Joining Fashion Revolution with Resa Living in Nepal

A few years ago, I read Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Fast Fashion. Learning that my trendy, cheap clothing had a human cost led me to reevaluate my relationship with clothing. I stopped shopping at fast fashion stores and moved towards higher quality, ethically made essentials or second-hand clothing. I further defined my personal style by creating a limited capsule wardrobe. I started seeking out innovative and stylish sustainable designers who paid a fair wage to their workers.

Ethical fashion soon began to bleed into from my personal life and into my professional one. At a pop-up shopping event, I was immediately drawn to Theresa’s clean Nordic design and the way she mixed the beautiful colors, textures, and handicrafts from Nepal.

I learned we shared a passion for sustainably made clothing and she invited me to the Fashion Revolution event that she was hosting. This was the beginning of my discovery of Nepal’s many incredible artisans.

This year Theresa kicked off her online shop Resa Living. Through this business, she provides a living wage to over fifty artisans. She employs local people skilled in artisanal crafts like sewing, knitting, weaving, metalwork, and fine jewelry.  With a focus on sustainability, she reuses vintage saris and re-imagines leather remnants.

Spending time with Theresa’s employees to create this video on social entrepreneurship has only reinforced my view that every person deserves a fair wage for the skill and craft that they bring to the table and that we shouldn’t devalue human beings so that we can have a closet full of inexpensive clothes.

Fashion Revolution week is from April 24-30th this year. I encourage you to go to an event near you, support businesses like Resa Living, and to ask yourself this important question: #whomademyclothes?

Empowering Syrian Refugees Through Dignified Work

Over the last two years, I have been watching the coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis with feelings of deep sorrow and helplessness. The reaction to the crisis and the millions of people trying to escape has been heart wrenching.

When I was approached by The ANKA Cooperative to do strategic storytelling and editing for this social entrepreneurship video, I felt that I finally had the opportunity to get involved in a meaningful way. The ANKA Cooperative empowers Syrian women living in refugee camps by providing them dignified work through the creation of fine carpets and dignified crafts.

 

In the last year, I’ve spent hours looking through footage and photographs of these women and their lives in the workshop. I’ve seen the pride they have in their work, their deep concentration while weaving, and the stories of how their lives have been changed by war.

©2016 The ANKA Cooperative. Neriman is in her early 40s and has six children. Unlike many of her relatives, she made it safely to the Adiyaman refugee camp in Southeastern Turkey. Neriman is college educated, and prior to the war she worked for many years as an accountant. But in the camps, there are no accounting jobs or freelancer websites to apply her trade. Idle time brings painful memories. She jumped at the chance to work at the carpet workshop. It’s a new skill, but she is learning – and just as important, she is earning a fair wage, same as her Turkish counterparts. Her smile shines despite the tragedy she has faced, and she is very grateful to have the chance to work again.

©2016 The ANKA Cooperative. Neriman is in her early 40s and has six children. Unlike many of her relatives, she made it safely to the Adiyaman refugee camp in Southeastern Turkey. Neriman is college educated, and prior to the war she worked for many years as an accountant. But in the camps, there are no accounting jobs or freelancer websites to apply her trade. Idle time brings painful memories. She jumped at the chance to work at the carpet workshop. It’s a new skill, but she is learning – and just as important, she is earning a fair wage, same as her Turkish counterparts. Her smile shines despite the tragedy she has faced, and she is very grateful to have the chance to work again.

While researching stories for the organization, I was struck by Neriman. Prior to the war she was an accountant. She fled to Adiyaman refugee camp in Southeastern Turkey with her six children. Neriman is college educated, but in the camps there are no jobs for someone with her skills. With ANKA’s help she’s learning to weave carpets at the workshop. She is earning a fair wage and has a purpose each day.

I often say that the best stories show how our lives are more alike than different. Anyone of us could have been an accountant working to support our families. Can you imagine? One day you are a regular person going to work and then a civil war in your country becomes one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time. Half the country’s pre-war population – more than 11 million people ­– have been killed or forced to flee their homes. 

The ANKA Cooperative currently employs 250 Syrian refugees. They are teaching women the craft of weaving Turkish rugs and providing ethical income for entire families. Their dream is to expand their mission to other camps in Turkey and help more Syrian women.

The ANKA Cooperative provided me a direct path to help Syrian refugees and they can do the same for you. This week they are starting their first kickstarter campaign in the hopes of building another weaving workshop in a third refugee in Gaziantep, Turkey. If you can buy a rug or give a donation, please do. If you can’t, would you consider sharing this post on your social media so that more people can be aware of this project?  Thanks for helping me share this beautiful mission!

These images and video are owned by The ANKA cooperative & Joseph Terranova. They were not created by Crystaline Randazzo. I managed the strategic storytelling, shoot logistics, and editing of photographs and film for this project.

The Basic Components of a Photo Story

(Note: This post originally ran on NGO Storytelling, where I’m a co-editor.)

Why is it that every nonprofit has an archive of images but few have images they feel that they can use? It’s like having a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear. I think most nonprofits feel this way is because they have lots of images but very few complete photo stories.

Indelible, craveable, relatable images have become a high currency in the world of content marketing. Did you know the brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text? Powerful visuals are scientifically proven evoke emotion, which spurs on action. And what every nonprofit really needs is relatable photo stories to back up the important work they are doing. This post is your golden ticket to creating professional photo stories.

If you've ever seen the work of Eugene SmithDorothea Lange, or Sabastiao Salgado, you've probably wondered how they were able to create such amazing stories. Raw talent aside, let me tell you a dirty, little photographer secret: there is a formula for everything! Every master photographer and editor has used a variation of the components below to create compelling, photo stories.

 

Opener- This is the strongest image in your edit, the one that will intrigue your audience and get them to click on your link!

Wide Shot - This shot is a wide shot that shows the overall scene that you are shooting. It gives your viewers a feel for the environment where the story takes place.

Medium Shot-This photo draws your audience in closer to the action and makes them curious about what they see.

Portrait- One of my photography professors used to say that in order to have a great portrait you needed hair, eyeballs,  and teeth. Portraits connect you to an individual; they personalize abstract ideas or actions happening among large groups.

 

Detail- a tight detail that represents a part of the story presents an opportunity to add detail to the story that might otherwise be missed.

The Pivotal Moment/Action Shot- Your viewers want to feel like they are standing in your shoes. Choose image that makes them feel like they are. It should be engaging and dynamic!

Closer-I like to call this the riding off into the sunset shot. It should add some finality to the images that you’ve shown before.

I generally use 8-10 photos for each of my stories. I’ll add a few shots to the images above to fill in the gaps of my story or share images of intriguing moments. The sample photos above are from a photo story that I recently did on my website. You can read the full blog post if you want to see a photo story in action. We'd love for you to put together a photo story from your images and share it in the comments below!

A Year In Review: A Photographer in Nepal

A Year In Review for A Photographer In Nepal

As my first year in Nepal draws to an end I’m feeling nostalgic about all that I saw and did this year. Nepal is an incredible place and it’s not hard to see why so many people are drawn to its magic. I spent 2016 wandering its streets, trying to make sense of all I’ve seen with my camera.

I thought it would be appropriate to end my year of story by choosing twelve stories (one for each month) that have left the greatest impression on me since my arrival. Some cover work that I did, many opened a door for me to learn more about culture and religion, and some I stumbled across by accident. Regardless of how these experiences happened, I’m grateful to live in a place that has such an abundance of culture, faith, and truly kind people. 

Maha Shivaratri

Maha Shivaratri is a Hindu festival celebrated annually in honor of the god Shiva. It symbolizes overcoming darkness and ignorance in life and the world.

I participated in this festival with a local Nepali photographer who had been photographing it for several years. His relationship with the sadhus (Hindu holy men) makes it possible for me to take this spectacular image.

These three sadhus can be found in the first shrine on the corner across from Pashupati temple on any given day in Kathmandu. I once witnessed them forcibly boot out a visiting sadhu who had unfortunately chosen to set up shop in their designated spot. Their relationship with each other draws me back to the Pashupati.  

Madhav Narayan

Madhav Narayan is a festival and one of the most difficult rituals practiced by Hindus in Nepal. Devotees undertake a month-long fast, walk barefoot in the cold winter mornings, and take a chilly, holy bath in the Hanuman River by the early light of day.

Around me, women loosen their hair and prepare their offerings before entering the freezing water. They disregard the trash that floats up around them and rinse their entire body, including their mouths. Many light candles at the water's edge and chants fill the air.

Samyak Festival

Samyak Festival is held once every four years by the Newar Buddhists of Kathmandu. They preserve the Vajrayana tradition (one of three ways to enlightenment). Over a hundred statues are brought from all over Nepal so they can be worshiped simultaneously. 

Seto Machindranath Temple. Kathmandu, Nepal

Seto Machindranath, also known as Janabaha Dyo, is a deity worshiped by both Hindus and Buddhists. This temple is believed to have been established around the 10th century. Each year, the deity’s image is placed in a chariot and paraded around Kathmandu.

This was the first temple that I photographed in Kathmandu. The outside of the temple is intricately designed with beautiful metalwork and in the morning light streams in from the left side of the temple and glistens on the golden walls.

The temple is surrounded by pigeons, and worshipers feed them daily. The belief is that if you show compassion to another living being, you will bring good fortune to your life. It is my favorite temple to photograph in Nepal.

The Boy Monks from Dohla

Over the last year, I’ve built a relationship with a Tamang community that was displaced after the earthquake and one of the nonprofits that is helping them. Their homes and livelihoods were destroyed and there was no hope of rebuilding. The community has been living in tents for over a year. Their lives are far from easy, which is why I joined a project supporting them in building new houses in a new location.

I photographed a group of children from this community who left their homes to join the Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling Monastery. They are between six and ten years old.

For some, joining means a roof over their head, food on the table, and education. For others, it is an honor to their devout family to have a Buddhist monk in the family. Almost every family from Dohla has sent at least one of their children. One monk tells me he joined at 14 because he knew it was the right thing for him. I don’t know why these children are joining today, but I am grateful to be present for a small part of their journey.

Moti Maya

Moti Maya was only seventeen when she experienced her first earthquake­ – an 8.4 magnitude shock that struck Nepal on January 15th, 1934. Eighty-one years later her home was destroyed by another massive quake that also killed four people in her small village. After two months of living in the destruction with very little food, Maya Moti left everything she knew and went by helicopter to start a new life in Dhola with fifty five other families from her community.

She spent the last year living in a tent, but remains in good spirits. She finds all these changes in her life exciting and says nothing remains for her family in her old village. She expects she will die soon but is pleased that her daughter, son, and grandchildren will soon have a safe home to live in. Moti Maya’s wish is that her community will live in harmony while undertaking their project of building their 55 homes.

The community of Dohla is in the final stages of building their homes. The members of the community have worked daily with support from Shenpen to rebuild their homes. They have been homeless for two years. They need your help to finish the project. 

Mother Maya

The community of Dohla is in the final stages of building their homes. The members of the community have worked daily with Maya Tamang is 32 years old. Before the earthquake she had never carried rocks, sand, or rods. She didn't know about building houses. But she has learned to do all these things and take care of three children on her own.

On the day of the earthquake she was working on the ridge of the mountain. She rushed home after the shaking. Her house was gone and her children were terrified. Her husband never came home that day, and they never found his body. He had gone into the forest to collect wood; the entire area was covered in landslide. 

She stayed in her old home for over a month before she was moved to Dhola with 55 other families.  She is doing outdoor work for the first time in her life. She cooks, gather woods, and water. It is very difficult, but she is happy to be part of the community effort to rebuild their homes. As of December, she and and her children will have been homeless for over two years.

support from Shenpen to rebuild their homes. They have been homeless for two years. They need your help to finish the project.

Pashupatinath Temple. Kathmandu, Nepal.

Pashupatinath is a famous, and sacred temple located on the banks of the Bagmati River. It is considered one of the most sacred temples of the Hindu faith. The temple serves as the seat of the national diety, Lord Shiva. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pashupatinath is a sacred place for Hindus to be cremated and open air cremation takes place daily. The eldest son of the deceased shaves his head and completes the burial rites.

The banks of the river are lined with ghats (bathing spots) for use by pilgrims. Arya Ghat is of special importance because it is the only place where holy water for Pashupatinath Temple can be obtained and is where members of the royal family are cremated. The main cremation site (pictured here) is Bhasmeshvar Ghat.

Ride Bicycles Not Elephants: Chitwan Nepal

I spent July 4 celebrating not only the independence of America but also Tiger Tops, the first lodge to allow their elephants to go chain free and eliminate the practice of elephant rides.

The process of obtaining and training elephants for elephant rides is truly terrible, and their lives after they’ve been trained aren’t much better. Tourists who choose to ride elephants help promote unethical practices and mistreatment of elephants.

So when the opportunity came to go to Tiger Tops and support their efforts in ethical tourism, I was all in. I wasn’t disappointed. While we didn’t ride the elephants, we spent time with them as they took their baths and walked through the jungle with them while they ate. We also visited them in their specious, chain-free enclosures.

This year, I’ve had several opportunities to put my tourism dollars towards organizations that are doing good in the world. And I believe that post-earthquake Nepal needs tourism more than ever. Tourism provides jobs and opportunities to advocate for people and creatures alike. Search out the right opportunities, and you can make some change in the world.

Bali

I’ve been dreaming of going to Bali since I first watched Eat, Pray, Love in college. This year for our seventh wedding anniversary, my husband and I flew there to spend ten days in the beach and the jungle.

These types of adventures make me grateful for the transient life that we chose. I will never forget this trip and I’ll be forever grateful for a partner who values experience the way I do. 

Fishtail. Annapurna Base Camp, Nepal.

This year, Dashain, the holiest festival of the year in Nepal, coincided with my 34th birthday. My husband proposed that we start my newly minted year off with some adventure: eight days of trekking to the foot of Annapurna I, the 10th tallest mountain in the world.

On our fourth morning, we got up before dawn to hike from the base camp of the holy mountain Machhapuchhre to our final stop at Annapurna Base Camp. In our final ascent we ended up at about 13,500 feet, far short of the 26,545 foot peak. But from our vantage point we were on top of the world! As we walked on the path through the dark, stars twinkled around Annapurna I, and then the sun crept over the mountains to take our breath away.

Along the way we met people from all over the world. Our fellow adventurers were Nepali, American, British, Dutch, Swiss, etc. People of every age are drawn to this magnificent hike. At one point, we were told by an intrepid hiker, “I’m seventy seven years old, what’s a few more hundred stairs?” I hope that I can apply his philosophy throughout my life. You’re never too old for another adventure. 

Boudhanath

Boudhanath is an ancient Buddhist stupa and one of the largest in the world. I’ve been documenting the site on a monthly basis since my arrival and am struck by both the serenity of the place and a feeling of constant motion.

The first piece of advice I was given about Boudha was never walk counter clockwise around the stupa. This Buddhist practice known as circumambulation. Circumambulation is the act of walking clockwise meditatively around an object of veneration-three times or more as a gesture of respect. Doing so reminds Buddhists to keep the Buddha’s teachings in the center of their lives.

The stupa was damaged significantly during the earthquakes of 2015. The temple was rebuilt this year by a team of volunteers and workers. It was incredible to document the devotion to this sacred space.

Thank you all for coming along for the journey and following my work. I look forward to 2017 and all it brings. May you have a wonderful holiday season!

A Photographer in Nepal: Annapurna Base Camp

This year, Dashain, the holiest festival of the year in Nepal, coincided with my 34th birthday. My husband proposed that we start my newly minted year off with some serious adventure: eight days of trekking to the foot of Annapurna I, the 10th highest mountain in the world.

We’ve had a fair bit of adventure in our life together, but we had never climbed mountains. And where better to do it than in Nepal? So we packed up our gear, strapped on our hiking boots, and headed off to some of the most spectacular views we’ve ever seen.

If you are planning to do the Annapurna Base Camp trek, you should note that you will walk a lot of stairs. This trek is a stair master on speed. At one point, Dom decided to count the number of stairs we walked up in a single hour. It ended up being 1,735 steps – nearly 2,000 vertical feet! This was only one hour of our eight-day trek.

On our fourth morning, we got up before dawn to hike from the base camp of the holy mountain Machhapuchhre to our final stop at Annapurna Base Camp. In our final ascent we ended up at about 13,500 feet, far short of the 26,545 foot peak. But from our vantage point we were on top of the world! As we walked on the path through the dark, stars twinkled around Annapurna I, and then the sun crept over the mountains to take our breath away.

We hiked six to eight hours each day, except on the first day of our descent from the base camp, when we hiked 15.6 miles in 14 hours because we wanted to return to the village where we’d had a mean cinnamon roll and espresso a few days prior. Don’t tell us we’re not motivated!

Along the way we met people from all over the world. Our fellow adventurers were Nepali, American, British, Dutch, Swiss, etc. People of every age are drawn to this magnificent hike. At one point, we were told by an intrepid hiker, “I’m seventy seven years old, what’s a few more hundred stairs?” I hope that I can apply his philosophy throughout my life. You’re never too old for another adventure. 

My Top 5 Storytelling Resources

I can’t believe that I am eight months into the year of story! It’s been amazing journey and I can feel my approach to storytelling changing in small but profound ways. Sometimes changing your approach is uncomfortable. It makes you ask questions that you’d never considered and challenges you to do things differently.

I’ve read dozens of books, spent countless hours in online courses, and done some serious digging into the storytelling community. So I wanted to share some of my favorite discoveries from this journey. I hope that they will help you in your storytelling journey.

Power Your Podcast Storytelling by Alex Blumberg on Creative Live

I don’t have a podcast, but this is the best course I have ever purchased on Creativelive. Alex is the master of the interview and gives very specific instruction on how to create and direct a good interview. Then he helps you craft powerful stories. Prepare to have your sock blown of! He has single handedly changed that way that I interview for multimedia pieces.

 

The Storytelling Nonprofit: A Practical Guide to Telling Stories That Raise Money and Awareness by Vanessa Chase Lockshin

I have followed Vanessa’s blog for the last year and took an online course she offered. I got to meet her at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference in 2015 so I expect this post makes me an official fan girl. Her book primarily focuses on writing good stories for fundraising and donor retention. But fear not, visual storytellers, there’s plenty of solid information that we can apply to the stories we create. I often refer back to her story structure formula: Connection, Character, Conflict, Resolution, and Call 2 Action. This is invaluable when I am editing a story together.

 

Humanitarian Filmmaker Kate Lord on Involving Beneficiaries in the Filmmaking Process

Shameless self-promotion alert! I did an amazing interview with Kate Lord for NGOStorytelling that was a major light bulb moment in my storytelling journey. In the interview, Kate talks about her process of inclusive editing. She works with beneficiaries throughout the editing process to make sure they are comfortable with the way the story is being told. I realized that most of the stories that I created had zero input from the beneficiaries after the shoot. I can’t wait to start collaborating with beneficiaries to tell the stories that they want to share.  This just goes to show that no matter how long you’ve been telling stories you always have something more to learn.

 

The Living Brave Semester by Brené Brown

This probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me well, but when I learned that Brené Brown was going to be offering an online course, I couldn’t sign up fast enough. This course is based on her books Rising Strong & Daring Greatly and it might seem like a strange choice in the line up storytelling resources. But I believe that in order to engage in honest storytelling, you need to be in touch with your own story. Brené started me on a journey of self discovery that has allowed me to be a more vulnerable person who holds sacred space for the people who wish to share their story with me. And she’s going to start the second round of this course in January 2017!

 

Ira Glass On Storytelling

My favorite discovery on this journey is a four part video series by Ira Glass. You’ll probably remember that I wrote a post on the first video of his series. But he has three more that are absolutely inspirational. Every aspiring artists should watch these and be inspired by his words.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is a gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quite. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume o work that you will close the gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve every met. It’s going to take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You just gotta fight your way through it.”

This series gave me such hope about what is possible with my work if I just keep producing. So if your discouraged or unsure if you should move forward. Watch it and be inspired!

It's Been Over A Year Since the Nepal Earthquakes and They Are Still Living In Tents

In February my husband and I went to a Joss Stone concert in Kathmandu. I hadn’t heard her songs in years. What were the odds of her being in Nepal? Regardless, she came and we went. The concert included a pre-music dinner. And while we were eating a nice couple from Montreal asked if they could join our table. We agreed. At the time I didn't  know that Joss Stone was going to pave the way for me to do great work for an amazing cause. 

I learned that Mélanie is the director for ShenPen, a Buddhist organization that has a large number of projects for a small but mighty nonprofit. Over dinner, she told me about a Tamang community that had been displaced from their village after the earthquakes of 2015. I learned that the community was working tirelessly without pay to build a set of 55 homes on a piece of donated land.  Shenpen was supporting them by providing materials, transport, and the support of engineers and architects. The nonprofit was starting a fundraising campaign to try to finish the project and needed someone to help them with storytelling. 

Moti Maya was only seventeen when she experienced her first earthquake¬, an 8.4M shock that struck Nepal on January 15, 1934. Eighty-one years later, her home was destroyed by the recent massive quake in 2015 that also killed four people in her small village. After two months of living in the destruction with very little food, Maya Moti left everything she knew and went by helicopter to start a new life in Dhola. She spent the last year living in a tent, but her spirit remains strong and positive. While she confirms that nothing remains for her family in their old village, she finds all these changes in her life exciting. She expects she will die soon but is pleased that her daughter, son, and grandchildren will now have a safe place to call home in Dhola. Moti Maya’s wish is that her community will live in harmony while undertaking their project of building their fifty-five new homes.

Moti Maya was only seventeen when she experienced her first earthquake¬, an 8.4M shock that struck Nepal on January 15, 1934. Eighty-one years later, her home was destroyed by the recent massive quake in 2015 that also killed four people in her small village. After two months of living in the destruction with very little food, Maya Moti left everything she knew and went by helicopter to start a new life in Dhola.

She spent the last year living in a tent, but her spirit remains strong and positive. While she confirms that nothing remains for her family in their old village, she finds all these changes in her life exciting. She expects she will die soon but is pleased that her daughter, son, and grandchildren will now have a safe place to call home in Dhola.

Moti Maya’s wish is that her community will live in harmony while undertaking their project of building their fifty-five new homes.

I was still trying to get permission to work in Nepal. This project landing in my lap seemed like exactly the kind of thing I should put my energy toward until I got my paperwork settled. I decided that the Build Homes, Heal Hearts campaign would be a good fit for a pro bono project. 

I traveled with Mélanie to Dhola. I met the entire community. I interviewed single mothers, carpenters, monks, and a resident who was over ninety years old. I slept in a tent and ate the food that they carefully prepared. It seemed that very little in their life had improved. It's been over a year since the earthquakes but most of the world has forgotten about Nepal. I was witness to a community trying to do one thing– survive. 

My name is Maya Tamang and I am 32 years. Before the earthquake, I had never carried rocks, sand, or rods. I did not know about building houses. But I have learned to do all of those things and take care three children on my own. On the day of the earthquake, I was working on the ridge of the mountain. I rushed home after the shaking. My house was gone and my children were terrified. My husband never came home that day, and we never found his body.  He had gone into the forest to collect wood, the entire area was covered in landslide. I stayed in my old home for over a month before I was moved to Dhola.  I am doing outdoor work for the first time in my life. I cook, gather wood, and water. It is very difficult. But I am happy to be part of the collective effort to build our homes. I hope that once we have a house my children and I will be settled. After we have a home, I will have time to knit and make sweaters to sell so I can make a living. I hope my children will do well in school and do much with their minds. 

My name is Maya Tamang and I am 32 years. Before the earthquake, I had never carried rocks, sand, or rods. I did not know about building houses. But I have learned to do all of those things and take care three children on my own.

On the day of the earthquake, I was working on the ridge of the mountain. I rushed home after the shaking. My house was gone and my children were terrified. My husband never came home that day, and we never found his body.  He had gone into the forest to collect wood, the entire area was covered in landslide.

I stayed in my old home for over a month before I was moved to Dhola.  I am doing outdoor work for the first time in my life. I cook, gather wood, and water. It is very difficult. But I am happy to be part of the collective effort to build our homes. I hope that once we have a house my children and I will be settled.

After we have a home, I will have time to knit and make sweaters to sell so I can make a living. I hope my children will do well in school and do much with their minds. 

Since that visit, Shenpen and I have worked together to create videos, written stories, photos, and social media posts to share the stories of Dhola with the world. I’d like to ask you to check out the campaign on facebook. If you’re inspired and want to do something that helps this community­– donate here. If you can't donate please post a link to this blog on your social media accounts so we can share this story with the world.

Check out the first video I made for the campaign to learn about how the community started their life over in Dhola. 

I’m so thankful that I had this opportunity to learn more about Nepal and to meet the community of Dhola. I can't help but want to do as much as possible to help them. It seems to me that shelter should be a basic human right. I'd be grateful if you could do what you can to help the community of Dhola.  

When A Great Story Reminds You of Your Own

I cried during Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. Her words were brought home to me that Hillary and any woman after her can be President of the United States of America. They say that children can’t be what they don’t see. And I rarely saw women in politics growing up. But that story changed for women around the world this week. 

I remember the first time I ever voted. I was six. My teacher explained to us that there was a presidential election going on, and we were going to vote for who our class thought should be president. She gave us a flyer with a picture of George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. We circled the picture of who we thought should be president.

Image used from https://www.hillaryclinton.com/bio/

Image used from https://www.hillaryclinton.com/bio/

I decided H.W. looked nice, and a bit like my grandpa and that sealed my vote. I didn’t understand a thing about politics. It wasn’t a subject that was ever discussed in my house when I was growing up. I floated through the 1992 and the 1996 elections with barely a thought. Though I vaguely remember my mom going to the firehouse across the street to cast her vote.

I had just turned eighteen in 2000. And I voted for George W. Bush. Frankly, it wasn’t too different from my circling the picture of the man who looked nicest. I voted for him because I lived in New Mexico and he was the popular choice. In 2004, I voted the same way for the same reasons though this time I was in Texas. 

I was becoming vaguely aware of politics. My roommate was a political science major, and I remember being surprised that she had such passion and interest in politics. At that point in my life, it never occurred to me that a woman could have political aspirations, much less become president. 

Image used from https://www.hillaryclinton.com/post/10-little-girls-who-are-ready-first-woman-president/

Image used from https://www.hillaryclinton.com/post/10-little-girls-who-are-ready-first-woman-president/

I felt excited and informed about the election in 2008. I watched the presidential debates with my boyfriend, and we went and voted together. I voted for Obama. And I understood why I had voted for the first time in my life. It was an incredibly empowering experience.

I grew up in a world where politics were mostly a man’s world. I can count on one hand the number of women I saw in politics. I also grew up in a place where you never brought up politics or religion at the dinner. And as a young girl, I absorbed a story that said women only play a supporting role in politics. 

I was surprised by my emotional outburst this week and the joy I felt seeing powerful women take and command the stage. I heard their message loud and clear. Women have a place in politics. Hilary is running, and now every girl can image herself behind that desk in the Oval office. That is a powerful change in the narrative for every girl in America. And today Hillary’s story has changed my own. 

A Photographer in Nepal: Tiger Tops Lodge

I spent July 4 celebrating not only the independence of America but also the first lodge in Chitwan to allow their elephants to go chain free and eliminate the practice of elephant rides.

The process of obtaining and training elephants for elephant rides is truly terrible, and their lives after they’ve been trained aren’t much better. Tourists who choose to ride elephants help promote unethical practices and mistreatment of elephants. 

Shortly after my arrival in Nepal, I met Carol Buckley, the founder of Elephant Aid International. She is the leading spokesperson and expert witness for elephant care and protection nationally and internationally. She works with governmental agencies and private organizations to strengthen regulations protecting the welfare of elephants in captivity. She comes to Nepal several times a year to do elephant care and advocate for elephant’s rights.

Carol spoke to us about our responsibility to elephants and power of our tourist dollars to create change. She encouraged us to support places like Tiger Tops, and decline elephant rides at other lodges while explaining why we choose not to ride. The only way to better these elephants’ lives is make sure the lodges understand that tourists don’t want elephants to be mistreated. 

Carol also shared with us pictures of the damage that is done to the elephant’s backs, spines, and tails by the saddles and chains they are forced to wear. It was truly heartbreaking to learn what is done to these majestic animals for the sake of tourism.

I expect that if I hadn’t gone to the talk, I probably would’ve ridden elephants just like everyone else. It never even occurred to me that the elephants could be injured, sick, or even mistreated for my benefit. 

Once you know, this isn’t something you can un-know. So when the opportunity came to go to Tiger Tops and support their efforts in ethical tourism, I was all in. I wasn’t disappointed. While we didn’t ride the elephants, we spent time with them as they took their baths and walked through the jungle with them while they ate. We also visited them in their spacious, chain-free enclosures. 

This year, I’ve had several opportunities to put my tourism dollars towards trips that are doing good in the world. And I believe that post-earthquake Nepal needs tourism now more than ever. While voluntourism seems all the rage, the truth is that plain, old tourism provides jobs and opportunities to advocate for people and creatures alike. If you search out the right opportunities, you can make some change in the world. Now that’s a vacation to feel good about!