Chesterton Tribune

 

 

CHS grad quits high paying job to do charity work in Nepal

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By KEVIN NEVERS

It’s the kind of success story Horatio Alger might have penned, if Alger had known anything about electronic trading platforms.

Erik Bouchard was 16 when he started tinkering with computers. By the time he graduated Chesterton High School, in 2004, he had a job waiting for him as a consultant in Chicago. At 20 Bouchard went to work for his first financial institution, at 23 he scored a gig at the world’s largest electronic brokerage, in 2010 he fetched up in Singapore with JP Morgan.

And Bouchard was making some serious coin. “People thought I was living the dream,” he recently told the Chesterton Tribune. “A big apartment. Six-figured salary.”

The End, Alger would have written.

But for Bouchard it was really just the end of the beginning. “I had this lingering feeling that the more successful I was--big bonuses, business trips--the less satisfied I was becoming. I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing anything.”

That dissatisfaction peaked in Singapore, Bouchard recalled. “Super great money, super great promotions. But the hole was not being filled. When you’re so well off, it’s hard to feel you’re making a difference.”

Then, in 2011, everything changed, when Bouchard and his mother went on a nine-day trek in the Annapurna Mountains of Nepal. “It was just a vacation,” he said, and Bouchard had no intimation on setting out that it might turn out to become something else.

But it would, after Bouchard happened to meet the principal of a little school in the mountains. After returning to Singapore, Bouchard remained in contact with the man, who while friendly and interested in recruiting a volunteer at the school, refused to e-mail photos of the facility. Turns out, the principal was “embarrassed” by his own school. Half open brick, half bamboo, no electricity, no plumbing. “He thought I wouldn’t be interested in volunteering after seeing the state of the school.”

Bouchard started thinking. About his job. About the school. About his salary. About the sheer depth of need in the world. “At the end of September 2011, I sat down with my boss. I told him it was nothing about the money, the job, the people. And I told him there was nothing he could do to make me stay. I gave all my possessions away, put my life in a backpack, and went to Nepal.”

Bouchard initially figured it would be a temporary stint. “I was going to take three months off from the world, take some time to give back to people who needed it.” And give back he did. Bouchard raised money enough to build two rooms for the school out of stone, donated five laptops, and gave computer classes to villagers. Somewhere along the line he funded a heart-valve surgery for a 7-year-old boy diagnosed as a stroke risk. He arranged with Ikea in the Netherlands to donate rechargeable solar lamps to provide an electricity source to the village. And he gave a two-year vocational school scholarship to a young cancer survivor who wants to be a civil engineer.

When Bouchard spoke to the Tribune, he was briefly back in the States to fundraise for his ongoing work in Nepal and establish his not-for-profit 501(c)(3) See Change Foundation. “I want to do all my fundraising on line,” he said.

The problem with so many charities, Bouchard noted, is high overhead coupled with a lack of transparency. Sometimes 65 to 75 percent of a charitable contribution gets eaten up in administration and bureaucracy, and folks have no idea in any case what specific good work their donation is doing. “When someone gives me $10, they should know exactly the need, who’s benefiting, and the outcome.”

In particular the outcome: “It’s all about changing the mindset of people who give me money, showing them how little it takes to make a huge difference in the world. I’m not only helping the kids, I’m helping the people who donate too.”

For more information about See Change Foundation, e-mail Bouchard at erik@scfnepal.org

Checks made out to See Change Foundation Inc. can be mailed to 270 E. Ohio St., Suite 432, Chicago IL 60611

Bouchard has since returned to Asia and knows at last what path his life has taken. “This is something I will do until I die,” he said. “One hundred percent.”

 

Posted 5/3/2013