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Hi–This is a blog post of our recent newsletter. If you did not receive this as a newsletter last Thursday and would like to know about our programs in Nepal, please email me.  I’m delighted to say that we have wonderful news and photos from our projects! (I won’t be posting the updates here this fall…only in the newsletter.)

Dear Donors & Friends,

Namaste and Hello! We’re excited to tell you about the great progress Changing Lives Nepal programs have accomplished this year! Even as Nepal continues to grapple with the aftermath of the earthquake and political power struggles, some bright lights of hope and recovery shine forth. Your support has helped ensure the success of our programs, and we’ll be sending out a series of updates about some of the good that is happening in Nepal. Highlights that you’ll be hearing more about:

—Natural building and a vision for the future: Gyalthum College construction

—SODEC office construction

—Skills training for economic health: earth brick and gem cutting

—Organic Almonds in bloom…and creating income for farmers

—Organic Coffee: Top grade Nepali coffee in demand…supply is coming

—Children’s Home, Maya, and more…

This is the introduction to upcoming newsletters sharing more about each of our programs. There’s too much good stuff to pack it all into one issue!

Wishing you all health, happiness, and harmony in the world. May you shine.

Warmly,

Deana, Nancy & Jen

 

shasta

A year since the Nepal earthquake, and I am finally feeling like myself again, feeling whole again. Healing is a slow process.

At first I didn’t even realize how broken I was. My focus was entirely outward—on the safety and care of the clients I needed to evacuate from the country, on the staff I’ve known for years who were suddenly homeless and afraid for their families, on the friends (Western and Nepali) who were shaken and scattered and still rallying to help others, on the sacred geography and temples utterly destroyed, on the people bereft of everything and trying to survive. Regardless of anything that is happening with me physically or emotionally, I have an ingrained ability to set it aside and show up for what needs to be done. It’s a lifelong habit, and in those first two weeks in Nepal, it served me well.

But I am a sensitive creature and feel things deeply, even if it doesn’t always show on the surface. A 7.8 earthquake is a traumatic event to live through—the constant aftershocks and the witnessing of suffering perhaps even more so. What happened externally was reflected internally: like the earth, I experienced a tremendous upheaval. Fractured and restructured, my internal landscape was reshaped into a foreign territory. It has taken a long time for me to understand, to map the new geography within me, and longer still to be able to navigate it effectively. I watched other people (Western and Nepali) cope, adjust, and recalibrate, while I struggled to find even the most basic sense of equilibrium. Many days, it felt like failure.

When I first came home, I tried to step back into everyday life. I quickly found myself at odd angles to everything, unable to function in the most basic situations. I’d go out to see my friends and have trouble getting through the evening or even holding up a conversation. At a party, I felt paralyzed, odd and stiff, watching time and events unfold, but unable to really participate. I think I spoke occasionally. I didn’t understand myself, and I kept trying to get back to normal. Running, which I love, and which has helped me cope through the hardest times of my life, was suddenly an impossible and demoralizing task. I would put on my running shoes, go out the door, drag myself along to the park, persist for half a run, and return home worn out. Yoga was also a strain. I lay down in child’s pose in the middle of a class until I recovered enough to get up and leave. I didn’t go back for a while. I had never been so physically broken but relatively healthy. Then it got worse. A few panic attacks, an oppressive lethargy, an inability to be around more than 2 or 3 people at a time, trouble focusing on work, on reading, on anything. I couldn’t even explain it to people.

What I needed was stillness and quiet. It took me a while to realize (though it’s not so strange after such an experience) and even longer to be okay with it. The amount of stillness and quiet I needed felt extreme, so extreme that I initially dismissed it as unreasonable. Going to a quiet dinner at a friend’s house, going camping in the woods — it should be fine, right? In reality, I could tolerate very little stimulation and movement. I finally created more space to withdraw and be still, but I had no idea what to do with myself. I’m an introvert who can usually entertain herself for hours, but this was different. I didn’t want to do anything. A walk on the beach, read a book, make a phone call? No. Meditation class, art project, a massage? It was all too much. I would lie on the couch and stare out at the clouds. I would sleep all night and then nap 3 hours in the day. I somehow kept my working life functioning, but only in person. I turned off my email (after being instructed to do so for my own good). I shut off my digital life completely. I would go out to take a walk and come home 3 blocks later. I would have days where I could accomplish something useful. I would have days where I watched the sunlight creep across the floor and felt guilty that I wasn’t doing more – more for myself, more for Nepal. I felt a constant, weighing pressure to help in Nepal.

My closest friends were amazing – they fed me, hung out with me, nurtured me, and gave me space to be as broken as I needed to be for a while. They fed me even if I couldn’t hold up a dinner conversation, they loved me when I was awkward, they took over managing a few parts of my life (including all things fundraising and Nepal), they watched me cry and gave me a hug and reminded me that they loved me. This is what friends are for. Other people in my life couldn’t understand how to support me or didn’t want to. Sometimes life is like that too.

It felt like forever, but it wasn’t so long. A few months. It was a slow recovery after that, a gradual rebuilding of my tolerance for the world, but I’m not the same person that I was before. My internal landscape is forever changed. And that’s okay—I’m getting to know this new self and better learning to live within it.

Life has a way of teaching you its lessons, regardless of whether you feel ready or interested. The experience of living through this earthquake has taught me so much about myself and about life. I have learned to listen, not to what I think I should feel, or what I would (or would not!) like to feel, but to what is actually happening inside me at any given moment. I have learned to be present in the moment in a new way. I have learned yet again what the people we love bring to our lives. I have learned that my heart and my body have their own pace–and it has little to do with my head. I have grown more perceptive. I have seen my own history and formative experiences with new insight. I’ve developed greater patience and compassion for others. I’ve developed a new level of need for quiet and solitude that seems to be semi-permanent. That’s just the short list.

A year after these earthquakes that caused so much devastation, hundreds of thousands of people continue to live in temporary huts and struggle with the basic needs of their lives. I was lucky, and deeply grateful, that I could return home to the safety and peace of my apartment in San Francisco, waiting there solidly for me. I can’t imagine what it means to lose most of one’s possessions and all of the stability that a home brings. I am moved again and again by the resilience and spirit of people in Nepal. People have lived in shelters cobbled together from plastic and bamboo and tin, lived through the stifling heat and rain of the monsoon and through the freezing cold of winter, lived through births and deaths, planting and harvest, all without much hope that it’s going to get better anytime soon.

Life is harder than I’ve ever seen it in those mountains, and somehow people persist. The spring winds came this month, lifting tarps and tin off makeshift structures and sometimes carrying away what little roof there was. A year into the future, and the failure of Nepal’s grossly inept (and corrupt) government is shocking:

— $308,880: total funding Nepal has offered for reconstructing homes (of the $4.2 billion pledged in aid or the $6.6 billion needed to rebuild)

— 661 Nepalese families have received reconstruction funding (of the more than 800,000 whose homes were damaged or destroyed)

— Less than 5 percent of homes rebuilt so far

— Number of projects approved by Nepal’s reconstruction agency: ZERO
(source, source)

Yes, you are reading those numbers correctly. Now the weather shifts again and people face another monsoon summer in what could barely be called a shelter. Some people in the richest areas—the capital and the tourist trekking areas—have been rebuilding, but the villagers who had little and lost everything are hardly of concern to those in power. In some of the harshest realities, natural water sources have dried up from the compression and expansion of the earth. Water shortages are a serious problem in some areas, with people now walking hours farther to carry water home. After over 10,000 landslides from the earthquakes, the country is still at far greater risk for landslides than before. Girls are at greater risk for child marriage or trafficking into brothels. Children are homeless, and child labour is widespread.

Nepal has been my spiritual home since I first landed there in 1999. I was immediately and forever attached to the country, the people, the mountains, the fields, the monasteries, and the temples. In some ways, it feels as though my spiritual soul has been shattered in ways that can never be repaired, much like the destroyed 18th century temples that lent Kathmandu its magic. Every time I talk with friends in Nepal or read the news, my heart is heavy with the monumental challenge of rebuilding homes and lives for hundreds of thousands of people. Many days I still can’t bring myself to read the news in my inbox.

The past week or two, I’ve been acutely aware of every day bringing me closer to this anniversary, this milestone. Words have eluded me for nearly a year, but tonight the words arrive. Reflecting on my personal experience can feel self-indulgent when I think of how many people have lost family and sustenance and live immersed in that reality every day. But this is all I know how to do: open my heart from the experience, share it for whatever value it might hold, as much for myself as for someone else.

Everyone feels trauma differently, but for all of us it is a process of upheaval and restructuring. It is a process being repeated hundreds of thousands of individual times on a very personal level for everyone who lived through these earthquakes or a similar event. It is being repeated on a grand scale by the towns, the culture, and the nation where it happened – each of them changed by it and navigating beyond it as best they can. Families, villages, schools, hospitals, communities, economies, faith, fortune, and the politics of the nation—everything has been lifted up, dropped down, broken, and pushed back together. The process of becoming whole again goes well beyond rebuilding infrastructure. It is a slow process of healing, internally and externally.

I offer this Buddhist prayer of love and compassion… a wish for each person, a wish for the nation, a wish for the world.

May you be happy and joyful
May you be healthy and strong.
May you be safe and protected from harm.

May you be peaceful and free from suffering.
May you be courageous in facing life’s difficulties.
May your true nature shine through as a source of light for everyone around you.

~April 25, 2016

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April 25th marks one year since Nepal’s major quake, followed by over 400 aftershocks and a 5-month political blockade of essentials such as fuel, medicine, and food. Changing Lives Nepal is working to make communities stronger and more resilient. We are excited about everything we have planned…and we have a special gift for donors!

Thank you all for your continuing support!

Reposting our update on distribution of earthquake funds for those of you who may have missed the story during the bustle of the holidays…

Rebuilding Nepal Final Update

Rukman and family

Rukman Sunwar, kitchen staff (wearing the hat), with his parents and children in front of their flattened home.

Amazing–giving out more than $80,000 to 19 families in Nepal was nothing short of amazing.

We all gathered in the village of Chaurikarka, just outside of Lukla airport in the Everest Region. With everyone’s home village scattered north, south, east, and west, some people walked two, three, or even four days to reach this central meeting point. It is a journey they make every season to reach the start of the Everest Base Camp trek, and we timed the meeting so that some of them who had work this season would already be in Lukla and not need to make a separate trip. Instead of flying into Lukla, I also hiked in (with my boyfriend), and it was a few days of stiff climbing up and down—a reminder of how extreme the mountains are, not only for trekking, but also for farming and for transporting in construction supplies that will be needed for rebuilding.

PREPARATIONS

Dawa family and house

Dawa, his family, and their new home.

Arriving at the home of Lead Nepali Guide for Mountain Madness, Dawa Sherpa, his wife greeted us with tea and potato pancakes (one of my favorite Sherpa meals!). Dawa had completed reconstruction of his home only 2 weeks before our arrival, so the whole family was enjoying bedrooms, kitchen, warmth, and comfort. Dawa returned from trekking the same day, along with Mark Gunlogson, the President of Mountain Madness —and then we got down to some serious business: counting money.

money holding

 Eight million rupees in cash was fun to hold…but required a team effort to divide and count!

money counting

I should tell you that Nepali money feels a bit like monopoly money—$1000 equals roughly 100,000 Nepali rupees, so $80,000 equals EIGHT MILLION rupees. By the time we had converted everything to Nepali rupees, we had roughly twenty-eight pounds of cash. It’s more money than any of us have held in our hands, and we took a moment to enjoy it. It then took 5 of us an hour to divide and count everything—that’s five man hours of counting. Whew.

TEAM GATHERING

Group gathered

In the morning, our 9:00 am program started right on Nepali time at 10:30 am. It was a crisp, cool, sunny day in the mountains, and we all sat outside together. I began by thanking everyone for their work. I’ve written this in an earlier update, but it bears repeating: at a time when homes were collapsed and families were struggling just to eat and sleep, our Mountain Madness team stayed with our group and ensured that we got back to Kathmandu safely. I couldn’t have been more grateful nor more proud. We have truly awesome staff—hard working, honest, and always with a smile on their faces. They have become family over the 8 years I’ve worked with Mountain Madness, and I love working with our team! Mark also thanked the staff and noted that it is because of everyone’s great work over the years that so many former clients and their friends were moved to donate to help rebuild.

tent-tea-nepal

Awesome work from the Mountain Madness staff support our treks every step of the way for years!

RECONSTRUCTION PLANS

This gathering was the first time everyone was together since the earthquake, so we spent some time discussing what everyone had experienced after the earthquake. Most people went home, cobbled together some kind of temporary housing, and set to work planting their fields. Although the Everest Region is supported by tourism, most of the staff are from the middle mountains of Nepal and are reliant on subsistence agriculture for their food. The start of the planting season came shortly after the earthquake, and villagers could not afford to miss that agricultural window. They spent the summer working their fields and most of them had no free time to focus on home construction—they made do in tents, bamboo huts, or other temporary structures.

Temp shelters 1

Temporary shelter may mean 6 months, a year, or more.

Some quick statistics:

  • Of the 26 Nepali staff on our trip, 6 had no damage to their homes, 4 had partial damage, and 16 had homes that were destroyed or damaged to the point they were too dangerous to stay in. (Of those 16, only 2 had substantial financial help from wealthy relatives.)
  • Of the 20 families with home damage, 18 were sleeping in tents or rough huts through the monsoon and 2 were in Kathmandu. Now, 2 people have rebuilt their homes—16 are still in temporary shelters and the 2 in Kathmandu will also stay in temporary shelters when they go to rebuild.

Reviewing damage to houses

Reviewing damage to houses.

  • Of the 20 families with home damage, 2 have completed reconstruction, 4 more have started rebuilding, 3 said they haven’t started for financial reasons, and those 3 plus another 11 said they haven’t started because they have had no free time in the agricultural season.
  • Most people have not yet salvaged supplies from their old houses and demolished the old building to clear space for new construction for two reasons: with the fields full of crops, there is no space to pile stone and wood, and their neighbors are afraid that demolition work will result in falling stone, etc. that could damage nearby crops. After harvest, everyone plans to start salvage and demolition—all by hand.

Ngima Nuru and family

Ngima Nuru Sherpa, yak driver, with his wife and children in front of their destroyed home.

We spent some time discussing what is happening in everyone’s village, the rising cost of labor and materials, the comparative cost of carpenters in different villages, and ways to improve seismic stability as they rebuild. My boyfriend, master builder Andy Mueller, kindly sourced and supplied a handout in Nepali that showed simple ways to strengthen Nepali houses. Although this information was produced by the Nepali government, not one person in our crew had ever seen it before. Information isn’t being effectively disseminated to villages, so we gave everyone a copy and asked that they also share it with other people in their villages.

Everyone wants to build stronger, safer homes, but they are struggling with cost limitations. Materials like concrete and rebar are very expensive, especially once they are portered into a remote area not along the road. Wood is also scarce, and in some areas is the most expensive building material. Labor and material costs have nearly doubled since the earthquake and with the ongoing border blockade. Around Chaurikarka, homes that might have cost $7,000 – $8,000 are now costing $12,000 – $15,000. Construction may be slightly less expensive in the middle mountains due to more local materials like bamboo and wood, or better road access in some areas. It remains to be seen how much the homes will actually cost, especially with costs continuing to rise.

SHOW ME THE MONEY!

Handing out the money

Handing out the money!

Together—you, me, all of us—from donating and from helping to spread the campaign on Facebook and other outlets, we raised $87,456 (as of Oct 16, when the campaign closed). Special thanks to stellar fundraiser, Gillian Mueller in Washington DC, for an event that raised over $10,000 and also deep gratitude to major gift donors ($2,000-$5,000) Katie Hoar, Jilyan Perry and her West Seattle fundraiser, M&M and our anonymous major gift donors as well!! I was also amazed to see how many people took a moment to donate $20, $50, $100 and more and also the dozens of people who gave multiple times—those donations really added up. Your support counts! The only fees that came out of your donations were the obligatory fees that GoFundMe takes out, $6,909, and also about $250 in bank fees for wire transfers. No administrative fees or other operating expenses came out of the money you donated.

Financial issues in Nepal are rarely transparent, and it was very important to me to be clear with all of our team (and with all of you donors) about the money we raised. I spent time in advance talking with Dawa

Sherpa (Nepali Guide) and Dambar Rai (Head Cook) to determine how we would divide the money. Our team is mostly Sherpa and Rai ethnic groups, and I wanted to be sure that both predominant ethnic groups had a voice in the decision‐making. Together, we came up with amounts that seemed right to everyone. I then printed out a full accounting, handed it out, and reviewed everything with them, step by step, showing that not one rupee was unaccounted for. They had never heard of anyone in any NGO program in Nepal, doing this. (Which is not to say no one has, but if they have, it is a rare instance.) I opened up the discussion to questions, making sure that everyone was completely clear about the money before we distributed any of it.

Financial discussion 1Reviewing the finances, line by line.

Financial discussion 2

Clear financial accounting that everyone could review—setting a high
standard for transparency.

As I had hiked in over the prior week, I had enquired in villages about reconstruction funds and learned that the government had not yet given any money to anyone I encountered. Small grassroots non‐profits from other countries, often with a long-standing relationship to a particular village or area, had distributed reconstruction funds of $1000-$2000 per family in some villages. A few members of our team who live in Chaurikarka had received similar funds, but more than 15 of our 20 gathered staff had received absolutely nothing from the government nor from foreign non-profits. (To be clear, I am talking about money for reconstruction, not temporary relief supplies of food or tents.)

From the Rebuilding Nepal campaign, we gave out:

  • $4650 each to 14 families with destroyed homes.
  • $2600 each to 6 families (4 with only partial home damage and 2 with destroyed homes but substantial support from wealthy relatives in Kathmandu or the U.S.).
  • $792 for repairing the Chaurikarka community stupa (at the request of the community which is the home village of Mountain Madness in Nepal and because Buddhists believe that the religious stupa must be repaired first in order to protect the whole village).

Please Note: the amounts above are converted back into dollars and vary slightly from the actual amount due to multiple wire transfers at slightly different exchange rates. Full accounting that the team reviewed is available here.

Group w money

Our Mountain Madness team with the funds they received.

HOPEFUL FOR THE FUTURE

saying thank you w prayer scarves

Saying thank you with prayer scarves.

The ability to substantially contribute to people’s lives, well‐being, and home reconstruction filled me with both joy and sadness. The whole team came up one by one to thank us and put Buddhist prayer scarves around our necks, which brought me to tears. I was happy that nearly 550 of us came together to help these families rebuild. I was honored that we were able to put money in their hands, which is what they need more than anything right now. I was proud that we raised so much together and are able to give a truly substantial amount towards the cost of their homes and the security of their futures. I was also saddened to hear how much they have struggled during the past few months, how hard life and living conditions have been, and how uncertain their future is. Although I feel we have given more than I could have hoped, and more than any of our team expected, it is still not enough to complete a home. It’s uncertain if the government will offer any financial assistance, particularly in these areas which were further from the epicenter of the quake.

Sukra

Sukra Mohora, kitchen staff, with his wife, sister, mother, and children aged 3 years and 15 days—his wife was about 3 months pregnant when the earthquake occurred, and they’ve been sleeping in a makeshift shelter ever since.

For the time being, however, our staff were ebullient to have cash in hand to begin rebuilding their homes. They were buoyed not only by the financial support but also by the emotional support of knowing that people halfway around the world are concerned about them and interested in their well‐being and their future. When I asked them about the future, they had their characteristic smiles—and an optimism that will help sustain them in the months to come. Nepali people have always proven to be amazingly resourceful and self‐reliant. They have lived in these mountains, under the harshest conditions, for centuries, and although none of us can see how it’s all going to work out, they approach it day‐by‐day, doing what they can, and hoping for the best.

GET SOME, GIVE SOME

Giving out clothes 1

One final activity was left for our program…Mark Gunlogson brought over a huge bag of clothing donated by Helly Hansen, one of Mountain Madness’s corporate partenrs. Most of it was children’s clothing, so after handing out the adult sizes, we made an unusual request of our team. If you’ve traveled with me, you know that I’m often doing unusual things—like gathering clients and staff for tea together so that we can learn about each other’s lives or having clients serve the final meal to all the staff after they’ve worked so hard for us on the trip. I explained to the staff that Mark & I wanted to do something a bit different. We often give them clothing for themselves and their families, but this time we asked them each to take some children’s clothing and, as they hiked back to their home villages, to give the clothing to someone very poor. This not only enabled us to reach some rural families with warm clothing before the winter, but equally important in my opinion, it allowed our staff to be not only beneficiaries but also benefactors. They were now in the position to help someone else—and that is an empowering experience.

Jumping

So that’s how we wrapped up…on a high note and hopeful for the future!

SO MUCH GRATITUDE TO ALL OF
YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!!

NEXT IN NEPAL…

The Go Fund Me campaign for trek staff has ended, but rebuilding in Nepal continues. My next step is to continue my work through Changing Lives Nepal (CLN), the charitable fund I started in 2008. It is CLN’s goal to find a better, more cost effective method of building in Nepal, rebuild a school and a community center, and continue our current programs: the children’s home, support for schools, and organic cash crops to support rural families. I was in Nepal this winter looking into building designs that use locally available materials.

Rammed-earth

Could rammed earth homes be a solution to Nepal’s crisis?
This and more on the
Changing Lives Nepal Facebook page or in the newsletter.

Rebuilding in Nepal is a long-term process that will take years. Please consider making a 2016 donation to Changing Lives Nepal to support innovation in rebuilding. Thank you!

Changing Lives Newsletter

January 21, 2016

In case you missed our recent newsletter in the busy holiday season, I’m reposting it here… Dear Donors and Friends,Nancy and I have deep gratitude for all of you, as you have supported our work and the communities in Nepal in years past, through this disaster, and into the future. Many of you contributed greatly […]

Read the full article →

Hope for Nepal

May 15, 2015

In a time where my sadness seems to grow deeper by the day, what gives me the greatest hope in Nepal are its savvy youth, coming of age, coming together. After I reached Kathmandu, after I saw every last client safely on a flight home, my attention turned to a broader field. I wanted to […]

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Aftershock

May 14, 2015

Aftershock comes in many forms. Kathmandu is a city turned inside out–thousands of people on the lawn of the convention center, tents on the golf course and in every open courtyard or square, recovered personal belongings piled in front of collapsed buildings, people squatting and cooking their daily meals in a field. Even for a […]

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Earthquake!

May 4, 2015

On April 25th, getting acclimatized to high altitude in Namche Bazaar consisted of a 4-hour hike, gaining 1000 feet, in fog with light rain and snow. The 25 of us with Mountain Madness–clients, Nepali staff, and myself–had just returned to our teahouse before lunch. In my room, I took off a goretex shell beaded with […]

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Patagonian Adventure

March 29, 2015

Wow. That’s what I said nearly every day in Patagonia…”Wow!” Patagonia is an epic landscape, ripe with adventure. What was once the desolate and inhospitable end-of-known-land, filling the hearts of early explorers with trepidation, is today a wonderland of glaciers, water, wildlife, and…fun! On the Chilean side is Torres de Paine–a land so full of […]

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Changing Lives Nepal – 2014 Accomplishments

November 23, 2014

Dear Donors and Friends, Namaste and hello….We are nearing the end of 2014 with tremendous progress on our programs: the new Children’s Home is nearly complete, almond trees are proliferating, and the nuns from Tsum have been trained on solar cookers! Through Changing Lives Nepal, we aim to use small funds for big impact. Generally […]

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