GivePower Nepal, Nov 2016

San Mateo, California

I heard of GivePower during orientation on my first day at SolarCity in 2014 and was immediately inspired to join in on its incredible mission. To me, GivePower represented the very reason why we were in the industry in the first place.

I got the chance to participate in one of GivePower’s treks through the ShineOn Scholarship — an opportunity for women in STEM to be rewarded and be given the opportunity to be part of something bigger. Personally, I attribute my win to my parents who had shown me the importance of a good education and provided me with the means to be involved in making the world a better place. I got the opportunity because after years of metaphorically neck-breaking hard work, I was an engineer working in a ground-breaking solar company. The heartbreaking part was how I’d stumbled upon the opportunity. It happened because an exceptional person lost her life in an accident, a person, who I like to imagine was a lot like me, driven and trying to change the world. Her family and friends donated to GivePower to encourage women in STEM like me to carry on the work of that exceptional person. It was a responsibility I felt proud to bear then and find inspiration in now.

I chose the trek to Nepal as I felt that I could provide inputs towards the cultural aspect of the trek, thanks to the fact that I was born and raised in India and am intimately familiar with the nuances of Nepali culture.

Prior to the actual trek, we, the team, interacted over multiple conference calls to talk about how we could prepare ourselves for three rigorous days of physical activity and imbibing a whole new culture and by the time we landed in Nepal, all of us were super excited about doing our bit to help the community (more on that in a minute!)

Kathmandu, Nepal

I landed in Kathmandu on Sunday, November 6th 2016. Flying in from New Delhi (where I’d stopped over to say hi to my folks) was extremely convenient, and I felt ready to dive right it! Throughout the day, I met a multitude of people, both from SolarCity and Nepal, all with a special story to tell!

David, whom I’d first met at SolarCity’s Earth Team hike at Point Reyes in California, the leader of our trek, is a totally awesome fella who gives these inspiring speeches and makes you want to perform your best! He and Prabhat picked my up at the airport and on the drive to hotel I soon realized that Prabhat was going to be the funny-bones of the group with his whacky, self deprecating humor!

As soon as I arrived, we were pulled into an introductory orientation led by Prabhat and Kishore, the extraordinary entrepreneur, enernerd and explorer (mapper of the Great Himalayan Trail) — who we would soon learn has a laugh that would give Jeff Bezos a run for his money! While I forgot everyone’s name as soon as they said it, I knew I had a ton to learn from the exceptional group of people who were part of the team.

Our first order of business was to visit the Swambhunath Temple, aka the “Monkey Temple”. Perched on top of a hill, providing splendid views of the city, the temple is famously called so because of the population of brave monkeys who would not be scared of nipping your fingers if you teased them while they relaxed on the temple walls.

After exploring the Buddhist architecture of the religious site, we proceeded to visit the more royal relics of the city — the Kathmandu Durbar Square. More than half of the sites within the compound were undergoing repairs and restoration to deal with the damage caused by the devastating earthquake in April 2015. As we explored the various museums and ate a delicious lunch at a local restaurant, I got talking to some of my teammates and learn their names in earnest!

The kickass team! From left to right, top to bottom: Aileen, Chris, photobomber, Will, Colin, Travis, Matt, Fred, Pablo, Shaunice, Dave G., moi!

Will and Aileen are biking enthusiasts who’d raised a significant sum to help fund GivePower through the ‘Climate Ride’ initiative. And just to give you an idea about their prowess, these rockstars biked on the (in)famous Annapurna Circuit after our trek! Serious respect! I also realized that Shaunice, my co-winner of the ShineOn scholarship, actually works on my sister team in Salt Lake City and had spent time in Las Vegas like myself! I also found Travis and Colin to be SFites (San Franciscans?) like myself and we decided that yes, Zeitgeist is the most divey bar in the city.

Dinner that night was incredible with a huge insight into the Nepali folk culture! From Roxy (Nepali wine/sake) to dumplings to riveting performances by the artists from different regions, it was a melting pot of colors and flavors.

Team from before + David R., Kishore and Prabhat

Journey to Beni, Nepal

We spent Day #2 on the road, being silly, playing the usual long drive games and learning why this trek was important to each of us. We were also joined by another member of Beyul Treks (who were taking care of all the logistics), Khadak who would go on to make our time in Nepal memorable.

We arrived in Beni, exhausted, and we welcomed by the most incredible dinner I’ve ever had — spaghetti in cheese sauce with a fried egg on top! And this was just the beginning. The food for the rest of the days was going to be far better than the best michelin star restaurant I’d ever been to.

Beni to Rayokhor, Nepal

There was no time to feel tired, as Day #3 was all about getting to the site! We walked around the little town to find gifts for host families of those who’d forgotten to bring some (I’ll disclose mine at the end!)

In order to reach Rayokhor from Beni, we had to pile up in four jeeps with non-tread tires and off-road up to a height of over 8000 ft. I sat at the very back and the very edge and just looking outside the window brought my heart in my mouth because I literally could not see the edge of the road, but just what was beyond. Multiple times, we had to get off and push the jeep so it would be able to cross a particularly large crater in the road.

En-route, we stopped for lunch at the house of the village leader and met with a Peace Corps student who was practicing sustainable farming in the backyard with the aim of teaching the methods and providing new crops to the villagers and help them prosper.

Finally, after I could almost take it no more, we arrived at the final township, beyond which we had to hike about 4 miles to get to Rayokhor. I have to admit, with Mt. Dhaulagiri on one side and the Annapurna Range on the other, this was one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done in my life — as gorgeous as the Half Dome in Yosemite, if not more!

We were welcomed by a ceremony by the village elderly playing the traditional instruments and the women giving a tremendous performance! We joined them and discovered that Pablo is a great dancer!

The highlight of the day was when we met our host families. The girls of the team, Shaunice, Aileen, Rinku and I were staying together with a family of four — a dad, a mom and their twins. The twins’ elder sister was married and was hosting a couple of our teammates as well. Rinku helped translate and we introduced ourselves to them and thanked them for their incredible hospitality. We would soon find out that their hospitality knows no bounds.

As the day wound down, we felt ready to begin the important task the following day.

Rayokhor, Nepal

Day #4 brought an inexplicable energy with it. Our task was to install a 2.5 kW PV system on the roof of the school building along with a 9 kWh lead-acid battery. The school is the principal meeting place of the village which serves not only as the building ground of all children up to the age of 12 but also as the place where the entire village congregates to celebrate significant events — in short, a very special place.

The goal was to install the system and connect it to a brand new grain mill along with 12 more homes. Take a second to understand the impact. Prior to the installation, the women from the village had to spend an entire day a week, walking 5–6 miles to a hydro powered mill in another village with a heavy sack of grain on their heads, pay upwards to Rs. 100 to have the grain milled and then walk back the same way. Every. Single. Week.

The goal was to establish a mill in the village to save the villagers from the physical hardships and by grinding the grain at Rs. 30 for all the villages in the proximity, provide an economic stimulus in the region.

We were split into three teams — the roof team, the ground team and the interconnection team. I was part of the ground crew along with Pablo and Shaunice. We were responsible for cutting up the metal pieces required to hold the panels on the roof. Both Shaunice and I learned to operate a saw and by mid-afternoon, we were huffing and puffing as we finished the last section.

Dave G., who had courageously taken on the responsibility of interacting with the villagers besides his installation responsibilities, joined me in the classroom where we reviewed the English numeric system with some bright 8 year old kids and (hopefully) inspired them to aspire to become significant contributors to their community.

On Day #5, the panels went up, secured to the base created by assembling the pieces we had cut out the previous day. Matt, who was leading the roof installation worked with a young agile installer from Gham Power, the Nepali Solar Company whom GivePower was collaborating with. Correspondingly, Chris and Fred, both class A technicians, worked on setting up the inverter and battery in one of the administrative rooms of the school building.

The day ended with a basketball match between Team SolarCity and Team Rayokhor (rest assured, they had legit jerseys and a killer team!) I dribbled the ball across the court for a few final minutes in the match against the grown ups (which we won) but ran out of courage the moment the younger lads came on the court. They played the SolarCity team like we were little pee-wees to their LeBron James.

This was followed by a cultural performance by the kids, women and men of the village a token of gratitude to our team. We on our part, dressed in their traditional clothes and learned one of the most famous Nepali songs to show them how we appreciated the opportunity to learn from them and their incredible minimalist lifestyle — and playing a small part in making their lives a little easier.

Resham Firiri Resham Firiri

Udera Jauki Dadama Vanjyang Resham Firiri

Kodo charyo, makai charyo, dhan chareko chaina

Kodo charyo, makai charyo, dhan chareko chaina

Pachi, pachi naau kanchi manpareko chaina

Pachi, pachi naau kanchi manpareko chaina

Resham Firiri Resham Firiri

Udera Jauki Dadama Vanjyang Resham Firiri

The eventful day ended with us spending time with our host families, who in the past few days had showered us with a lot of affection through their food and through their enlightening conversations. We presented them with the presents we brought them, two solar lanterns, a card game for the kids and SolarCity sunglasses which they all wore like rockstars!

Day #6 began with a hike up to the top of the hill where Aileen led power yoga to make the crew appreciate being out in nature. It was one of those lifetime defining moments — feeling one with nature on a green field at the base of enormous snow clad mountains.

Back on the work site, this was the final day of installation where we connected the mills and the homes to the system that we’d successfully installed the previous day.

Finally, everything was done and all that was left was — to inaugurate the system and the mill. The village leader, with a tear in his eye, cut the red ribbon to a round of deafening applause. The team looked at each other. We had done it!

As we exited the village that afternoon, amidst a platoon of people from all the nearby villages who’d come to witness the historic moment, each of us felt a sense of accomplishment that I don’t think many of us has felt a lot in our lives.

The ride back to Beni was equally disastrous as it had been on the way up — except more so, because this time we were in a bus! A few of us chose to get off and walk back the entire way — it was that bad!

Fun fact about Beni — there’s no hot shower.

Pokhara, Nepal

On Day #7 we headed back from Beni to Kathmandu and made a pit stop at Pokhara where Aileen, Will, Colin and Travis headed off to their wondrous adventures! I took a special fancy to Pokhara, perhaps because it reminded me a lot of San Francisco! I would definitely like to go back one day. After another 10 hour bus ride, we were back in Kathmandu where my eyes slammed shut the moment my head hit the pillow!

Kathmandu, Nepal to New Delhi, India

I returned home on November 13th, a better person than I had left. In the following days, and perhaps because this coincided with my birthday on November 15th, I realized that I had never felt more empowered. Simply by being part of something bigger than myself, I’d managed to feel more at peace with myself.

This experience had taught me lessons that I will take with me for the rest of my life. And I’m extremely grateful to the ShineOn Scholarship donors and the Slattery family for giving me this incredible opportunity to discover a path unlike others.