BOX PERSON OF THE MONTH
July 2018

Sarah  Gurung

Sarah Gurung is an adventurer who delights in a little danger. She describes herself as a bad mother! Having encouraged her children to be very independent from an early age her mantra is ‘if it scares you, do it.’
Sarah and her husband Sera, who live in Box, run Yak Yeti Yak restaurant in Pierrepont Street in Bath. When they are not busy cooking authentic Nepalese food for their customers, they run the YYY Foundation, funded by the generosity of many individuals, including restaurant customers and notably the children of Box School. The Foundation helps victims of the 2015 earthquakes which destroyed entire villages in Nepal. Its aim is to enable poor children, in deprived areas, to have an education. To date they have set up seven schools and made an enormous difference to villages where, in the early 1990s, only 15/20% of the population was literate. 80% of the children suffer from malnutrition and the terrain is treacherous.

Sarah was born in Shropshire in the Midlands, her childhood spent playing on the farm next door. She was not academic, but loved the outdoor life and longed for travel and adventure.
After school she became involved in the restaurant business, working with food and learning her trade and, while gaining expertise, travelled, enjoying activities such as white-water rafting and jungle walks. This love of travel took her to Nepal. There she found work with Tiger Mountain and Himalayan River Exploration acting as a guide, assisting with exploration teams and film crews for TV documentaries and natural history programmes. The terrain is obviously a challenge. Sarah describes Nepal as having about the same footprint as the UK, but if you squashed all the Nepalese mountains down flat it would be almost four times as big.

She met her husband Sera in 1992 in the UK through mutual friends. He had grown up in Armala, a village overlooking Pokhara in Nepal, but came to the UK to take a Business Studies course at college. Their love of travel, food and Nepal drew them together. Their first enterprise was to set up a boutique selling Nepalese clothing and handicrafts. These Nepalese products found popularity at events such as music festivals. Their friendship grew, and, when Sera’s visa expired, they returned to Nepal together determined to make a difference to village education opportunities. They would work to supply the village school with books and resources, this effort continuing until 2003 when the school received extra government funding. After two years they had a simple Nepalese village wedding, which had to be legally recognised when they returned to the UK. They chose to be married in Guernsey, where some of Sarah’s family live. Since then commuting between Nepal and the UK has become a way of life.

Communication and travel in the poor villages of Nepal is difficult. It’s hard to imagine communication with no phones. The roads are only now beginning to be built. Ten years ago, there were only 5 roads in the entire country, but progress is being made. News is passed by word of mouth. On one occasion, the news that her husband was arriving in the country took two weeks to reach her!

Sarah was spending much of her time in Nepal, instrumental in the setting up of the new schools when she became pregnant, travelling home at 34 weeks to have her son born in the UK. Arun’s birth in 1997 was followed in 2003 by the birth of her daughter, Manisha. A decision then had to be made as to where the children would be brought up and a steady income was required for the future. It was then that Sarah and her husband decided to set up Yak Yeti Yak. She had learnt to cook from villagers, street traders and, interestingly, yoghurt makers, rating the Nepalese yoghurt highly. It is a secret recipe primarily made from buffalo milk and she plans to try to replicate this for the restaurant. Sarah describes her food as authentic Nepalese withfreshly made spices.

Although Sera loves the day to day routine cooking in the restaurant, Sarah seems to be the instigator of new projects and remains the adventurer. She travels to Nepal twice a year for 2 - 3 weeks to get involved in the progress of the charity, bringing phonics to the schools and watching the projects going from strength to strength. Each school is built and then set up with a metal chest of provisions which will supply the children for a year. It contains text books, exercise books, pencils, syllabus, etc and is replenished annually. Progress is being made, but there is always danger in the background, since another earthquake is imminent!

Sarah is proud of her children who are as adventurous as she is and also good cooks. Manisha is getting a reputation for her amazing cakes; weddings, birthday parties - nothing phases her. Arun helps to manage Phat Yaks, the new street food cafe, which is the latest family enterprise, based in Kingsmead Square.

I asked Sarah what she did when she was not in Nepal, not working in Yak Yeti Yak and not running Phat Yaks. Planning the new street fresh spice business that they hope to start soon was her response, so that others can cook Nepalese food at home. So hard to summarise Sarah Gurung in 900 words. Her energy and passion to make a difference is inspirational.

Jacky Ceeney