Our first two issues of ANSWER-Nepal last month elicited many positive responses. One of our sponsors from Washington State wrote me, “Congratulations on seeing your dream to fruition. Not many people have such a chance…”
I do indeed feel blessed. So much joy is being generated. The children are happy in school-imagine what a destitute child has to do if he/she weren’t in school! Then, there is the joy generated when we deliver letters to the children, only to be matched by the joy their sponsors receive when we deliver their students’ letters to them. And then there is the joy of our staff, and our two boards, who know that their efforts are truly effective. Oh yes, and the Joy Dave and Bonnie get from producing this newsletter…. Blessings, Joy, Love generates more Blessings, Joy, Love.
ANSWER Trip Experience 2011
The ANSWER trip I recently took to Nepal was one of the richest experiences I’ve had in traveling the world over the past 50 some years. On ANSWER trips, you get to see Buddhist stupas, Hindu temples, crematorium ghats, monasteries, crowded streets, crazy driving, eager school children in uniforms, and countless shops in Kathmandu. You eat all kinds of new, exotic foods. Then out in the country you enjoy bucolic scenes on lakes, magnificent mountains, and remote wild animal sanctuaries. All this takes place under the leadership and expert guidance of Earle Canfield and his local team of fine young men and women dedicated to connecting students and sponsors in ways that make a real difference in all of our lives. Meeting our own students was the center point – completely worth the long plane trips to get there!
Five Americans sponsors – all Unitarians – gathered in Kathmandu at the beginning of September 2011. Bonnie and Dave Cunningham from Phoenix joined Jim Raey, who lives close to Phoenix in Sun City. Then Cathy Barich and I arrived from Seattle. Earle met our various planes and had reasonably comfortable accommodations ready for us at Pilgrim Guest House right in Thamel, a tourist area of KTM and also a pre-base camp for mountaineers. Mattresses were thin but comfortable enough, fans blew most of the time, and we had our own bathrooms! If the power went out, there were always candles to light. We all got to know each other over coffee, wine, and delicious local food served in the tree-filled courtyard. Within a few days we’d explored areas on foot or by taxi or rickshaw – such as Durbar Square (full of old Nepali architecture) and a Tibetan refugee settlement with its own schools, a weaving factory, an arts and crafts fair, and wandering water buffalo.
Visiting schools began right in KTM, and we quickly saw the pattern of these school visits: Letters from American sponsors to deliver to individual students, letters to write back to sponsors (we helped out here as needed) , and then gentle conversations as students tested their conversational English and we asked about their life interests and dreams. On a Saturday we took part in a monthly get-together of ANSWER called Social Welfare Club where Answer students see eye-opening DVDs that explore the larger world and its issues. Earle’s capable staff members lead discussions to highlight common themes in all lives , such as the class or caste system and other injustices. These meetings are meant to develop leadership and commitment to keep educational sponsorship alive and growing.
Then we were off to the country to visit as many as three or four schools a day for several days. Ten of us traveled in a sturdy van with an excellent driver making his way over twisting roads often under repair. The scenery was glorious and green. We stayed together in small hotels, ate great meals out, grew to love candlelight, and shared lots of conversations about what we were seeing and learning. Oh, yes, we sang camp songs in the van in harmony, accompanied by Bonnie on her ukulele! On the weekend four of us stayed at Island Jungle resort where we got elephant rides through the jungle, tracked a rhino, and bathed in the swift-flowing river with our gentle elephant friends. Yes, there were a few leeches, but no damage done. Our companions that weekend came from all over the world – Japan, the Netherlands, Germany, and Canada.
It was in Pokhara, the “jumping off” point for many trekkers in the Himalayas, where we met two of our own students in their schools and created a party for them by the lake – a spontaneous happening! Earlier that week I’d met my student, Sandesh, and his father in his school’s library. Sandesh told me soberly that being sponsored so inspired him to study that he moved up to first place in his class. (Test results are the basis for placement, which holds great significance in the Nepali education system.) Sitting at a picnic table covered with snacks and drinks, about ten of us gazed out over the beautiful lake. Bonnie and Dave’s student had arrived with her mother, followed by Sandesh with his father, and soon everyone was laughing and talking, We did ink and water color drawings of the lake, blew on those silly snakes that unfurl and make a big noise, and sang songs with ukulele accompaniment. Magical moments. Afterwards as I walked Sandesh and his father to the hotel gate, Sandesh stopped, looked at me right in the eye, and said softly, “What you are doing in sponsoring my education is so important to me that I’m now committed to sponsoring other students when I become a doctor.” Then tears filled all of our eyes.
For those of you who would like to see JOY up close and personal, I will be going back to Nepal April 1. One never knows what will happen on these safaris. Have you ever bathed with an elephant or played round up with rhinos? Or seen a sunrise on the Himalayas? Or helped a child write a letter in a foreign language? Last year Jim was repeatedly moved to tears, Barbara (a world traveler, her story here) said that this was the most rewarding trip she has ever experienced, and Dave and Bonnie returned only to set out to forge this newsletter! So, heed my warning: DO NOT ATTEMPT a trip to Nepal with ANSWER without expecting life-changing results….. Look what it did to me! If you dare, click here to connect you to an information page on Visiting Your Child in Nepal, 2012.