal fire himself and the next year, he returned to Nepal with thousands of pounds of books for these schools.
Dalai Lama giving prayer shawl to Penny
In 1983, at the age of 71, Woody was diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer. He was told by competent oncologists in Denver that he had one year left to live!
If that was the case, he chose to live it out in Nepal.
His Nepalese 'family' convinced him to visit a renowned healer in a Buddhist monastery in the distant Everest region. Being a retired engineer, Woody was skeptical that a non-tangible method of healing would work, but he wanted to respect the wishes of his friends in Nepal, so he consented to go see him. For the next 5 days and nights, he underwent an intensive healing ceremony, and the Buddhist healer pronounced him healed.
A typical school in Nepal
At a routine cancer checkup back in Denver, his mystified doctor told him that the cancer was nowhere to be found! "I can't find the SOB!" were his doctor's exact words. Woody took this as a personal sign, and in gratitude to Nepal, doubled his efforts to the people there. "Nepal gave him his life back, so he dedicated his life to Nepal" Penny explained.
Named after both Penny and Woody, the Pennwood Charitable Foundation #108 has directed over 12 tons of books, medical supplies, medicines and equipment since its inception. Hospitals, schools, and health posts have been built. Pennwood promotes ways to help the blind, runs day care centers, vocational schools, and builds water purification systems for the communities in this far away land. Woody and Penny personally adopted almost a dozen children and paid their way to school. Over the years they have visited Nepal, they watched them mature into young adults. Penny has even 'bought' young female children back from indentured slavery, returning them to their homes in the mountains. The foundation then provides a piglet or goat to the family which they can raise and sell for the same price they received for marketing their daughter to a stranger.
Pennwood Foundation replacement School
Woody died in January of 2000, but
Penny continues their passionate work. Her current focus is on the
lepers there, and the mentally disabled. "No one wants to help them"
Penny says. "I don't know why not. They are people too."
They donate weeks or longer giving care to or performing operations on people who never before had medical attention. She, and those who volunteer with her, are changing lives forever, for the better.
"Be a doer, not a talker" is the motto Woody and Penny had in common for decades, and she is a living example of what can be achieved for humanity when compassion, conviction and focus unite.
To read more interviews with Expats, Early Retirees and Interesting Characters, click here
About the Authors
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance, medical tourism and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their award winning website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible available on their website bookstore or on Amazon.com.
Retire Early Lifestyle appeals to a different kind of person – the person who prizes their independence, values their time, and who doesn’t want to mindlessly follow the crowd.