Former Slayton couple invests in a nation's future
SLAYTON -- Steve and Nancy Laible, a retired couple who now live in New Brighton, found a passion in 2002 that has led them around the globe. They've raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to give children in the northwest corner of Bangladesh a chance at a good education and a brighter future.
After Steve and Nancy -- both Slayton High School graduates -- retired, they found themselves were looking for a new direction for their lives.
Before 2002, Steve had never traveled to Asia before. He remembers his first impression when he stepped off the plan in Bangladesh's capital city, Dhaka.
"I had no idea how densely populated the country was," he said.
Bangladesh borders India and Myanmar and is slightly smaller than Iowa. In a 2011 census, the Bangladesh population was reported to be more than 150 million, making it one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
After traveling northwest by car for 10 hours to one of the least developed parts of the country, Steve arrived at the village of Parbatipur.
"I felt like I was in a 'Star Trek' episode and had been beamed into another world I knew nothing about," he said.
During that trip, the Laibles recognized the great need on Bangladesh and began working to establish a scholarship to help impoverished children attend school.
Since then, more than $100,000 has been raised for scholarships through gifts from private donors, churches and service organizations.
oday, the Laibles work with two schools in Bangladesh: a LAMB school, founded in 1974 by the Minnesota-based World Mission Prayer League, and the Livingstone school, founded by Bangladesh nationals in 2009.
The LAMB (Lutheran Aid to Medicine in Bangladesh) school has a community health focus and is modeled on the European system. All the classes are taught in English, expect for Bengali language (the national language) classes.
Students at Livingstone School are taught in Bengali, with a strong English as a Second Language program also offered.
Two years ago, it became clear at Livingstone School that the house being used for instruction was no longer big enough for the more than 100 students.
The Laibles began raising funds to build a new building for the school. With the donation of the land -- and through private donations and multiple grants -- more than $100,000 was raised. In 2012 a new, four-classroom building was constructed in a former rice field. Built with future additions in mind, metal re-bar rods stick up from the roof, awaiting additional classrooms.
The couple didn't take a break in their fundraising efforts, and they hope the new classrooms will be added in 2014.
During their annual visits to Bangladesh, Steve and Nancy enjoy exploring a world vastly different from the Midwest.
"This past year, we did quite a bit of work with the construction of the new school," Steve said. "We visit children and their families in the village. We walk among rice fields."
Through their work, the Laibles hope to continue to improve the lives of the children in northwestern Bangladesh.
Many of the parents of the children that attend the two schools the Laibles work with never attended school themselves.
"Their whole world is about a five-mile radius," Steve said. "They are happy and pleased that their children are in school, but they don't realize how much this will broaden their (children's) horizon and opportunities," Steve said.
Steve and Nancy believe a lot of the conflict seen in the world today stems from lack of education and access to information.
"My wife and I believe literacy is an excellent building block to a peaceful world," he said.
"One of the messages that we like to share is that there are a billion people in Asia that cannot read or write and that are living in a condition of poverty," Steve added. "Long-term, that issue needs to be addressed by everyone."
Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at 376-7322.