What it means to serve
Helping others from the kindness of ones heart is a slightly strange proposition for people, especially when its coming from a stranger from a foreign country. In the western world we enjoy feeling altruistic. The truth is we have so much, more then enough and we want to give. Well, some of us do. The Nepali people work hard. But they work first for their family, then village, then country. It seems like a good idea to me and yet I find myself helping strangers across the globe rebuild their school. The earthquake changed my retreat company's annual cultural immersion into a seva project. What else could we do? Nepal and its people chose us.
After months of preparation, planning and fundraising we pulled our hearts and hands together to rebuild a school in a remote village in Gorkha, Nepal. This school, and many like it, was badly hit as it was built out of mud and rocks. When we arrived the children were taking class outside under temporary shelters. It felt important that we were there. They welcomed us in traditional Nepali fashion with bright red tika to the forehead, garlands of marigold and a soft golden scarf around the neck among lots of smiles and cheers. It was official, we have come to save the day.
It feels good to help others. I believe its truly what makes the world go round. Our non-profit, The Away Inward Foundation 501c3, works under the name Childrenweserve.org and we recruited a stellar group of volunteers who ventured into the unknown with us for what turned out to be a seva adventure of a lifetime.
Darbung is situated in a fertile valley near a beautiful and vibrant river. The people are earth-based and rely almost solely on their land. We were there during harvest time which yielded rich cultural experiences. We were offered fresh corn cooked over an open fire, warm buffalo milk and tea. Every house we crossed sang with the sound of baby goats crying for mama and little chicks following their mamas clawing of the earth. Opportunities to learn about living from, of and with the earth abounded and our eyes were wide open in appreciation and humility.
Our mornings started bright and early with the sound of children playing in the school yard. Our camp was located on the far end of the campus so interaction with the students was a an energizing daily ritual. We worked from 7:00 until breakfast at 8:30, then back to work by 9. We spent the majority of our days moving dirt and rocks of various sizes, the earth was heavy in our hands. We felt our bodies move in new ways. Our minds emptied with each repetitive motion and in those graceful moments we felt... freedom the blessing of manual labor and in luckier moments, ease. Other moments it was near back breaking work so when lunch was called at noon we were more then happy to dust off, wash up and sit. After lunch we hit the rocks again until 3:00 or so when tea was served. After tea we cued up in an orderly fashion for the solar heated shower set up that was masterfully crafted by our team leader, Ryan.
Dinner was the same as lunch, Dal Bhat, a traditional Nepali meal complete with lentil soup, rice, vegetable curry, sautéed spinach, a spicy tomato based chutney and sometimes a meat curry for the non-veg eaters and always the distinct flavor of cumin seed. Everything was fresh, local and organic and sometimes harvested or sacrificed that day. Our cook was an angel-god-send who nurtured us body and soul. Her name Manmaya means heart love. Which is exactly what she was. Some of the women became like sisters over time.
Bed time came early as the sun set by 5:30 and the nights grew colder and longer. We each had a foam pad, thickish mat or two, a sleeping bag, a cosy blanket and pillow. The nights were quiet, mostly. Expect during Tihar when the locals celebrated their festival time. With the sunrise we started all over again.
Each day was slightly different. A new surprise or local adventure presented itself. Yoga by the river, a slow stroll through the fields, a cold beer at the tiny general store or a samosa at the one and only eating spot in the village. Often we would be invited into a locals home for hot buffalo milk, fired corn or roti which is a traditional fried bread the shape of a very large and skinny donut.
Our volunteers where gracious. They worked hard and smiled all the while. We chatted at night and laughed as we shared stories about home, the day, the silly antics of the school kids, or the adventures in trying to communicate with rural Nepalis who don't speak a lick of English. While there was a language barrier so much was understood and communicated. Mostly the locals wanted us to know that we were welcome... into their homes, into their village and into their hearts. And we all dove right in, we fell in love and our lives will never be the same.
When we set out to help others deep down, I believe, there was a part of each of us that was looking for something else. Something that would only be revealed in the deep earth, in the rugged doing, in the moment of surrender to circumstance, in the discomfort of being without, in the raw humanity of living so closely with the earth. We went far away to help and we found a piece of ourselves buried beneath the rock and rubble.
For me it was a deeply personal excavation. I dug into myself, pulled up dirt, unearthed each stone. It was deeply karmic and still unfolding inside me. The people of Darbung have very little but they are rich and generous. They work within their means, live within the tradition they were born into and the circumstance that has fallen upon them. Each of their homes were cracked and many are not safe to live in so many have shifted their beds outside under temporary shelters. It can be crippling to see the devastation those two massive earthquakes left behind and the current fuel crisis that makes rebuilding even further from reality for most.
When you serve others you do what you can, no more no less, and you must trust and surrender to the fact that it'd enough, its what can be done and you have done it. What is born from these experiences are more then a new school but an understanding of life that will live forever in ones heart mind and somehow in ones bones like the rocks of the earth. When we help others we remember what is means to be human, to be alive and grateful and to share that gratitude, love and humanity in an circle of caring and sharing.
With the help of local workers we have completed phase one of this massive rebuild project. The work continues now as local masons are finishing up the first building only to begin with Building Two by the end of the month. In March 2016 we invite a new group of volunteers and then again in October 2016. Our foundation is fully committed to the completion of the project and have big collaborative plans for the future of the school and community. To get involved is easy, visit www.childrenweserve.org. Donate or volunteer. Answer the call, the world is waiting to embrace you.