I am in constant awe of the spirit that resides within each Nepali person I meet. They have such hope for their country and a desire to help their community, understanding that they are only as good as the rest of their people. Recently, Graham and I took a taxi to Nagarkot, about an hour and a half up the mountains from Kathmandu. We arrived in a small town filled with hotels, a marketplace and a couple shops, only one ATM and many hiking trails. We wandered up the only road to meet some locals and do a little shopping, then retired back to our Bed and Breakfast for dinner and a bonfire. As we relaxed by the fire, one of the workers came and spoke with us, after a bit of coaxing he procured some terrible looking marijuana which grows naturally. After picking out all the seeds and rolling it up into a cigarette, we listened as Caron told us about his country.
Life in Nepal is hard, it doesn’t matter what part they are from; those from rural areas dream of living in the city, getting away from violence, poverty and lack of education and limited contact while those who live in Kathmandu dream of going abroad, where opportunity for money and a life filled with freedom may await. The biggest issue in Nepal is their unstable government. Corruption and the Maoist rebels have filled the country with fear and violence, the last ten years have led to a mass transit into Kathmandu valley which has been safer surrounded by the mountains and an army. This in turn has led to pollution, unsafe drinking water and a huge problem with homelessness and squatters living in dirt and garbage, seemingly still a better life than where they came from. Then the earthquake happened forcing the government to release their constitution and help their people. It was too late for a quick turn around, though communities have come together in place of the government. Beginning with slowly rebuilding temples and homes, starting in more wealthy neighborhoods and extending out into the smaller villages and mountains.
It is this younger generation in their 20s that is starting to change their history, many young men and women wanting to stay and promote peace, education and community. Caron talks about the living dead; those who are going through the motions but can’t see how much filth they are walking through. I draw a parallel to the useless bulls which roam the streets, nobody is allowed to harm them since they are sacred, though surrounded by garbage and dirt, they are ignored as cars zoom past, laying in the middle of the road. The paradigm seems to be community by committee, as in if it’s nobody’s problem, it becomes nobody’s responsibility.
Our host Manish is doing his part to help kids and women in his country. Manish’s mom, Urmila Shrestha was a strong women who was one of the first female bankers in Kathmandu. She saw a need for uneducated and poverty stricken women to feel empowered and created a company called Urmi-Handlooms which trains and employs illiterate women. This company grew and now houses about a dozen looms. The other day Manish took us to the factory to view the process. First we saw the tiny dilapidated brick building in the middle of a field which housed the equipment used to make thread, then fabric. As we descended the staircase we were warned to be careful as the metal swayed with each step. Our eyes adjusted to the dark room and they turned on a couple machines so we could see the way the shuttles flipped back and forth as the looms alternated the weaves. Scarves and bolts of hemp fabric are woven with care, certain designs take more attention, each machine only in service based upon an order received. When we arrived the women were doing puja, a service situated out front in a makeshift tent using empty rice sacks wrapped around bamboo for a structure. Warmth from the flickering candles and mantras were heard as we respectfully admired and kept our distance. In the showroom, Manish pointed out options for higher end patterns and embroidery which is out sourced locally per order and upon request.
We got back in the car and he drove us through the town, pointing out the destruction from the earthquake. This town was hit hard because the buildings were made from mud instead of the stronger concrete which is more expensive not only because of the materials but also in the process of pouring. Mud can be hand caked and made from the earth.
We headed back into Kathmandu, winding through streets barely big enough for his small red Mitsubishi. We ended up in a small courtyard, ducking through a doorway, blinking up into a smaller courtyard, then crouching through a hole in the wall, stumbling to walk up 2 sets of stairs barely big enough for a child half my size and emerging into a dark closet, rough panels of wood made the walls, a metal railing and the floors covered in a dirty canvas where a woman named Pramila lives with her two children. This is where the scarves are brushed and finished. As many as 6 women work here at a time. Graham felt castrophobic and felt his way back down the steps and spoke to her son. Her daughter showed me how they brush the fabric with metal bristles to soften the weave. In the car, Graham told me about her son who is in college for IT and we realize this is where hope resides. Pramila is an uneducated woman, her husband lives in Saudi Arabia doing hard labor, but she is able to put her son through school, giving the next generation a step up in the world.
Some people live to survive, others live to further their world.
I have been reading The Himalayan Times everyday. I’ve read about the politics, the festivals, about water shortages, traffic accidents, gamblers being arrested, a girl stoned for being a witch and the trials that have resulted, medical issues with keeping doctors staffed at hospitals in remote places; all the while listening to people around me talk of the humanity and earnest goodwill.
I share in the frustration that many foreigners feel in wanting to help. The problem is how to help in a way that promotes healing and a sense of pride for nationals? I’ve listened as other foreigners speak on what has to happen here and witnessed them swoop in thinking they can solve all this country’s issues. I’ve also listened to nationals I’ve met talk about how they see the world, watching as their eyes glisten with the pride of history and beauty their country possesses. I worry about the hit that tourism can bring in ruining the history and reverence that belongs to the Nepali people. I remember a saying I’ve heard many times in LA; nobody owes you anything.
Nepali people do not believe they are owed. They are embarrassed by beggars who surround tourists and the taxi drivers who will unabashedly rob foreigners with fares. They are also embarrassed by those who come in throwing money around blindly, or those who impose their ignorant thoughts, not knowing anything of the history or auspicious culture, thinking they are doing good deeds. Maybe everyone feels helpless and not understanding what creates lasting change.
Nepal’s main issues in government and infrastructure will take time, human rights will be solved through education. What of the poverty though, how can we get more money into the economy? The government thinks this is through tourism, capitalizing on the mountains and rich landscape. I think it’s also in the exports, the entrepreneurs, the pashmina, clothing and the desire for women to work and give their offspring a better future.
Another organization Manish has started after the earthquake is called Get Well Soon Nepal, a group that uses art therapy to help children. He reaches schools donating art supplies and aid to promote healing and learning during difficult times. To date, they have reached over 5,000 children in over 9 districts in Kathmandu Valley and surrounding villages; those that were hit hardest by the earthquakes.
Manish and Graham have this vision to combine forces bringing Urmi-Handlooms and Get Well Soon Nepal to the next level, we created Karmalooms. This will naturally help in putting money and education into this country on an economical spectrum, enabling more women to work and capitalizing on something unique to Nepal; pashmina. Through exporting this authentic product and bringing it to an international market online and making it affordable to the masses, we are giving living wages to women who otherwise wouldn’t have income.
Pashmina is made from the softest hair on the belly and mustache of goats in a particular region of Nepal. Walking down the street, you can find many fakes sold to tourists thinking they are getting a good deal. Manish has showed us the difference, burning the fibers to reveal authentic pashmina which burns like human hair, not the melting that occurs with acrylic blends.
Graham and Manish have been busy planning and combining forces, Graham giving him lessons in marketing and branding and raising money in order to buy a first shipment to the United States. This kind of partnering is what’s needed in Nepal. As foreigners, it’s better to help build and encourage people, instead of imposing our views and ideals. We can share our knowledge of what makes good business, we can partner to export industries unique to this country, donating art supplies and education materials which will promote confidence within the people to grow and celebrate literacy and economy.
Graham is using his knowledge and experience to extend Manish’s reach, to bring wealth and education to people who need it. A mother’s hard work puts children in school, art keeps children engaged and wanting to learn. In understanding the process of how a pashmina scarf is made, it’s clear it isn’t just within the factory, it’s the confidence and faith that the women are given, it’s the spirit of the entrepreneur and it’s the recognition of quality and hard work that has crafted the final product.
If you are interested in joining this team, we are looking for donations to kick start this ball into rolling. We need $10,000 to pay for our first shipment, web presence and tax filings, $2,000 will go to Get Well Soon Nepal, and for each pashmina sold, $2 will be donated to providing art materials keeping children interested at school and healing the next generation of Nepal.
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