Nepal. Photo by Adam Sittler.

Providing opportunities for girls in developing regions of the world boosts communities out of poverty. This is the philosophy driving Denver-based non-profit Edge of Seven’s work abroad. In collaboration with local organizations, Edge of Seven connects community projects with volunteers and funds to provide infrastructure that empowers girls. Founder and Board Member Erin Guttenplan shares her motivations and direction.

Why did you start Edge of Seven?

Erin Guttenplan in Nepal. Photo by Sarah Andrews.

I worked in the educational travel space for almost a decade helping high school teachers and their students organize tours around the world. I was hearing a lot of interest in doing service trips that are focused on volunteering versus touring I but knew that I could never start a non-profit without going abroad and actually doing some more of my own research. I went to Nepal, India, Thailand and Cambodia and met with around 20 different local organizations and spent time with active volunteers. I felt like what was missing from this space was an organization that connects volunteers to projects in a way that really benefits both sides. Our projects are based on local needs in communities that want this type of support. And our volunteers can’t help but come home changed, and become the biggest advocates for women’s empowerment in developing countries.

Why the mission to empower girls?

I was in Nepal about a year ago, and my host sister would get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and go sell the vegetables she farmed the day before. She would then come home, cook for her family, go to school for a few hours, come home, farm. When it got dark she would cook for her entire family again and start her homework at 10:00 p.m. And she did this because she believed so firmly in her own education and because she wants to come back and become a social worker when she’s finished. Investing in women is investing in community development because, if educated, these women want to come back home and help the communities that they grew up in.

How do you choose your local partner organizations?

Our partners have to be completely entrenched in the communities to identify the community need. Karma Sherpa and his organization, The Small World, have been working in Nepal for over a decade and have had tremendous success before we partnered with them. It’s a unique gift to be able to work with Westerners and Nepalese at the project site and get everyone excited and feeling like one community and team working well together and he has that gift. We’re always on the lookout for other partners in other countries because there is need throughout the developing world and we’d love to expand to other countries and continents.

A school in Phuleli, Nepal built using the earthbag construction method. Photo by Sarah Andrews.

What kind of projects do you work on?

Typically infrastructure projects that have a mission of empowering girls. We completed a hostel for forty girls to attend higher secondary school. Up until recently there was only one higher secondary school in the entire Everest region of Nepal, which is 34 villages. Some girls had to walk five days to get to the school and they had to stay somewhere on-site, which is cost-prohibitive for most families. So girls are forced to drop out if they’re not local. We interviewed candidates from all around the Everest region and once they were selected to be in the dorm we provide them with room, board and tuition for the two years of higher secondary school.

Anything new on the horizon?

We’re trying a fund-raising trek this fall. Trekkers will get to visit a few of our past projects and stay in those communities in addition to getting to do some more traditional trekking in the Everest region of Nepal. People will pay their way over and also raise $1,000 to go towards our next project. It’s a way for people to go to Nepal and see a bit more but still contribute in a really meaningful way.

Learn more at edgeofseven.org