To Rainaskot with Love

why my journey to help earthquake victims in Nepal might be wrong

On April 25th, 2016, it will be one year since the first of two major earthquakes struck Nepal, killing nearly 9,000 people, damaging or destroying one million homes and disrupting over 5 million lives. Change has been slow to come and many of the promised funds have never materialized. (photo from the UN record)

As a record-breaking cold winter finally began to subside in upstate New York, April 25th, 2015, Bruce Jenner came out as a transgender woman, Americans took to the streets in Baltimore, and thousands died in Nepal.

In the space of 24-hours “gender dysphoria” entered the common lexicon; in the birthplace of the Star-Spangled Banner, violent protest against the police broke out, in response to 25-year old Freddie Gray’s dragging into a police van and death from a severed spinal cord; and an earthquake of enormous magnitude struck Nepal near Kathmandu, killing nearly 9,000 people, injuring tens of thousands more, and toppling Dharahara Tower among thousands of homes and landmarks.

Alright, great, Carol. So you’re just another college-educated, white, naive, do-gooder who is going to tell us about exporting American awesomeness while we burn to the ground. You kind of make me sick.

Trust me, I get it. As I pack my bags to travel to Nepal, I am doubtful, even faltering over if this is the right thing to do when there is so much happening in my own country. Even though I agree with Audre Lorde when she points out that there is no hierarchy of oppressions, I feel terribly conflicted that my response to social problems and crises is to get on a plane and fly to another country.

The many ways to be the change

In the United States, Gray’s death helped instigate a movement called the “Black Spring” that emerged from the organized efforts of #blacklivesmatter activists. Solidarity at an international scale has emerged. BLM is appropriate, it is powerful, and it is a legitimate movement with influence that is bringing change. Freddie Gray’s life, one influenced by intractable poverty and systemic racism, has become one of many symbols that represent a shift in the conversation about racism.

This is a strange time to be an American. For many, the glittering dream is not much better than living on the bottom of a burned melting pot. In some cities, we don’t even provide our children clean water to drink. I worry. I am disgusted. But, I also feel responsible for our freedoms and am grateful that we still have the chance to raise debate, protest, and spark change. It may seem hard with the debasing rhetoric of the 2016 presidential elections, but I believe we are fighting to reclaim our optimism and that we have a decent chance of succeeding.

So why not donate your plane ticket to feed American children?

We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls. — Anais Nin

It’s a great question. And I don’t know. But, here’s why I chose Nepal.

The search for survivors was difficult because of the mountainous terrain, and it was perilous just to attempt to deliver food and medical supplies. In the year since the earthquake, rebuilding efforts have moved forward but have been troubled by fuel shortages, political protests against the government, ethnic disturbances, and cancellations from tourists in a country where nearly everything is imported and paid for with tourist dollars. These visitors represent 1 million Nepali jobs and about 10% of the GDP.

I’ll be honest. There are times that I have scoffed at Americans who travel across the world for what seems more like a jaunt than a serious offer of assistance. And pointedly, I’m even struggling with my own ambitions to help the lives of others half the world away. But, I also believe that we who have so much are obligated in every conceivable way to help those who need it, both at home where we vote and live in our communities, and in the developing world where we can also help. We can strive to live a life of service every day, at home, everywhere.

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. — Mahatma Gandhi

When my friend Natasha, who had lived in Nepal as a student, put down her jeweler’s tools to create the Fund for Lamjung to help rebuild after the earthquake, I was inspired. She told a very personal story about her connection to the people of the village where she lived, and how her perspectives shifted as these people became part of her extended family. Her story meant something to me; I wanted to do something for the people that she clearly loved so much. I contributed, went to fundraising events, and watched her face light up as people began responding with donations and the day the first house was rebuilt.

Then in February, I bought a plane ticket. To help the project, work, learn, celebrate the success in the village, and support my own research ideas on sustainable rebuilding after crises of this magnitude. I think this journey will make me and my work better.

But, will it even make a difference?

The truth is, it is the trekkers, mountain climbers, and adventurers who don’t go to Nepal that represent yet another disaster for this country from which it may never recover, devastating the lives of many for a generation. In the fall of 2015, as Nepal struggled to rise, nearly 50% of the travelers scheduled to visit never arrived.

So while the rebuilding of homes happens, human connection also happens. If we lift rocks with our hands, we also become a rock ourselves in the building of a bridge to those in the human family who need our help.

Usually, my bad days are just in my head, for many they are drawn in blood, poverty, and even in the giving of their lives. There are plenty of reasons to be discouraged and sad. There is also every opportunity to make a difference.

Why not?

A message from the villagers of Rainaskot, in the Lamjung district of Nepal. After the earthquake, they never expected to receive help in rebuilding their damaged homes.

The villagers need ongoing help. And you can support the team here.

$25 pays for bricks
$50 pays for transportation of materials up the mountain
$100 helps pay for roofing
$500 helps buy steel reinforcement rods
$750 pays for architecture and engineering oversight
$1000 buys cement for the foundation
and $6000 pays for a house for one family

Please consider pitching. It makes a difference.

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