ANSWER Sponsor Carolyn Durgin, Golden, CO
Back in October my husband James and I were fortunate enough to join Earl and 6 other ANSWER sponsors on a trip to Nepal, and what an incredible experience it was, especially to meet our student Poonam and her family near Lumbini.
After a couple of days in Kathmandu for sightseeing and jetlag recovery, we headed up to Changu, a small town about an hour outside of Kat. This was our base for 4 days while we painted one of the homes that ANSWER had just finished building for a sponsored family. Walking each way for about 60 minutes between our guest house and the new home, we quickly learned the meaning of “Nepali flat,” which is anything but! Beautiful views of the countryside, the ever-present white peaks of the Himalayas to the north, and relaxed conversations with our trip partners made these walks a true joy. Painting a house with 20+ people, most of them laughing/yakking teenagers, made for quick and beautiful progress. I was humbled and blessed by the generosity of the family, especially at meal time where we were served heaping plates of dal bhat with an awesome hot sauce.
We then headed 8 hours west to Pokhara, a medium-sized city on a beautiful lake sitting at the base of stunning Machhapuchhre – Fishtail Peak – and the mighty Annapurna range. Here, we got to work with a combined group of sponsored students for a day, helping them with their letters to sponsors, listening to their stories and dreams, and generally soaking up their joy and excitement. Juxtaposed to these wonderful students were the glaring shortcomings of the education system in Nepal – here we were at a well-respected private school, but resource materials were limited (it took the principal 10 minutes to find and bring to us a world atlas, very old and worn), electricity was intermittent, and Internet was unavailable.
Finally the day arrived and we would meet Poonam, the 14 year old girl we have been sponsoring. Poonam lives in the small town of Shemari just a few miles from the Indian border. We were scheduled to meet her at her school and from there walk with her to her home to meet her family. Nothing could have prepared us for the wonder and sheer delight of this first encounter! While some first meetings are quiet and awkward, ours was the opposite, filled with laughing, dancing (yes!), and more stories between us and Poonam’s family. Today, our connection with this lovely young woman and our sense of commitment to the whole family is unmistakably deeper. After months of exchanging letters, and now having sat in Poonam’s home sharing moments with her and her family, we feel an integral part of her life. No longer just the girl that we sponsor for her education, she has become our Nepali daughter!