Sorority Life in Rural Nepal (Part 1)

Utraman at the hostel

Utraman at the hostel

Utraman Rai has got to be one of the bravest men that I have met. For the past year and a half, he and his wife have been living in a facility with 42 teenage girls between the ages of 15 and 18. No matter where you are in the world, teenage girls are teenage girls, and that can be a lot of emotions to handle. I don’t know many people that would willingly take on that role. But he does it with a wide, genuine smile – knowing that he is helping to make a profound difference in these girls’ lives.

Built near Salleri in the lower region of the Solukhumbu district in Nepal, this girls hostel is one of the first of its kind in the country. Edge of Seven partnered with The Small World to introduce the project to the local Nepali population in early 2010. After a couple volunteer groups helped with the construction of the 3 campus buildings, it was completed in March 2011. But these buildings are so much more than mere shelter for the girls; they are an opportunity for education, growth and a chance to help their families.

In Nepal, as is the case in many developing countries, girls often are not able to receive an education. This happens for a wide variety of reasons, but largely because females are given a majority of the household responsibilities and big portion of agriculture work while they’re undervalued as contributing members of the community and given less priority than sons and males. Rural communities in the Solukhumbu, specifically, are spread out over the mountainous terrain and often require supplies, such as water, to be transported for hours everyday. Women and girls pick up a lot of this burden and, in turn, are not afforded the time or resources to attend school. Additionally, the closest school can still be days away and the cost of living away from home can be a deal breaker. This is where the hostel comes in.

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Some of the girls that live in the hostel.

The Salleri hostel is set up to house 42 exceptionally driven girls—those committed to the education, expanding their opportunities and returning to help their communities, but that come from families that could not financially afford to send them away. Those selected girls not only get the chance to go to college, but they get free housing and a supportive community that helps with supplies and meals. In the first year alone, TSW received approximately 100 applications, having to turn away over half of those that were interested. What an amazing success! These girls are from all over the area—anywhere between three hours and three days walking from the hostel. The majority of the them are now studying in one of three fields: education, business and science.

When I spoke with Utraman, I was so curious to hear what his experience was like. I honestly expected him to be exhausted and overwhelmed. He wasn’t. It was so easy to see why he was chosen for the position; his excitement to help and play an important role for these girls was obvious. It was also easy to see why that excitement was there—these girls were so motivated and eager to take advantage of this opportunity. There is no way to live in a place like the Salleri’s girls hostel and not have a smile on your face

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Partnerships and Understanding

International development is a tricky field. The lines between what is helpful for a community versus what is harmful for a community can be blurry. Especially when the help is coming from a foreign (often Western) country. As citizens of developed nations, we often like to think that we know what’s best for other countries without having a complete understanding of the environment that we’re entering. Many organizations and their projects base the needs-assessment for developing communities on the needs the we, as foreigners, see as priorities. But in reality, the focus should be on the perceptions and actualities of the country being helped. We should be sure that we are not imposing our priorities and our culture on these nations, but rather aiding their development in a way that enhances their own cultures.

International development needs a more effective and more thorough, anthropological approach to its work. Before saying these are your needs and here is how you should fix it, every group should ensure that they understand the actual situation at hand. What is the culture here? What is most important to the people? What systems do they have in place already? What are the obstacles (politics, resources, etc) that exist? What do the locals see as their greatest needs? What technologies exist already in this area? How will this affect the various members of the community?

Edge of Seven volunteer working with The Mountain Fund staff member on building project.

Edge of Seven volunteer working with The Mountain Fund staff member.

One way to ensure that the correct approach is taken is to pursue partnerships with organizations that already exist in the particular community. I was lucky to observe Edge of Seven’s partnerships first-hand this fall. Having been involved with the organization for over a year, I’m familiar with all of the efforts that go on State-side and the projects that each team member takes on to educate the public on our mission, bring in donations and gather volunteers for our trips abroad each year. But the partnerships that are formed with organizations in the communities that they help are the pieces of the puzzle that makes the operations work—this is what drew me to Edge of Seven originally.

Being involved with local Nepali groups gives Edge of Seven a leg-up in the international field. They know exactly where the needed resources are. They are able to communicate daily and more effectively with the people of the community. They are able to help maintain the project site even when we don’t have a staff member present. All while being able to focus on providing the financial and volunteer support needed to complete each project.

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Edge of Seven trekkers spend the day at the Salleri girls hostel with The Small World staff members.

Because of the local partners, Edge of Seven and other similarly-structured organizations are able to operate more efficiently and provide effective assistance to communities in need.

2 months and 25 words later…

The intention to learn the language is always there. At minimum, being able to say hello and ask where is the restroom is located is always nice. I thought that having worked with an organization focused on Nepal (Edge of Seven) for over a year and finally getting to visit the country and see our projects, I would have an extra motivation to put the effort into learning a bit of the language before leaving the States.

Apparently I overestimated that motivation. I arrived to Nepal this fall still uncertain as to why Kathmandu sometimes excluded its “h” and knowing exactly one word: namaste! (And let’s be real, I only knew this word because most yoga studios in Colorado fully embrace this greeting.)

But I tried my best once I got to the country to learn what I could. Luckily, I had two stellar guides for my first couple of weeks to help we with some basics.

First were the greetings:

  •  Dhan-ya-bahd          Thank you
  • Na-ma-ste (Na-ma-skahr)          Hello/Goodbye (polite)
  • Ta-pai-lai kas-to cha?          How are you?
  • Ma-lai sun-cai cha.          I’m fine.
  • Ta-pai-ko nam ke ho?           What’s your name?
  • Mero nam Tamara ho.             My name is Tamara.

Then there were our basic needs:

  •  Chi-yah             Tea
  • Khah-nah          Food
  • Pah-ni               Water
  • Char-pi              Toilet

And just so we could complain a bit easier in the native language:

  •  Ma-lai tha-kai lahg-yo.       I’m tired.
  • Ma-lai bhok lahg-yo.            I’m hungry.
  • Ma-lai tir-khah lahg-yo.        I’m thirsty.
  • U-kah-lo                 Uphill
  • O-rah-lo                 Downhill
  • Tu-lo             Big
  • Sah-no            Small

A few weeks into the trip, I started to pick up on some more food names that made it a bit easier for me to ask for things.

  •  Chi-ni             Sugar
  • Shyau             Apple
  • Sun-ta-lah      Orange
  • Ke-rah           Banana
  • Phar-shi       Pumpkin
  • Kah-kro       Cucumber
  • Ka-re-lo       Green bitter squash
  • Ah-lu             Potato

I got down one question that inevitably got a response back in Nepali which I could never understand:

  •  Kah-ti rup-ya?           How much does it cost? (How many rupees?)

But probably one of the best words that I learned in Nepal was pug-yo (That’s enough or I’m not interested). When dealing with the throngs of vendors trying to sell you everything you don’t need or waving off the third helping of dal baht from the very generous family, this word will give you the peace that you need.

After two months spent in Nepal, I would say that my total vocab was more accurately up to about 60 words. Not too bad for a foreigner with no prior knowledge of the language, I guess. But having some of these words down is so helpful when traveling through the country and, when I go back (and it will happen), I have that base to build on.

To Travel or Not To Travel…What a Silly Question!

Traveling has been my addiction for a while now. I feel that it was inevitable before I even set foot outside of the United States. I remember every year, Randy Nadler would come to our grade school and mesmerize all the students with his hour-long slide show presentation of all the amazing photos he snapped during his latest overseas trip. One year was China; one year was Spain; one year was Papua New Guinea. I always looked forward to this and knew that when I grew up, I wanted to be like Randy.

I’m grown up (at least I’m older) now and have be super lucky to do quite a bit of traveling since my grade school days. While I keep adding to my list of traveled-to countries, I have not been able to form this passion into a career or even generate an income from related activities. But that doesn’t stop me. My love for exploring and learning in the global community is what drives me to take the time and the money and dedicate it to traveling.

Here are the major major advantages that I find with international traveling:

  • Learning about different cultures.  It is fascinating to see how different countries celebrate Christmas. Or maybe they don’t even celebrate Christmas, they celebrate Diwali. Being in other countries and learning about others’ traditions, religions, daily activities, etc. is a great way to broaden your mind and see that just because things are done differently, doesn’t mean that things are wrong or bad. We should be exposed to the different flavors of the world.
  • Finding an honest appreciation for my own culture and upbringing.  At the end of every stint abroad, I always seem to find at least a small sense of relief when returning the States—my home, my things, familiar food, no problems with communication. Traveling can be sensory overload and mentally draining at times. It makes you ask questions and seek answers. And it leads you to a new perspective. What are the things that are important to you and the comforts of home that you may have taken for granted before? Experiencing new, uncharted territory (for you) helps to view your “normal” in a new light—maybe this leads to reaffirming your place, maybe it leads to a realization that change is needed.
  • Seeing the common thread among all humans.  While many countries and cultures are different in terms of the food eaten, the language spoken, the customs practices and other aspects, the basic needs of humans are the same anywhere you go. The pursuit of food, health, education and belonging exists all over the world but takes manifests itself in various ways depending on location. Traveling has really opened my eyes to this common thread that stays consistent throughout all of humanity.
  • Trying new and different foods.  Food is one of the most fun things about traveling. There are so many delicious cuisines around the globe! New foods aren’t always good, but how do you know that you don’t like it until you have tried it? I made the policy for myself that I will try any food one time. This has led to me eating bugs and lungs and some other not so appetizing things. But now I have tried them—I can say for certainty that I will not be eating them again and the story is fun to tell.
  • Experiencing the natural beauties of the world.  Beyond the cultures to see and learn about, the world is filled with incredible sites that humans had nothing to do with. We are lucky in America to have a vary diverse landscape across our country. However, there are so many other natural formations that are worth seeing. The Himalayas are the tallest mountains, the Great Barrier Reef is the only living organism that can be seen from outer space, the Costa Rican rainforest sports one of the highest levels of biodiversity. These things can’t can accurately described without seeing it firsthand.
  • Meeting other similar-minded and inspirational people.  Perhaps one of the greatest experiences that I have found while traveling is forming new friendships with the other travelers that I meet along the way. Curious people come from every country and have the same goals to step outside of their culture and bubble to learn about others. And everyone has a fascinating story. Whether it is a girl from North Carolina leaving the US for the first time, or a pharmacist from Scotland in between jobs and locations, or a guy from Sweden that is cycling his way across Asia, I have met so many individuals that have inspired me in one way or another and become valuable relationships for me.

Mountains Unlike Any Others

By Tamara Arredondo

I would not classify myself as an outdoorsy type of person. I have always enjoyed a good hike or a day on the lake, but I’ve never claimed to have felt that connection to nature and the outdoors that many of my friends have. Escaping the city for a while is a nice relief here and there, but there seems to be an eagerness that slowly rises in me to return to work and start checking things off of that to-do list again.

That was until I met the Himalayas—they are something special.

Himalayan horizon

My first introduction came as I flew into Kathmandu. I could see the peaks of many of the mountains over the clouds from my plane window. The mountains aren’t always visible from the Kathmandu valley due to the haze that frequently engulfs the city. However, they highlight the northern horizon often and tempt the valley dwellers to come visit them. I gave in.

The Solukhumbu region of Nepal is the epicenter of world-class mountains. Clearly, Everest is there. Going into the trek, I was ready for the remoteness of Nepal and ready to be amazed. But there was no way that I could have imagined the extent of it. The Himalayas are massive—they just dwarf the Rockies. In Nepal, there is a qualification system: snow on top is called a mountain, no snow on top is called a hill. Let me just say there are some enormous Nepali hills.

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And Everest is in a class of its own. With no previous interest or real knowledge about mountaineering, I didn’t foresee being so captivated by it. Many of the groups trekking in this region were there to visit Everest base camp. However, the highest point that we reached was a lodge just beyond Namche. Here we sat and enjoyed tea with an incredibly clear view of Everest that was only about 20 miles from us. It was breathtaking. Even from that distance, the size and majesty of this mountain was unmistakable. We sat in awe and it was easy to understand the importance that is placed on this mountain by local cultures. All 29,029 feet of Everest resonate this spirituality. That is a moment that I will never forget.

My love affair continued as I spent another several days trekking in the Annapurnas. A friend convinced me to go visit his favorite viewpoint, Poon Hill. The trek started in Nayapul and we just went up from there. This time it Fishtailwasn’t the tallest mountain that grabbed my attention; it was the most revered. Machhapuchre, translated to Fishtail in English, is one of the most recognizable mountains in Nepal (obviously shaped like a fishtail). What’s amazing is that it remains one of the only mountains that has not been climbed to its summit. The Hindu religion believes that this is the home of Shiva and the mountain has been declared sacred, forbidden to climbers. Fishtail seemed to follow us throughout our trek. Each afternoon as we reached our daily destinations, it was so comforting to sit in the sun and simply admire this mountain. There is an obvious sacredness to it. The spirituality just oozed from the whole region.

It’s hard to put into words the sensations of the Himalayas. It’s hard to accurately describe them to anyone who hasn’t experienced them. All I know is that I will go back, I have to go back.