Our Latest Work in Nepal


 

 

 

 


The Latest From Our Work In Nepal

 

 

 

Arrival

Heidi Lewin-Miller and I drew upon an amazing force of Didi power and after 2 days of flying (date and time changes have to be factored in there) flew into KTM today right on schedule, at 11:30, landed, made it through the always tortuous visa process with hundreds of disembarking tourists and laconic Nepali officials (the only Nepalis who never say Namaste) out to the curb of beeping taxis and the crowds and polluted March skies of Kathmandu, and there was Kelsang, ever-loyal, having waited two hours (it was about 1 pm when we made it out of the terminal with our two carts piled with luggage).   We ran the maze in our little taxi and then plunged up the alley ways to the inner maze of inner Boudha Stuppa to our guest house- our driver seemed to defy odds of crushing the car between brick walls and squeezed like toothpaste up the cobbled side road to Rokpa. At one point, we were matched by incoming motorcycle riders who didn’t want to back off so we could make our passage-the infamous Nepali standoff as car and driver politely refuse to budge-this is a peaceful power-struggle that often happens on the one way passages of Kathmandu’s back alleys.

I Want to be...

One of our missions this trip was to check up on and help the amazing children of Bal Sarathi Street School. HANDS in Nepal has been helping Mala Kharel, who started this school,  keep it going for about 4 years now.  Mala, a housewife who lives in Kathmandu, often noticed with increasing alarm the number of children begging on the streets each day-most clad in rags. "Why were these children not in public school,” she wondered. Looking in to what it would take to properly dress, and buy school materials for the children, led her to start her own school, especially after she found most of the street kids hated the idea of mixing with other children at the public school. Discrimination against the beggars, and caste problems, made it difficult for them to attend. So Mala took it upon herself to provide a place for these marginalized children to get off the streets, get a hot meal and an education. She rented a 3 story ramshackle building near one of the major temples where beggars congregate, and put out the word that children would be fed if they came to her school. Today she has some 100 plus children from preschool to upper grades. They are learning to read, write and do calculations, and they get one meal a day for free. Best of all, there is no more begging in their day, and hopefully with their education, they can stay off the streets permanently. 
But with the added students she takes in, the costs increase. Right now it costs Mala at least $500 a month for rent and food for the kids.
Today we delivered books, solar light and a donation to Mala and her school. Heidi and I spent time in different classrooms talking about where we come from, and then asked the children to share with us their dreams and career wishes. It’s not surprising that most want to be a teacher when they grow up-being in school has opened up the world to them! Others wish to be a doctor and help the poor, to be a nurse or an airline pilot. They can now look beyond the slums to visualizing what else is out there-We applaud and dedicate our efforts at HANDS to continue to support this street school and these bright and shiny children!
 

Ke Karne in Phulkharka

 

Our day started at dawn-packing up our books,solar lights, eye glasses  and sewing machine for the Phulkharka Village-it was going to be a long day.  I’ve done this drive many times, and knew it would take us a good 6 hours if the roads were good. It might be all day if not, but we were sure to be eating our dinner meal and sleeping up in the village that night.
We started by downing as many cups of hot street chai as we could. Our jeep and driver ready at the gates of Boudha, we settled in for the ride, securing our face masks for the inevitable smog of the valley. There is always the long, dreary bumper to bumper traffic out of Kathmandu, the soldier check point at the top of the hill as you exit the outskirts of the city-and finally the downward descent on the only highway in Nepal (a narrow pot-holed blacktopped road of one lane each way)-a long line of trucks, overloaded buses topped with roof-riding passengers, and rickety cars with motorcycles whizzing in and out. Face masks off now, refreshing air as the smog of messy Kathmandu is left behind and the hills provide endless scenery of terraced farms and water buffalo plowing fields.
 
We had a midday break-for a meal with the owner and manager of a wonderful sewing school for “Differently Abled” adults run by our dear friend Govinda. HANDS has been supporting and helping this worthy project out for a few years. Disabled adults live and learn sewing skills as this place, and then leave with their machine to start their own businesses. Govinda had prepared for us Dal Bhat, the traditional meal of rice, lentils and greens, which we ate with our fingers, balling up the rice to scoop up the dal. There was a fun visit with the sewing school, a song and dance, and then we were off to Dhading Besi-the last outpost on pavement we would see for a few days.  We soon hit the dusty road in a veil of red soot-months of no rain made a fine powder of the track, and we soon had our face masks back on.
 

      Because of the long dry spell, the powdery dust was often several inches or more deep. This made for a slippery road for our jeep, that began to bog down on steep inclines, spinning in a rut of powder, making reddish brown clouds behind us. We soon had to get out and help push our bogged down vehicle.

When the thunder began, the wind picked up and rain started to fall, Heidi and I were walking up a steep dirt road because our jeep could not make it (once again) with all of us, the books, the sewing machine and luggage.  I started to wonder if we should have turned around (the roads to the villages can become slick as snot when wet).  The first doubts set in-would we make it, should we turn back? But what about the village children waiting at the other end? We pushed on.

My breaking point almost came when the driver, emptying us out, gunned the motor and disappeared in a puff of dust, leaving Heidi, Kelsang and I to walk up a steep track of jeep trail. Each corner I expected to see him waiting for us-but nothing. He had gone way up ahead, maybe a good mile, before idling to wait for us. I was so mad when we caught up with him, “What do you think we are, Nepalis?” I scolded. “I am not a Nepali!!” That was the strongest thing I could think of to
say as my racing heart calmed down and I gained my breath. I am a 60 something woman not used to waking in hills like this, and my hips  ached! Nepalis have such a distorted view of what a difficult walk is.

 
The second almost breaking point was when we had to get out in the pouring rain and walk up a steep track the jeep could
not maneuver with us in it, and the hail, wind and lightening began. To my relief, instead of cursing me for
bringing her to this impossible  to travel place, Heidi began to laugh at the absurdity of the situation we were in-our clothes clung wet to us, hail dotted our hair, and thunder clapped ridiculously loud over our heads. When one thunder clap shook the ground we stood on, we practically jumped into each other’s arms and hugged each other laughing. Ke Karne? As they say in Nepal, which quite literally means, “What to do?”
Finally, we rocked and rolled our mud splattered jeep and our wet selves into the valley that is Phulkharka. The school children were waiting, garlands in hand, tikka powder and so many sweet Namastes for us. We were all wet and cold, but pulled on our jackets over the wet clothes for our sweet greeting by the school children who had waited so patiently for us
all day. That night we piled heavy Nepali blankets on us in the little shed room they had made up for us-and the Amma
brought in hot cups of tea in tin cups sweeted with sugar. The water buffaloes were right outside the window and the
thunder was off in the distance. We knew we made the right decision to push on despite the bad road
conditions. Tomorrow would be the big book donation ceremony and I could not wait to share with Heidi the
delighted looks on the children’s faces she was about to experience. This is why we have HANDS in Nepal. All was right in the world!

1,000 Lights for Nepal

Today our mission was to deliver 50 solar lights to the Tibetan Senior Home near the Swayambunath Temple in Kathmandu. Their main house had been destroyed by the earthquake (miraculously, no one was killed) They were relocated to a older building of simple accommodations. I was touched to see they had their precious, large prayer wheels installed in the courtyard, where they could sit turning them by pulling a cord. This is such a wonderful opportunity to honor these lovely people and practice compassion. They have all walked out of Tibet, in fact, the young lady in the blue vest next to me in the first photo walked out of Tibet and lost 5 toes doing so (frost-bite). The lack of electricity in Nepal means these old folks spend their evenings in darkness. The cook was especially happy to get some light for the kitchen. As we passed the lights out, we were thanked over and over for this simple gift. Thank you to all of you who made donations to HANDS in Nepal for solar lights! You have brought light to some very sweet, precious “jewels” of our world. Many, many Tashi Deleks for your support!!
 
Jan and Heidi
We continue to collect donations and buy solar lights for our “1,000 Lights for Nepal” campaign. We are getting closer to delivering that number! I have seen many people still in canvas tent here in Kathmandu-they could certainly use solar lights. We welcome any donations and you can feel free to designate the money used to purchase the solar lights for Nepal.
Namaste!
 

The Elusive Himalayas

Occasionally, the weather is not what you think it will be in Nepal. Usually, Spring is hot, and dry-with lots of dirty air in Kathmandu from dust, smokey trash-burning and diesel fumes. The city sits in a valley and after months of no rain, the air thickens into a soupy mix of smog. Locals and tourists alike are often seen wearing face masks to help cut down on the pollutants. I find wearing a cotton scarf, one I can pull up over my mouth and nose at will, to be most beneficial. 
I tell people traveling to Nepal with me in the Spring, that Kathmandu is a brief stop-to rest, eat, drink tea and take in the World Heritage Sites, but then to move on to the “back country”-the parts of Nepal that still shine in Spring, clear of the pollution and smog of big, bustling Kathmandu.
 
This past year, I was surprised to find the Pokhara area shrouded in rain clouds. The monsoon-still officially months away, was arriving with occasional rain storms. The rain, always welcomed for crops and planting rice this time of year, shrouded the high Himalayas, normally standing out in resplendent glory, mountain tops touching the heavens. This year, with my friend Heidi’s first trip to Nepal, I was excited for her to see the full glory of those amazing mountains when we went up to Astam Village, on the border of the Annapurna Wildlife Refuge and nature area. Here is her recounting of of our first day at our friend, Bishow Adhikari’s, Eco Lodge:

"We awoke very early to see the sunrise emerge from the Annapurnas. No such luck, as it was overcast.  So we just walked along the beautiful lake at Pokhara and ate breakfast. Then onto more shopping mostly for Jan's store, and a few bargains for me, as well as gifts for others.

We departed Pokhara with Jan's friend, Bishow who owns the Eco-village in Astam. We stopped to give some adorable old Tibetans solar lights and Girl Scout cookies at a Tibetan refugee camp.  They were so grateful!
After another steep, bumpy ( your internal organs get massaged on  this road) jeep ride...

We arrived at the Eco village moments before a ginormous storm. We are talking sideways sheets of rain, deafening thunder,lightening, and gnarly big pieces of hail. The beautiful grounds and plants here looked completely different within 1 hour. I feel badly for all the damage to their organic farm. Like I said, Mother Nature is quite busy in these parts!
We were so happy to be inside the little dining area with about 7 other guests and the whole family who runs this lovely place. And I got to try out my new $20 knock off Gortex jacket a few hours after buying it. Good purchase!!!  Jan was shocked, as she expected warm weather this time of year. This is a place of many surprises. No wonder all those climbers never know for sure what is coming!!

Anyway, hopefully we will awake tomorrow with amazing views of the Himalayas, as was promised to me. They seem so close from here, and I so want to see their presence, not just feel them!
 

Unfortunately, for this trip, the mountains stayed hidden behind a mist of clouds for our stay at the Eco Lodge. Still, the area is beautiful even without the backdrop of Annapurna. Bishow has created organic gardens to roam, there are trails intercepting villages where you can stop and watch people farm as they have for hundreds of years (once I watched a Nepali woman grind seeds into oil with an old fashioned stone and mortar) and the people are the friendliest I’ve ever met. Bishow and his family are amazing hostesses. Nighttime in the stone lodge is a step back in time, without electricity we play music, cards, sip hot, organic tea made from garden plants, and engage in the old world art of conversation. It’s restorative, to say the least, and one of the highlights of my visits to Nepal.

The Eco-Village, Hemja and the need for education.

After many busy days in the Pokhara-Astam area, we are a little lighter in luggage. We’ve delivered over 200 pds of books, dozens of solar lights and distributed eye glasses for the NGO I CARE.  While in Astam, a little village that sits above Pokhara on the edge of the Annapurna Nature Area,  we awoke each morning hoping to see the towering Annapurna peaks that you can view so beautifully from Eco Village-except the last few days have been untypical monsoon weather with low overcast skies. Again, the views were obstructed by the mist. So after a hearty breakfast (including a rare treat-french press coffee) we shouldered our backpacks and set off down the jungle trail to Hemja Village, where we would get a taxi for Pokhara. Bishow wanted to take us to a village along the way that is asking for HANDS in Nepal help build their village a library/learning center. We were greeted by the villagers waiting on the dirt  trail for us-flowers in hand and Namastes galore. Although we were on a bit of a time crunch to catch our plane to KTM at 1 pm once we got to Pokhara, the villagers request for us to sit for a minute to hear their request was hard to resist. We sat and got the ceremonial Nepali village welcome of tikka powder applied liberally to our faces, and flowers in our hands. Bishow translated their needs and request: children walk very far to their school, there are no facilities for books and computers in this village, and they would very much like a community center/library like the one we built in Kalika. News travels fast in these mountain villages! We would love to make a library/learning center for this village, the need is apparent, but can we find the funding?

We would love to help these wonderful villagers and their children-they are a long way from the nearest big town of Hemja and the children could really use such a place to sit and read, especially during the cold winters and long monsoon rains.
 
Once we arrived by foot to Hemja town, we were able to snag a taxi and load up our gear to go out to see the “new” Mustang-Tibetan land. The old land has been exchanged for land closer to the road and more suitable for a school. this is a project we are doing along with Logged On Foundation.
You can see in the bottom right photo where I am standing on one boundary and Bishow on another to mark the borders of the lot.
 
We arrived back in Pokhara just in time to gather our left-behind bag at the hotel there and skid-daddle to the airport-we were afraid of missing our flight with all the stops we had to make on the way down the hill. Alas, as is so typical of Nepal, we found out our plane would be about 2 hours late. Ke Karne? We were forced to rest, not too bad with latest newspaper from Himalayan Times and a coffee bar for “duk tea” (milk tea).