Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Devastation in Nepal. How can we help?!

Here I am again, on a plane, heading to St. Louis, Missouri. As much as I am looking forward to visiting family there, a part of me wishes I was back on a plane heading to Nepal. But I know that not being trained in disaster relief, that would not be very helpful right now and funds sent over will provide the most help. It’s been over a week since I returned from Nepal and now close to 48 hours since it was rocked by the largest earthquake they have had in 80 years. Hardest hit were areas in and around the Kathmandu Valley. I can’t believe that some of the ancient temples that I visited in the last month are gone. I can’t believe that friends whose homes I had visited are now living out in the open, exposed to early rains and cold. How can this be? How can this be happening!? But it does and when it does, many people are affected. In a country like Nepal, which thrives on tourism from people who come from the most affluent and developed countries, basic services are oftentimes lacking. And it’s only been in the last decade, after the end of the Maoist insurgency, that development resumed - roads were built, telecommunications expanded, and with that the building boom occurred. Many were leaving their rural homes to find a better life for themselves and their families in the city. Some sold their lands and built homes in the city. Others came without much to live in shanty towns or to rent a room from those more fortunate than themselves. But most came to the city to find a better life. Since my visit in 2006, Kathmandu had grown and my worst fears about the city and it’s people came true on Saturday.

So what can we do to help? This is always the question that comes to mind for many of us when disaster strikes. Being so far away, we feel so powerless to help and can only assist with our pocket books, if we have the means. Fortunately for Nepal, there are many Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) already situated there who have already mobilized and many disaster-relief teams heading over there. However, that doesn’t mean everyone who needs the help has been getting the help. I’m hearing from friends, that their rural communities near the epicenter have been flattened. Communities to the east and north of Kathmandu, also decimated. It’s unknown if aid is getting out there yet, so some folks are resorting to local, grass roots efforts.

It doesn’t matter which route you take to help. Assistance will be needed immediately, but also long-term. Do a little homework when choosing a large organization and if giving to a specific individual or grass roots campaign, be sure you know who you’re working with. At TRIFC, we are keeping in touch with our contacts in Nepal and will eventually need to help with long-term assistance, however, we are directing our friends to help with direct relief efforts by those trained to respond to these kinds of disasters. Here are some links:

Message from Charity Navigator: http://blog.charitynavigator.org/2015/04/tips-for-donating-to-nepal-earthquake.html

New York Times article on how to help:

Link to Global Giving - Organization which will be supporting other relief organizations with funds.

Link to Bo M Karlsson Foundation - local Washington-based scholarship organization who will be providing supplies via a local advisor.

Link to Empact Northwest - local Washington-based disaster team heading to Nepal

 As many of you know, Nepal occupies a special part of my heart. From my first visit there in 2001 to today. I can’t tell you exactly why that is but one thing I know for sure, our friends, their families and communities need our help and our prayers (from whatever spiritual background you come from). Please keep them all in your hearts and help if you are able. Namaste.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Back in the US of A and am I ready for it?

Wow! What happened? I feel like I have been slingshotted back to the future but not really. Going from the US, with all it’s modernity, to Nepal, which is coming of age in some ways, back to the US, can really do a number on the body (via jet-lag) and the psyche. Does that make sense? I know it doesn’t. But overall, the transition back has been going well and thankfully, it really started when I was back in Nepal.

After leaving the hustle and bustle of Thamel, the tourist district of Kathmandu, I shifted (that’s the word they use there in Nepal to indicate a move, and I like it) to the Boudha neighborhood about 30 minutes to the west. It was like I had moved to an oasis of quiet amid an ocean of sound. Situated next to one of many monasteries in the area and in the shadow of Boudhanath Stupa (one of the largest stupas in Asia), the guest house was a welcomed change. I met travelers who had spent months studying Buddhism and meditation at the neighboring monastery and I met newly arrived travelers who had yet to shed the anxiety they were unable to leave behind.

My pace slowed down in Boudha. However, that’s relative because the pace is never fast to begin with. Everything feels slower, but mainly it’s the movement of people that’s slower. Traffic is slower, walking is slower. As a result of this slowing down of movement, it feels like one can see more. See more of each other and become a part of the movement rather than one trying to beat it.

And with this slowing down, I rode on the back of some of my friends' motorbikes. I would never do that here in the states! No way! But there, I did and it was exhilarating. Not because we were going fast (because we sure weren’t!), but because it felt like I became a part of the city and its people. Many get around on motorbikes or scooters. It’s an easy way to navigate around the bigger vehicles. Husbands and wives with a baby or child sandwiched between them were a common sight! I felt like I became a part of that fabric of life. It was one of many amazing and of course, fun, experiences!

So here I am back in the US. Everything is orderly. No honkings, no dogs barking, no traffic (except during rush hour), no uncontrolled exhaust blowing in your face. Interestingly enough, it feels slower than I remembered it to be. I feel like I am in a different kind of oasis, one in a sea of order. This is neither good nor bad. It just is. And although I was sad to leave Nepal, I am home. This is my reality and I'm ready for it. Now it’s time to get on with things here and continue to support the work we do there in Nepal. I’ll just have to remember to not rush, to be slow, and continue to be grateful. Thank-you for being a part of this journey. A journey of a lifetime. Dherai dhanyabaad and Namaste.

Boudhanath on Nepali New Year's Day 2072

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Happy Nepali New Year, everyone! You might be wondering, how is it 2072 in Nepal? It’s because in Nepal, the official calendar is the Bikram Sambat calendar. It is approximately 56 years and 8 months ahead of the Gregorian calendar and Mid-April usually marks the beginning of the year.

It’s been a wonderful trip leading up to the New Year! Over the last couple of weeks, our organization, TRIFC, hosted a camping trip with the kids from both DHC Newlife Center (DHC) and Disabled NewLife Center (DNC) followed by a 6-day Life Skills Training course for the Blind and Visually Impaired (BVI). Many last minute changes occurred due to weather and bandhs (road closures due to political strikes). However, everything went without a hitch. The camping trip was a huge success - it included art and craft activities, a magic act, sleeping in tents (a first for many of the kids), followed by a road trip to Dhulikhel for a wonderful picnic at a gorgeous and spacious park. Both events, the camping trip and the Life Skills course was based at the DNC home. Fun was had by all!


The Life Skills Training course for the BVI, was a huge success. It was organized by TRIFC Founder and Executive Director, Rob Rose, ADSoN Executive Director, Nirmala Gyawali, and members of the Rotaract Club of Dhulikhel. The Rotaractors have been involved with a local school in their town which is home to 14 BVI kids who participated in the program. These young men and women of Rotaract, visit the kids weekly to provide nutritional fruit and provide some basic life skills training. The week-long program focused more intensely on what these kids will need to know once they are out in the the real-world. Such things as mobility (white-cane use), self-defense, kitchen skills, money identification, house cleaning specifically sweeping, exercise and yoga were taught. All with the goal of empowering the kids to take charge of their lives and surroundings. Sristi KC, Founder of Blind Rocks was one of the main instructors along with a cadre of other BVI instructors and Rotaractors. Sristi and all those involved in teaching the were awesome. They all did a fantastic job making the teaching both relevant and fun. An added bonus was having the training at the DNC home facility. The children there have a variety of physical disabilities but they have not had much contact with BVI children. They jumped in and helped and when possible, were also invited to participate in some activities. It was the best experience one could hope for given all the changes that occurred. I must say, I really did not want this experience to end and I sure learned a ton!

But alas, here I am back in Thamel, the tourist district and last night was New Year’s Eve. Food vendors had set up shop on the sidewalks and the streets were packed with people all dressed up and ready to party. I got back early from my activities of the day and spent the evening with Naseer, a shop owner from Kashmir, India, talking about each others’ lives over a cup of tea. Tea flows freely here. Walk into any shop and tea will usually, but not always, be offered. I then headed to the closest store and got some treats for myself and the boys at the front desk here at my hotel. We enjoyed a delicious platter of buff (buffalo) momos, Fanta (it’s the go-to soda pop drink here!) and some crunchy snacks. It was our little way of celebrating the New Year. But it was short-lived as the boys had to get back to work to attend to their guests.

One thing about Nepal, there are numerous occasions to celebrate the New Year. For many of us the New Year is a time of reflection. As I reflect back on the last year and the last month for that matter, I am very grateful. I am grateful to be able to return to this lovely country in such a short time and spend it with amazing people, especially the kids! This trip has been and continues to be everything - exhausting but mostly rejuvenating, sad but mostly happy, yet most of all, inspiring. I’m inspired by the strength and spirit of the Nepali people. I wish them and all of you, a joyous, healthy and uplifting New Year 2072! Namaste.

Monday, April 06, 2015

More than everyday people

Where do I begin? The days are flying by faster than I can keep up this blog. I last wrote of the amazing people of Nepal who are doing great things for their fellow citizens, but over the last few days, I have spent some time with people who are just trying to make a living here in the Kathmandu Valley. I’ve chatted with trekking guides, cab drivers, and shop owners, many of whom have left their home towns to come to the big city to provide a better life for their children.

There’s the guide I’ll call Kishor who only makes about $15 a day on trips where clients pay ten times as much for the trip. He struggles to make ends meet as jobs are scarce even during the trekking season. He will accept jobs that pay less, like that of a porter or kitchen boy, just to have work. He has to. He has a wife, two daughters, and a son with a profound disability. He lives in a room no bigger than my bedroom. He is the main provider for his family, which includes his ailing father who is still living in the village. All this on the shoulders of a 30 year old.   His wife, who only speaks her native language, is a strong woman who runs a small tea shop to bring in some extra income. While Kishor is away, she manages the entire household, while also bringing their son to physiotherapy appointments over an hours bus ride away.

Then there’s Suren, the cab driver who moved to the city from the foothills of the Himalayas, who dreams of the day when he can return to his village. He laughs easily and exclaims that he is happy to be driving a cab, something he has been doing for the last 9 years since he was 21, so that he can put his kids through school. He would have loved to have gone into the trekking business like his two younger brothers, but states his small stature works against him for a job that requires heavy lifting. And let me tell you, those trekking bags are mighty heavy.

What do these people have in common? They are hopeful. They love their children and will do anything for them. They are still able to laugh and enjoy the simpler things in life despite the difficulties that day-to-day life brings. They don't want to be pitied. At Kishor’s wife’s tea stand, village friends and family stop by to chat and visit the family. Lots of tea was served. Nepali style. Namaste and Tashi Delek.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Amazing people doing amazing things!

Last week Wednesday, the TRIFC group headed out to Dhulikhel, a resort town just outside of the Kathmandu Valley. After a sightseeing stop in the ancient city of Bhaktapur, we made a stop in Banepa, where we visited the beautifully situated Hospital & Rehabilitation Center for Disabled Children, better known by its acronym, HRDC. I was blown away, not by its location (which is pretty awesome), but by the work they do! This facility provides needed surgery and residential rehabilitation for disabled children whom otherwise would not have been able to receive care due to poor economic conditions. But of course it doesn’t stop there. They comprehensively educate parents  and family members on the on-going rehabilitation needs of the child and also educates them on disability prevention. Dr. Ashok Banskota, the founder of HRDC, informed us that of all the disability in Nepal, 40 percent are preventable! Imagine that! In addition to surgical care and education, the facility manufactures orthopedic equipment (such as special shoes, artificial limbs, and calipers), provides physiotherapies, and provides in house schooling for the children who are in the rehab unit for prolonged periods of time! After Dr. Banskota gave us the history of HRDC, we were given a tour during which I had the pleasure of chatting with Dr. Banskota’s son, who is one of eleven orthopaedic surgeons on staff. He described the Mobile Camps that they are running across the country. It is at these mobile camp clinics that children are evaluated and referred to the hospital if indicated. The one area where there is much need in Nepal is in Cerebral Palsy (CP). Many children have gone untreated and the mobile clinics help to identify children that are in need of help. The hospital has also established a CP program in which they partner with other CP providers in the valley to coordinate care, hence preventing redundancy and improving care overall. During our visit, we got to visit the newly built play-therapy room for CP patients! Another area they’ve expanded is in the use of community health workers, which they have trained to help in areas such as club foot therapy. I could go on and on about this place. It operates on a $1.5 million budget without government help, as there is no government help to speak of. These people are amazing!

Dr. Banskota welcoming us. He and his team had been discussing a case before we arrived.

Inpatient ward

Artificial limbs made at HRDC

And there are more amazing people to write about! The next day, we visited TRIFC’s Deaf Women’s Empowerment Group at the Kavre School for the Deaf and the Sanjawani Higher Secondary School, both located in Dhulikhel. I was again blown away. The Women’s group showed so much joy in the work they are doing to feel productive and confident in their lives. They have been creating beautifully embroidered cards and sewing washable sanitary pads to produce income for themselves. They demonstrated how they make their cards and we even got to try it out ourselves.

Demonstration time!

Beautiful designs by the women's group.

The women enjoyed seeing others try their hand at embroidering!

The students at the Kavre School for the Deaf

Our final visit was at the Sanjawani Higher Secondary School, where we met up with the Dhulikhel Rotaractors, who have been serving the blind/visually impaired (BVI) students who live in the hostel via a number of projects. In partnership with TRIFC, they have helped improve the hostel facility by adding security windows, they deliver fruit packages weekly, and they’ve recently been providing weekly basic BVI training to the children. This is an impressive bunch of young men and women, who make their parents proud. One Rotaractor, who owns his own shop, mentioned that when he has Rotaractor duties to attend to, his parents don’t ask any questions and they relieve him from his shop duties. Wow! That’s one way to get out of work, but on the other hand, the work he is doing with the BVI kids is surely a great excuse!

Some members of the Dhulikhel Rotaract Club

Security windows at the hostel.

I am constantly amazed at what great work these amazing people are doing here in Nepal! I’ve only been here a little over a week and I’ve already witnessed more! Namaste!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Slumber party in my hotel room!

I’m having a slumber party in my room! A couple of my Nepali colleagues asked if they could crash at my pad after dinner last night because it would have been way too difficult to go home late at night to their homes just to return to Thamel again in the morning. Of course, I said yes! How fun would that be! I would just have to get permission from the hotel’s front desk attendant. I was confident it wouldn’t be a problem because even though I have only been here 4 days, it feels like home to me! In fact, when I asked Abhay if my friends could stay with me, he said, “Of course, this is your home, you can do whatever you want!” Wow! Cool! Awesome! It would have been totally awful if he had said no, as it was late, my friends were already in tow, and it was pouring buckets of rain outside! But he didn’t and I really didn’t think he would as this is Nepal!

But here’s what’s even more awesome, I didn’t get charged extra for a third person and he even gave us extra towels and bottled water. You must think I am staying at a fancy hotel that caters to the rich and famous, right? Nope. This is a budget hotel. The cheapest I could find on the internet that had moderate ratings. It is so budget that I had to ask if I could get a different room than the one I was first assigned to as that room had virtually no natural light and was rather depressing. It did have a balcony, but it looked out onto a construction site and was clearly where one went to smoke (I really didn’t want to share a balcony with someone who smoked). But what was I to expect? My criteria had been that it must have running hot water and wi-fi. Not too demanding. I scoped out the rest of the building and found a room on the street side with big windows with a corridor view of the hills, that was fortunately available, so there I was placed. Many people prefer not to be streetside, but hey, I’ll take light over noise! With load-shedding happening daily (no electricity for at least 12 hours per day or night), having natural light is a big PLUS!

So did it still fulfill the two criteria? Hot running water and wi-fi? Umm, let’s say the water did run, but what came out was at first, scary. Dark orange water. This has really got to be rust, please tell me it is rust, and indeed it was. I let the water run until relatively clear, and now it just smells like iron. Even my Nepali friend slumbering with me exclaimed, “Jackie, I hope you are not drinking this water!”. I assured her that I was not, but said, if I did I wouldn’t have to worry about getting anemia! Okay, when a Nepali warns you about the water, that’s bad. Next, wi-fi, I need wi-fi. How would I continue to feed my addiction without wi-fi?! Yes, it had wi-fi, but only if I stuck my hand here and there to get some connectivity. Oh no, that won’t work! But whew, Ahbay informed me that I just needed to jump on another router. Yay! So with those two criteria met, I was set.

Oh, there are a few other things like a broken drain pipe and only one small light bulb that is about to also go, but hey, at least the pipe is outside of my room and fortunately it is not the toilet’s drain pipe and I have a headlamp with lots of extra batteries (btw, the pipe was finally 'fixed'). Despite all of this, I would not trade this room, this huge window that looks down on a rooftop garden and has a great view corridor, and most of all, the wonderful staff of friendly young gentlemen for any other place here in Thamel. This place may be ‘budget’, but it is rich in hospitality and is truly a Nepali experience! Namaste.

Monday, March 23, 2015

One of what will be many special days.

Another day is beginning and once again I’m enjoying listening to the city wake up. In some ways, I feel like I have been here forever, but at times it all seems so surreal, to be here again after just four months.

Yesterday was special (but I must say, everyday so far has been special in its own way!). I spent the morning with a fellow TRIFC board member and TRIFC’s Sponsor Coordinator. We walked around Thamel for a bit and of course, we ended up doing a little bit of shopping. I have been looking for a simple dress to wear to TRIFC’s Annual Fundraiser and have been wanting to get a traditional Nepali kurta. As some of you know, I am no fashionista, and I generally do not like to shop, so this was a big deal. Fortunately, we were referred to a shop nearby that is frequented by the locals. A beautiful and sweet young woman named Dilkash, warmly welcomed us in and showed us what was available. I quickly chose the fabric I wanted for my kurta, got measured, made the purchase and set up a pick-up date. Yes, a pick-up date as it needs to be sewn. We’re talking local goods here, folks! Dilkash was efficient but made the whole process easy and fun (and for me, not the shopper, fun is always good!). I was immensely happy to learn that she and her sisters run the shop. They opened it when she was 13 and her older sister was 16! Unbelievable! But not here in Nepal! The entrepreneurial spirit is amazing! Dilkash is now in her 20’s and is primarily responsible for managing the shop. This makes total sense as she is in her second year of a Bachelors program in Management. Her typical day starts with classes in the morning until 10am, after which she opens the shop and studies between customers. I am so happy that we found this shop and that was just the beginning of this special day.

I soon met up with a wonderful young man that I met nine years ago. He was only 12 at that time and he resided at the residential care home for children with disabilities where I was volunteering. He himself is not disabled, but was taken in at the home when the kids there met him at school and learned he was not being cared for. He became my right hand man during my time there. He helped tutor the younger kids and helped me navigate the mean streets of Kathmandu (not really, but it was during the insurgency, so we needed to watch our p’s and q’s). I last saw him in November, but it was very brief so I am glad that we will have more time to spend with each other. He’s a brilliant young man and is currently completing his second year of a Bachelors degree program in English Literature and in Social Work. He wants to continue his studies for a Masters degree and remain in his home country and be a teacher. He told me that once he had dreams of going abroad and leaving Nepal entirely, but now he wants to stay and help his country move forward. He would welcome going abroad should an opportunity arise, but is committed to returning home. He keeps up with world events by subscribing to the New York Times home delivery. He quickly tells me, as if reading my mind (how the heck can he afford that?!), that it only costs the equivalent of $30 USD a year (yes, a YEAR!). But, yes, he can read my mind - he did it then and he’s doing it now!

I met up again later with my team and we headed out to attend a board meeting for ADSoN (Ability Development Society of Nepal), a new organization in Nepal that will serve as boots on the ground for the projects that we do that serves persons with disabilities. They hope to grow into an organization that works also with other groups to improve the lives of disabled Nepalis both in the city and in rural areas. You might think that a board meeting would not make a day especially special, but this one was. It was both awesome and frankly, a little intimidating, to be surrounded by an influential and talented group of people from Kathmandu who care so much about the plight of the disabled.

ADSoN Board of Directors with members from TRIFC

We returned back to Thamel and I was feeling the urge for some dal bhat, the local dish of Nepal. A common refrain on a trek is  “Dal bhat power, 24 hour”! Ha! Then I should be eating it daily, like everyone else! Anyway, I happened upon 'Sarangi", a restaurant that benefits disenfranchised sarangi musicians. More about that at a later time. Writing about dal bhat is reminding me that I need to get some breakfast as we have another full day ahead of us! Thanks for visiting my blog! Until next time, dhab bhat power, 24 hour! Namaste.