“Om Mani Padme Hung, Om Mani Padme hung” the mantra that is observed on temples and prayer wheels throughout Nepal and carried through the streets by the chanting of this hauntingly beautiful mantra. Originating from Tibbetan Buddhism, it’s meaning is complex and cannot be translated into a simple phrase or even a few sentences. The basics of the mantra incorporate generosity, ethics, patience, compassion, perseverance, concentration and wisdom. It is said that all the teachings of Buddha are contained in this one mantra. The depths of this power and lack of words to explain it, are exactly how I would describe the people and cultural strength in Nepal. It is unlike anything I have ever experienced.
I am on day 13 in Nepal with our student volunteer team Nicole, Kevin, AJ and Ava and our team leader Jen. We are on a trip that was never supposed to happen. Two earthquakes rocked Nepal within three weeks. Other programs cancelled, and the integrity of our program was questioned. Deciphering fact from fiction from our fear based media outlets was a challenge. After taking every precaution and communicating with those on the ground in Nepal, the choice to move forward with our trip was clear. I arrived the day before the group and confirmed immediately that our decision was the right one. Witnessing a tarmac filled with supplies from around the world, waiting to be taxed, was my first indication that our hands on approach was needed. We did not encounter any other teams and there was endless work to be done. I was told that just seeing foreigners walking down the street was bringing smiles and hope to the people. Of course we weren’t satisfied with just showing up.
Throughout our two weeks in Nepal we have pushed ourselves to give everything we have. Asking ourselves, “have we done everything we can?” at the end of each day. During the day we teach at the Deeya Schree school to classrooms full of 150 anxious students. They have been out of school for a month because of the earthquakes and were so eager to get back into their routines. In developing countries the kids actually want to be in school, it is seen and treated as a privilege. The students we teach reside in the slums of Manahara Bhasti and are desperate for a chance to take a path different from their parents. They carry the weight of their entire families on their tiny shoulders. No working computers, no educational posters on the walls, nothing fancy at all and no complaints. We teach eight classes a day and have slowly earned the respect of the students and teachers, a very hard task. Most volunteers that come into the school can handle 1-2 classes a day because of the high energy of the overcrowded classrooms. Our group arrived early and left late. Our students had also prepared lesson plans prior to arriving and had something prepared for each subject, every day. Once they got the hang of it, I observed our student volunteers come alive with confidence and become the type of teachers that impact students forever. This is only half of our job while in Nepal. After school, at 4:00pm we begin our manual labor; This is not just any manual labor, it is personal. Taking down someone’s home, brick by brick while standing next to the person who has lived their entire life there, will rock you to your core. A widow, a father of three, a family of 11, we helped them all. I was shocked that we were the only foreign team helping with demolition. This demolition is critical to complete within two weeks, prior to the monsoon season. Trying to salvage their ground floors from further damage so they have somewhere to begin to build from, is paramount. Cockroaches crawling over our feet, dust and dirt in our eyes, blood and blisters, we pushed. When you find homework in the rubble, from the day before the earthquake, your task becomes a need and not a want.
Throughout this trip I have not heard one complaint from our student volunteers. They are our most experienced group to date and have been with our program for four years. They don’t just have a special place in my heart, the have the penthouse, private suite with butler included. They have helped shaped this program into everything is has become. Turning my own personal need to contribute to this world into something I have to do, not a need or a want. I do this for them so that their hearts and souls are expanded into places they never knew existed. So that they will continue down their own unique paths to uncover their true passions in life and help others along the way.
I have seen someone take their first breath and watched someone take their last. The moments in between have been filled with great love and loss. Looking back at my experiences around the globe, I come back to one thing that keeps me afloat. I think mostly about the hearts, acceptance and kindness of the people in these places. Not the tourist attractions, shopping or souvenirs, but the people and the light of their beauty in the darkest of situations. I have witnessed the most extraordinary examples of loyalty, resilience, creativity and hope among those who have been cast aside as hopeless. Born without luxuries or any foreseeable opportunities, and still able to carve out their own unique space in all of the chaos and loss that surrounds their everyday lives. Thank you, Nepal.
"Om Mani Padmi Hung"