How Employment Changed My Life: Dhana’s Story

By Dhana, Kopila Valley Women’s Center Graduate, as told to Crystaline Randazzo

The BlinkNow Foundation provides schooling and a home for orphaned, impoverished, and at-risk children in Nepal. It also runs the Kopila Valley Women’s Center, which provides life-changing job training and education to empower women in our community to lead better lives. Founded by Maggie Doyne, the organization provides community services to reduce poverty, empower women, improve health, and encourage sustainability and social justice. This post was originally posted on Medium.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

I used to work eight hours a day doing physical labor. I carried stones to help build houses. It was really hard work for me and I was often in pain. I was married when I turned 14 years old and had my first child three years later. Then I had three more children. My husband has been sick for the past nine years and is unable to work. He stays home and I take care of him and our children. I am sad that he is sick, and it has been difficult to find ways to earn enough money to care for our family.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

When I heard about the Kopila Valley Women’s Center, I ran there and filled out the application form. When my name was selected for the first training group, I was so happy. I learned how to sew, how to communicate with other people, and I received counseling that has helped me. Sewing is easier on my body than laboring was. I can make everything — pants, shirts, kurtas. But my favorite part of working here is being surrounded by other women.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

I can now cover most of my household expenses with my salary as a tailor. BlinkNow also put one of my daughters into the Kopila Valley School — she was 4 years old when I started working here, so she was enrolled in nursery class. It is my wish that all of my children could have attended KVS because I still struggle sometimes to cover the costs of uniforms, shoes, and school supplies for my other children.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

I am an uneducated woman. My family didn’t have enough money to send me to school, so I worked from a young age. I cut grass for the animals, found wood in the forest, and cooked food. I want my children to complete their education and become teachers, nurses, or doctors. I don’t think my daughters should get married as young as I did. I want them to go to school and have a better life than me.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

My life was very tough before I got this training. I feel proud that I am now able to support my family and put all of my children in school. I want to thank BlinkNow for giving me such a beautiful life and the opportunity to work here.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

The Kopila Valley Women’s Center is working to close the gap in gender equality in Surkhet, Nepal and provide women with opportunities to feed and educate their children. We believe that when women are educated and empowered, they can make steps to alleviate poverty and foster a thriving community. Support women like Dhana at www.blinknow.org/donate.

How Education Changed My Life: Deepa’s Story

By Deepa Khatri, as told to Crystaline Randazzo

The BlinkNow Foundation provides schooling and a home for orphaned, impoverished, and at-risk children in Nepal. Founded by Maggie Doyne, the organization also provides community services to reduce poverty, empower women, improve health, and encourage sustainability and social justice. This post was originally posted on Medium.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

remember my first day at Kopila Valley School. I was in seventh grade and I did not speak English. I attended two schools before coming to Kopila, but I had never touched a computer or read a book before. In those schools someone would take attendance, the teachers would write on the board, but they never even talked to us.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

It is totally different at the Kopila Valley School. It’s more like a home than a school. We have teachers, aunties, and uncles who are all looking out for us. They give me snacks. They talk to me about how things are going at home. Everybody cares about me.

Going to school here changed my life. I learned many things and met so many people. I learned how to speak English and how to use a computer. I learned how to learn. I learned everything here.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

My life was really hard before I came to Kopila. When I was younger, my dad left our family. He was an alcoholic and abused my mom, my brother, and me. My mom was seriously injured and had a hard time taking care of us. My father remarried but continued to make our lives difficult. It seemed like he wanted us to be unhappy.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

My favorite part about going to Kopila is that everyone shows me love here. I never expected that other people would stand up for me. This has given me a dream to share all of the love in the world that my father could not. I want to care for my mother, my brother, and other women and children who are going through hard times.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

After I finished my studies in twelfth grade, I interned in the Accounting Department at Kopila Valley School. After my internship, I applied for a job with the accounting team and was hired. Now, I get to work at Kopila every day!

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

I’m a girl whose life is affected by domestic violence. I’m so glad that I am at Kopila. I have learned how to help other women and children. In Nepal, there are lots of children who grow up just like me. I know how hard it is. I know what it’s like to be hurt and have to show a smile in front of other people. Before I came to Kopila there were many times where I thought it would be better to die than keep living. I want to show others who might feel like that way that we all have problems, but we should work hard, and good things will come to us.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

©2017 Crystaline Randazzo. All Rights Reserved.

I would like to say thank you to the people who have helped me. I received everything I needed from Kopila. I do not have the right words to thank you, but I will say a blessing that you will receive happiness. I will never waste what you’ve given me. And I will do my best to make you proud.

Kopila Valley School provides a quality education and nurturing environment to at-risk children in Surkhet, Nepal. The BlinkNow Foundation is helping to educate students like Deepa and provide them with the tools they need to complete their education. Support girls like Deepa at www.BlinkNow.org/donate.

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?

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!

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. 

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  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.  

A Photographer in Nepal: The Annapurnas with Three Sisters Adventure Trekking

The last half-mile of our climb was a straight uphill climb. I was hot and sweating profusely. A cold beer had never tasted better. As it hit my lips, I wondered who had carried the heavy glass beverages up the mountain, accessible only by steep, uneven stone steps.

Over drinks our trekking guide Muna shared her story. She left school at 13, became the child bride of a man who was seven years older, and shortly thereafter gave birth to a daughter. When she was 15, she begged her mother to allow her to return home because of her husband’s abuse. Feeling lucky that her mother allowed her to return, she was unprepared when a few months later her husband took her daughter away from her. It was ten years before she would see her daughter again.

Three Sister's guide Muna (in red) and my assistant guide Tukashi leading our team of three women on the Annapurna trail. 

Three Sister's guide Muna (in red) and my assistant guide Tukashi leading our team of three women on the Annapurna trail. 

She describes the years between the loss of her child and finding work as a guide as extremely difficult. She worked in a rock quarry for a number of years, crushing larger rocks into small pieces for construction with her bare hands. It was grueling manual labor. Eventually someone told her about a training program for young women to become trekking guides. Trekking is a lucrative occupation in Nepal, but the majority of guides are men.

Muna often wondered why so many foreigners wanted to climb mountains prior to becoming a guide but it is clear that hiking through the mountains brings her great joy. Through Three Sisters Adventure Trekking, Muna went through 18 months of trekking guide training and now leads treks monthly in Nepal. Three Sister’s provided Muna with an opportunity that simply wouldn’t have been available.

Three Sisters was found by Lucky, Dicky, and Nicky Chhetri, Nepali sisters and pioneers in the field of female trekking guides. In 1993, they were running a restaurant and a lodge in Pokhara, where they met women from all over the world. Many of their clients complained of negative experiences with their male guides. So the sisters decided to do something about it.

It turns out that their work has helped both women trekkers and Nepali women. In 1994, they created a training program to teach local women the necessary skills for trekking and guiding. Since then, close to 2,000 women from all over Nepal have completed the training. Many have become full-time guides or assistant guides.

Over my short three-day trek, our guide and assistant guides – Muna , Punam, and Tukashi – were stopped multiple times by women in the rural areas in which we hiked. It was clear the women respected what they were doing and wanted to get more information on how they could get involved. I felt like we were with rock stars in the countryside of Nepal. Women young and old would excitedly greet our guides and ask them where we were heading. It was obvious that these women were leading the charge of change in their communities.

Our assistant guide Punam showing us how to handle heat on the trail. 

Our assistant guide Punam showing us how to handle heat on the trail. 

This experience showed me that one of the best things we can do to help Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake a year ago is to put our dollars into tourism so that its people can earn a living and rebuild their lives. I was so touched by the stories our guides shared with us along our journey, and I share the enthusiasm of the women that we met along the trail. The way to help the woman of Nepal is provide them opportunity and hope. If you'd like to help visit Three Sister Adventure Trekking's website and sign up for a trek or make a donation to their nonprofit, Empowering Women of Nepal and help women in Nepal become self-supportive and independent.