ENCORE JOURNEY: Saving girls from slavery

Olga Murray has helped thousands of Nepalese children go to school in her encore career.

Olga Murray of Sausalito, Calif., has traveled the world and held fascinating jobs, but nothing has given her more satisfaction than her encore career of preventing young Nepalese girls from being sold into slavery.

“I loved my work, but the last 25 years have been the best years of my life because of the work I do now," say Murray, now 83. "It is so unbelievably satisfying. I feel I am getting far more out of it than I’m giving. I have friends that say, ‘Nobody needs me anymore,’ and I always say to them, ‘Go out and do something for someone and see how you feel.’”

Her understanding of Nepalese culture, gleaned from many years of volunteer work in the country, led her to propose an unusual incentive to village fathers who agreed to keep their daughters home and send them to school rather than sell them as domestic slaves. In return, she offered to give them piglets that would bring the same income.

Murray's nonprofit organization, the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation, has saved thousands of girls from servitude and has nearly eradicated the practice in the Dang district. It recently expanded to the nearby district of Bardiya.

In addition to providing piglets, the foundation pays for school expenses and gives the families kerosene lamps, which are highly prized in areas without electricity.

While growing up in New York City, Murray always had an itch to travel. She graduated from high school early and left home at age 17, not stopping until she reached Los Angeles. “I had this terrible wanderlust,” she explains.

After supporting herself with typing jobs for four years, she returned home at age 21 and went to college, then got a job answering fan mail for columnist Drew Pearson, a muckraker journalist who was one of the few who opposed Senator Joseph McCarthy. Some of the letters Pearson received were pleas for help, and the journalist gave Murray carte blanche to call any government department that might help rectify an injustice.

“I was the most effective social worker in Washington,” Murray recalls. “People would drop everything when I called. He had a fierce public reputation.”

She later went to law school and returned to California. She was one of six women sworn into the state bar in Northern California in 1954.

She managed to break her leg skiing and was on crutches when she hobbled over to the state building to ask about job openings. The unusual job applicant landed a job helping write opinions for Chief Justice Phil Gibson for nine years. When he retired, she continued working for Justice Stanley Mosk for another 25 years.

After she retired in 1992, she fell in love with Nepal on a trekking trip and vowed to help the incredibly poor children she met there, whose only desire was to go to school. “I was almost 60 and I didn’t want to sit around and eat bonbons and polish my nails. I think I was subconsciously trying to find something that would be fulfilling,” she recalls.

She began by personally sponsoring the education of four children in 1985, then she founded the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation in 1990 to attract more donations.

The organization has sponsored about 3,500 children in school, 80 percent of them girls, and also has started nine rehabilitation homes for severely malnourished children as well as two homes for abandoned and abused children. “They go to nice schools, they have music and art lessons, everything,” she says.

Murray shows no signs of slowing down. “Olga is an amazing woman who inspires us all to higher levels. It is incredible what an impact one woman can make in tens of thousands of children's lives,” says Janis Olson, executive director of the foundation’s U.S. office.