After almost 15 hours in flight from LAX to Hong Kong, my legs are starting to stiffen up and can't wait to arrive. I still have two more flights to go before landing in Kathmandu. The last time I was in Nepal, I was amazed by the peace and beauty, and it's hard to imagine the chaos that has taken place since the earthquake shook the country, crumbling buildings, destroying homes, killing and injuring thousands.
My first trip was to finalize the opening of our orphanage. We opened one for little girls who had no parents and no family. Some of these girls were from the Dalit caste which is the lowest, extremely ostracized. We wanted to create a home that brought these girls in and raised them as a family of equals, and in some small way, break down the barriers dividing the castes.
One of my favorite moments was exploring Kathmandu and visiting the Monkey Temple last September. As we climbed up the steps, I could see how the temple it got it's name. Monkeys ran wild throughout the park, eyeing tourists and locals for food or mischief. There was a large pool of water near the entrance and the monkeys sat on the side watching each other as one by one they climbed to the wall above it and then jumped into the pool with a big splash. Then they swam to the side to climb out again. They sat around watching each other like kids at a skate park watch each other do tricks. They seemed to have no fear and in fact I was the one backing away when one got a bit too close for comfort. We kept climbing up the ancient steps, under a bright canopy of prayer flags snapping in the breeze. Thousands of wishes, new and old, were blowing in the wind, clogging up the sky with their color. At the top of the rambling steps, several buildings covered in bird droppings gave the impression of a colder climate -- it looked like they were covered in snow, even in the warmth. Monkeys climbed on these roofs as well, peering down at us from their perches. More flags stretched from one white and gold peak to another and into the tree branches. At the center, a round structure stood, with rotating gold prayer wheels lining the sides. A monk was walking round and round it and I followed him for a few loops, lightly spinning the wheels with the ends of my fingers and enjoying the clacking sound they made. On one side, a prayer station was set up and I bought a candle to light. I didn't know how it all worked, but I lit one in honor of the orphanage we just opened, and prayed for happiness and safety for the six little girls who lived there now. One of the little girls lost both her parents to HIV. We were sending her to the doctor in a few days to get tested and I said an extra prayer for her health. I stayed there for a few minutes, absorbing the history and beauty of this place and this country, where people greeted each other with "Namaste," and sent love and greetings to your family who'd they'd never met. They welcomed you with flowers and white scarves and the most kindness I'd ever experienced.
When the earthquake hit, we couldn't reach them for 24 hours due to lack of cell phone coverage and electricity. I couldn't imagine the tragedy if something happened to this beautiful, newly-formed, unconventional little family. Sassy Susmita, sweet Pearl, little Laxmi, tiny Manisha, Sanju and Ashika. It was terrifying to wonder if something happened to them. Thankfully, we got the call the next day that they were all safe. They were outside playing when the earthquake happened and no one was hurt. After confirming their safety, our next thought was what we could do for nearby communities who experienced so much loss. We set up a fund on our website for things like blankets, tents, medicine, water purification tablets, first aid supplies, food, and more. I gathered a team of people who have traveled with us in the past to other countries. A week and a half later, here we are, headed over to bring supplies, check on the girls, and work at some remote villages still needing more help.
A big part of me feels inadequate. What can we really do to help in the face of such a huge disaster? There are many who say we shouldn't go, that we should leave it up to the bigger organizations specifically trained for this work. I agree to some extent, but I also think that we can help in our own small, imperfect way, and it will have a big impact on at least a few people.
An amazing thing happens when people take action and get personally invested. When we say yes, people rally to help. Strangers came to donate money and supplies. Friends and volunteers cleared their schedules and bought plane tickets. We may be small, but the difference we can make even for a few people will b substantial.
I'm not advocating a mad dash of inexperienced travelers with no plan to jump on planes for Nepal. Though I wanted to leave immediately, we took time, planned carefully to figure out specific projects and actual needs that would be most helpful. What I am saying is that if there are ways to help, then do it. The need is so great -- don't leave it up to others -- do what you can, where you can. Make some moves.
It's easy to be a critic and sit back safely, pointing out why things won't work. It takes more courage to risk failure to try and make a difference. The world needs more of that.