Saturday, November 21, 2015
Continuing efforts to raise relief aid.......let's rebuild a school!
Well, it’s time for another update on life in Nepal and the village of Chaurikharka since my visit to distribute relief aid in July. After your incredible response following the earthquakes of April 25th and May 12th, every family in Chaurikharka received a piece of the “pie” and as of this date, everyone has been able to rebuild in preparation for the winter. There has been great solace in the fact that the tents and tarps which have been providing the only shelter since the spring and all through the monsoons of the summer can now at last come down!
The Himalayan Project’s next goal is to raise the funds for the reconstruction of the school which was so badly damaged in the second earthquake. This particular school is such a lynchpin for the entire Everest region as it is the only school to provide a complete education, grades K-12. As many of you know, many students walk several hours a day each way to school to be able to take advantage of this “gift” of education. It was amazing to witness the resilience of this community in not missing a beat after all the earthquake damage to construct makeshift classrooms out of debris on the school grounds……and all of this during the omnipresent summer rains!
Out of the rubble one of the positive things that has transpired is that a group of energetic and enthusiastic young people in the village have formed a committee to oversee the rebuilding of the school. As graduates of the school, they are committed to forming a collaboration between their mountain communities and international organizations who have shown an interest in participating in this project. Besides The Himalayan Project, Edmund Hillary’s Himalayan Trust is on board along with groups from both Switzerland and Korea. Somewhere along the way, a Japanese engineer has been engaged and he is providing an earthquake proof master plan. The goal is to raise a total of $500,000. This may sound astronomical, especially in that part of the world, but most of the costs will be in materials that have to be purchased in Kathmandu and then flown to the mountains.
I am excited by the initiative of the local people and their desire to coordinate with the outside world. I hope you will consider as much generosity towards this as you certainly did immediately following the earthquakes in the spring! The Nepali government at this point is so dysfunctional that it hasn’t yet been capable of figuring out how to distribute the millions of dollars that have been donated from all over the world. The Himalayan Project works quietly and independently and through your incredible largesse has provided the means for people to try and resume their lives……..and education means a future that gives them hope.
I will be traveling to Nepal in the spring and invite anyone who may be interested to come along……..March 8th to the 23rd. It will be a combination of visiting the school in Chaurikharka and also experiencing a 10 day trek across one of the world’s most magnificent landscapes. It would be an honor to share this with you! I have also just launched a new website www.himalayanproject.org so if you have a moment take a peek.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of your support. The Himalayan Project works because of all of your generosity! Please earmark any contributions to the Marion Institute for The Himalayan Project and send to Marion Institute, 202 Spring Street, Marion, MA 02738 or go to www.marioninstitute.org/serendipity/himalayan-project.
I look forward to hearing from you!
Thursday, September 10, 2015
Nepal Destruction Hits Home in Marion
Excerpt from a recent "The Wanderer" article:
"Not often anymore does the devastation cause by two major earthquakes in Nepal earlier this yea get coverage in the media. But even months later, efforts to alleviate the suffering of the Nepalese people and the destruction of their homes and infrastructures continue and many have been helped so far due to the kindness of Tri-Towners and many others."
Click here to read more; article is featured on pages 3-5.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Distribution of Relief Aid
After having just returned stateside, I wanted to keep everyone updated on my second trip to Nepal since the earthquakes of April 25th and May 12th. Thanks to the generosity of soooo many people, I was able to return to the mountains at the end of July and personally distribute relief aid to families who have been living under tarps and tents set up in their potato fields during the monsoon season which is in full bloom now until the cold weather arrives in October/November. Obviously, shelter is minimal and facilities of any kind are nonexistent. Life is harsh and incomprehensible to those of us who enjoy the daily “luxuries” of plumbing, electricity, running water and heat.
I spent 2 months “angsting” about how to get the relief money over to Nepal, given that Nepali newspapers were reporting that government officials were lining their pockets with 25% of the millions of dollars that were pouring into the country from all the international aid organizations. It’s also impossible to deny the intense frustration felt by millions at the collective failure of the political class. Knowing all of this sickened me to the core and made me get very creative in how I continually transferred very small amounts of money to various bank accounts in Kathmandu over a 2 month period. Because of the incredible generosity of so many of you, The Himalayan Project was able to raise close to $150,000 from April 25th to July 15th! In the dark of night on July 18th aboard Emirates Airlines, I circled the Kathmandu airport for 2 hours due to thunderstorms brought on by the monsoons, finally touching down after midnight in the pouring rain. The city was black and silent and oozing sludge throughout the streets as I rumbled over potholed alleyways in a taxi bound for my “home away from home” in Kathmandu, the Norbu Linka Hotel. I was exhausted and totally disheveled from my 25 hours of travel and full of anxiety over whether the flight to the mountains and the Lukla airstrip would even be a possibility the next morning. No flights had been able to make their way to Lukla for the previous 10 days due to the rains and fog so I sank into a restless slumber for a couple of hours before I had to be at the domestic airport at 5:00 am.
As the sun rose over the mountains the next morning and the clouds parted, I held my breath as my little 12 seater Cessna soared above the city, making it's way to Lukla while I mouthed a silent “thank you”. A very frenetic day was spent calling together all the people who had been guarding their hoard of money that had been wired to them over the last 2 months and once everything had been gathered and accounted for, the whole village was assembled together as we distributed to each individual family. When I had first visited and assessed the damage after the earthquake in April, I along with a village committee, assigned each of the 60 households either a 1 for minimal damage, a 2 for moderate damage or a 3 for maximum damage and so there were 3 different tiers of giving that were established with the monetary value assigned to each tier to be determined by how much money THP was able to raise. Every part of this process was laced with tradition and ritual, from touching the packet of money to one's forehead in a private moment of gratitude, to enacting the community tea ceremony, to placing a silk scarf around my neck as a blessing for all of your generosity. I was clearly just the “front man” representing each and every one of YOU. Rituals are simply a small nod to normalcy in what is otherwise a life of daily survival. The patience and equanimity and COURAGE that this village has exhibited since tragedy hit them is a lesson certainly for me! It is a quiet courage, a small voice at the end of each day saying “I will get up and do it again tomorrow.......and then the next day, and the next and the next.”
The community distribution ended with Karsang Sherpa, my Nepali liaison with The Himalayan Project, speaking to the village for 45 minutes about the fact that many people from many parts of the globe had come together to contribute to THP's relief efforts for THEM. There was astonishment that their tragedy had even registered on anybody's radar screen; joy and relief at the generosity that had been extended to them and many, many tears over the fact that SOMEONE cared. The Nepali government's extent of caring had been in the distribution of a bag of rice and a container of cooking oil to each family and that was it! Needless to say, men and women alike were awash in tears, hopefully tears of healing that were the best words that their hearts could speak......
In the twilight of the following morning I hiked back up to the mountain airstrip hoping the last vestiges of stars would begin to poke through the early fog and drizzle. Would it be possible to have the weather cooperate in the same way that it had for our arrival? Miraculously so, the clouds again parted around 8:00 am and I arrived back in Kathmandu for a late breakfast. For the next 10 days it wasn't possible for any other flights to get through to Lukla! It just seemed incredible that 10 days before I needed to get to the mountains and for 10 days afterwards the flights had to be canceled and that just for the critical 2 days that I needed to get to and from Lukla, someone was looking out for me!
So, how can I thank you all???? Your overwhelming kindness is a language that transcends all barriers and my heart is very filled with gratitude. After completing our 1st phase of fund raising for the building of suitable shelters for the winter, The Himalayan Project's next phase of fund raising will be devoted to the complete rebuilding of an earthquake proof school that was virtually destroyed in the second quake of May 12th. A Japanese engineer has been “commandeered” to create a master plan for this project and THP will join forces with a Swiss organization and a Korean organization to try and raise $500,000. The path seems steep but we cannot be daunted by that prospect and we will continue to reach out to all of you, also asking that you share this effort with colleagues and friends who may not be in our orbit. As you know in all grass roots efforts, spreading the word personally is very powerful! The human tragedy that has resulted from this massive natural disaster will be years in the rebuilding process so PLEASE stay on board with us. I am remembering something that someone once said to me which pretty much sums it all up....”the larger your heart is the smaller the world becomes.”
Friday, June 19, 2015
How Far Can Your Donation Go?
Well, it's been 6 weeks since Nepal's devastating tragedy. With the death toll still climbing as relief volunteers make their way to the remotest reaches of the country, millions of people have endured 291 aftershocks, many still quite significant! The fortitude of the human spirit astounds me as I hear daily accounts of how people have endured and are able to push forward in spite of a consuming apprehension that another quake could be on the horizon. Life must go on, with crops needing to be planted, firewood collected, animals tended to and daily prayers to keep their families safe......always living on the edge of constant fear and total anxiety!
The monsoon rains have set in for the next several months with landslides and floods on the horizon. Imagine life under a tarp or in a tent in the middle of a potato field for the foreseeable future. I think we have all come to a “blind spot” about this tragedy which isn't going away as millions still suffer and the world turns its attention elsewhere...
If you have already donated to The Himalayan Project Relief Fund you have my heartfelt gratitude! What you can still do that would be incredibly helpful is share this plea with your own network of coworkers, friends and family. Just put it out there! For those who haven't donated, PLEASE consider a contribution in any amount as every penny counts! With a couple of clicks to this link you can help rebuild the village of Chaurikharka in the shadow of Mt Everest......the school, the monastery, the new Sherpa Cultural Center and individual homes.
Below are some examples of what your donation could provide in a Nepali economy:
$15 one man's labor for 1 day
$250 would pay for a Nepali engineer to fly to Chaurikharka for a day and consult on earthquake
$500 would buy 120 bags of cement which could help rebuild 2 small houses
$1000 would pay for 4 hand framed windows for a house
$1500 would buy roofing material for one small house
I will be returning to Nepal in late July to work with a village committee in the distribution of The Himalayan Project's relief funds, making sure it all gets into the hands of those most in need.
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
The Second Earthquake of May 12, 2015
As I write this it is 1:00 a.m. in a blackened and absolutely silent Kathmandu which is normally pulsing with life 24/7. The city holds its breath and waits for the now all too familiar rocking and rolling motions of the earth. The smell of fear is palpable and you can cut it with a knife, even in the darkness that surrounds me. I am listening, listening for the telltale signs of oncoming quake activity by the sounds of frenzied birds and dogs.....
A little over 12 hours earlier I had just returned from a flight to the mountains for several days to immerse myself in an assessment of damage in Chaurikharka in the Everest region. After the first quake hit 17 days ago and even with hundreds of subsequent aftershocks in the week that followed, the Everest region wasn't even showing up on the top 10 areas in Nepal that were the hardest hit. This was primarily because the loss of life had been deemed “minimal” and the damage had been contained in “pockets of destruction” up and down the Khumbu Valley. Mother Nature definitely targeted Chaurikharka as one of those pockets and rocked the village to its core. Peter and I visited each of the 54 houses in the village, talking with family members about their immediate needs and photographing the damage. Their lives had been turned upside down in an instant and many had lost everything that had taken a lifetime to accumulate. During this process we became acutely aware that villagers needed to tell their stories and release the floodgates so it was all fraught with intense emotion.
We also surveyed the damage to the school and the newly built Sherpa Cultural Center within the vicinity of the school. Thankfully the school buildings are only one story and the damage sustained is certainly manageable and doesn't require that the buildings be torn down and completely rebuilt. The Sherpa Cultural Center was designed and built to be earthquake proof and it came through with flying colors! Needless to say as the villagers rebuild for the future they will be studying this design.
Along with our dear friend Karsang Sherpa, Peter and I called together a committee of villagers to have a consensus on how much each family will receive when we distribute the relief aid that The Himalayan Project has raised through many of your incredible and generous donations. We have also been in contact with a Nepali engineer that we flew back from the mountains with and our hope is that THP will fund him to eventually re-visit Chaurikharka after the cleanup and before everyone starts the rebuilding process to teach them about earthquake proof construction.
We arrived back in Kathmandu only hours before the second big quake hit with Chaurikharka being near the epicenter this time. School had just started up again after a month long holiday and this time there were serious injuries and students had to be carried on stretchers for an hour to the nearest health clinic. I got word finally that those houses that were still standing in the village after the first quake had now collapsed. Everyone is living under tarps or in makeshift tents for the foreseeable future as the onset of the monsoon season begins and then the cold weather sets in come October. I am very anxious at this point to step up our goals for relief aid and get it distributed as soon as possible so people can start the rebuilding. The Nepali government has allotted $7000 rupees per family (about $70) along with a bag of rice, some cooking oil, sugar and powdered milk and that will be the extent of their aid to these mountain villages. The international aid organizations have targeted the most seriously damaged communities in the first quake and so those areas are besieged with help, which of course is wonderful. Chaurikharka has been both cursed and blessed to be a week's walk from Kathmandu or a costly flight to Lukla and therefore the possibility of aid isn't blinking bright red on anyone's radar screens at the moment!
So keep your prayers and donations coming, PLEASE. Time is of the essence, especially since I plan to return in July to hopefully help distribute The Himalayan Project's relief aid. With any luck, Peter and I will be on a flight to Bangkok this morning. How incredibly fortunate that we have THAT choice......
Friday, November 14, 2014
Sherpa Cultural Center
Wow! Another year of great productivity is behind us for The Himalayan Project, thanks in large part to your incredible interest and generosity! Most of this past year has been spent on the planning and gathering of building materials for the Sherpa Cultural Center at the Chaurikharka School in the Mt. Everest region. This in itself is a HUGE undertaking, not to be underestimated in any way, shape or form. Because the town of Chaurikharka is accessible only by air or foot, it's impossible to call a local “Home Depot” and have the building supplies delivered in the blink of an eye when the project is ready to begin. All the construction materials either come from the local environment, are flown up from Kathmandu on freight helicopters OR carried on a human back for 10 days to 2 weeks from Kathmandu. Every building project is a labor of perseverance from start to finish.
Each stone building block for the Sherpa Cultural Center has started out as part of a glacial boulder, chipped away by hand until more manageable stones can be carried to the building site and hand chiseled into cobblestone building blocks. And each piece of lumber that frames the windows and doors and becomes the foundation for the roof starts out as a tree in the jungle that is cut down, stripped manually of it's bark and hand carried to the building site where a “carpenter” pit saws each board. The corrugated sheets of metal roofing material have to be transported to the mountains from Kathmandu, usually carried on a porter's back.
So this whole past year has been getting ready for the actual construction. And certainly, not to be minimized, is the official Buddhist ceremony of blessing the building site and arranging for an auspicious time to begin the construction. There has been a flurry of excitement and commitment in Chaurikharka, involving the students and community alike. Since the Cultural Center will also house a small museum depicting the Sherpa heritage, many people are eager to donate family heirlooms to be put on display. All of this involvement excites me tremendously as the community realizes that the inherent success of this project totally depends on THEIR participation, THEIR ownership and THEIR pride in our partnership. This Sherpa community has come to the realization that YES!, they do represent something that needs to be woven into the beautiful web of diversity that surrounds us all and this is their public statement of acknowledgment.
So once again I write and ask for you to consider a contribution to The Himalayan Project. As you know, all contributions are tax deductible. Please remember to earmark your donation for The Himalayan Project as it passes through the Marion Institute. After 15 years we have together helped to fulfill the dreams and aspirations for this community in the Himalayas. Hope is ever vigilant as a commentary on the past and a promise for the future! And who knows what effects might ripple out into the world......
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
I awoke this morning just as a slight hint of dawn was beginning to outline the foothills that surround Kathmandu and I decided to assuage the sensory overload that consumes me upon arrival here every year and make my way through the still sleeping city to Bhoudanath, a sanctuary of Tibetan Buddhist culture. In the wee morning hours every day, this World Heritage site becomes a destination for Tibetan refugees and Buddhist pilgrims who light butter candles around the massive base of the centuries-old temple, one of Central Asia’s most sacred Buddhist structures. It resembles an enormous white dome topped by a tall golden ziggurat and the disembodied eyes of Buddha peer down from this soaring multi-tiered stupa. As the only Westerner, I joined the hundreds of pilgrims who circumambulate clockwise around the stupa, chanting “Om mani padme hum”, “hail to the jewel in the lotus”, while fingering the string of mani beads, precursor to the rosary beads of Catholicism. I am drawn to this ritual many times every year when I am here as I feel a wonderful connection to feminine energy……..the fading of the moon as the dawn appears, the circular nature of walking koura around this huge, onion shaped dome, the repetitive chanting over and over and over. Later in the day this site will be visited by hundreds of tourists passing through Kathmandu, but this early morning ritual before the day grabs hold is a wonderful grounding for me.
As always, Kathmandu is pulsating with the rhythms of everyday subsistence……with no focus on making a better life but simply on how to stay alive. The chaos of vehicles, from taxis to trucks, bicycles, mopeds and motorcycles and rickshaws, not to mention the sacred cows, all contribute to the city’s dusty pandemonium. This year, the ubiquitous brown haze that surrounds the Kathmandu valley is especially noticeable as the city still awaits the cleansing rains of winter. And it is always unsettling to see the same disturbing images of poverty, year after year, throughout the city. The same little shoeshine boy with no shoes of his own, the hoards of maimed and disfigured children set out on the streets to work for their families and the multitudes of homeless who were chased in from the countryside years ago by the Maoist insurgents. Life here is raw, in the moment and very public…….from birth to death and everything in between. It’s truly a lesson for me about how fragile the human condition really is……..
Thursday, March 14, 2013
I am Bruised and Battered, Blistered and Beleaguered
I am bruised and battered, blistered and beleaguered, exhausted and.......totally exhilarated after my 2 week tramp into the high Himalayas with my guide and friend Karsang Sherpa to vet and explore a possible adventure for another year. I had actually been turned off for years from venturing into this area of Langtang, Gosainkund and Helambu as it has been “marketed” as the most accessible trekking terrain from Kathmandu. But I was nevertheless curious as those white behemoths beckoned me, enticing me into the lair!
“Accessible” from Kathmandu meant an 8 hour bus ride over single lane, winding dirt roads with potholes that could swallow an entire vehicle as it clung precariously to the treacherous terrain. The bus was so stuffed with human “cargo” that an equal number of people piled onto the roof with their cages of squawking chickens and bleating goats. As we passed through hill tribe villages along the way, young children would run and jump onto the bus' dashboard for a momentary thrill before we lumbered on. A small inconvenience of a rock landslide across the road was simply not a deterrent as we disgorged from the bus, hauled our freight and belongings along a carefully fashioned path that crossed the landslide and waited for another bus that had been summoned to meet us from the other side. And that's what I love about travel......strangers get a chance to amaze me! Their temperaments of tolerance, acceptance and kindness in the midst of such difficult realities from our Western perspectives always are an invitation for self exploration. Traveling invites inner disturbances and reshuffles what we most assuredly cling to. It's the open classroom. It involves breathing OUT, not just IN. It demands a wider, bigger vision.....”seeing the strand farthest away as part of the carpet you are sitting on.”
The high altitude landscapes (this year it was 18,000 feet) are incomparable and unforgiving. It really is the “roof of the world”. Descending becomes as rigorous and demanding as ascending, sometimes dropping down 3000 feet to then start up another 2000 foot climb before we amble along a knife edge path that drops off precipitously on either side. I am engulfed in a world of glacial moraines and rock and the blinding clairity of an azure blue dome above. The sense of space and it's vastness is incomprehensible as I struggle to place myself within it. My movements become meditative as I simply say “thank you” - for the quiet of the present moment, for the rhythm of the days and nights, for the nourishment of body and soul.....I let it just seep into me!
Karsang regales me constantly with his perspectives on the universe through folksongs, folktales, family histories and of course his omnipresent humming of the universal prayer “om mani padme hum”. His philosophy of life and system of morality are all bound up in the Buddhist dharma with a healthy mix of the ancient animistic traditions of the Bon-po people of Tibet. Of course he rumbles with delight and laughter as we come upon children on the trail who greet me unabashedly with a “Namaste, Gagamama” (grandmother??!!xx#!) which is totally deflating but of course meant with utmost respect.
As I sign off now I am on my way back to Chaurikharka and the mountains to participate in a puja (funeral ceremony) for a dear friend who died very suddenly last week.....another Gagamama. When I visited with her 3 weeks ago she was full of life and love for her family and friends and in the thick of village activities. Now I will witness and try to understand the hardship, the suffering and the stoic courage that her family will have to muster to carry on as they deal with the daily precariousness of life. Pat Conroy writes so eloquently about this in his book South of Broad when he says “that is what it means to be human, born to nakedness and tenderness and nightmare in the eggshell fragility of mortality and flesh...”
Sunday, October 14, 2012
The Tibetan Plateau
How do we act in the presence of what we cannot fully understand or control? What does it take, in other words, to be in the presence of wildness? Where do we place our trust? The fear of letting go of everything that is comfortable and familiar and learning to listen to that little voice that has not often been allowed to express itself…….
I asked that I be big enough and open enough to receive what was there to receive and humble enough to not ask for more.
Feast your eyes on the landscape that enveloped us for the next leg of our journey as we climbed up from the Kali Gandaki River onto the Tibetan Plateau, swallowed up and embraced by the utter vastness!