The Oda Project

Essential healthcare and education - giving Nepali communities in extreme poverty a fighting chance

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Getting to Kalikot

In the previous update, John highlighted the successes with regards to the plans for a clinic, including the hiring of a doctor named Mim Bahadur Karki as well as the purchase of medicine that they planned to bring to Kalikot.

 John and the rest of the Oda team arrived safely in Kalikot by way of a 3-vehicle caravan a few days ago.  John was riding in a truck with several others, Karan followed closely behind in the motor bike that was recently purchased and blessed, and one of the uncles traveled in a bus (keeping close eye on the 20 boxes of medical equipment that had been purchased).

 Upon arriving in Kalikot they were very well received, as the village came out in full to help transport all of the medical supplies from the bus, to an area within Karan’s home that will serve as a clinic in the short-term.  This home also happens to be where John is staying, and after getting situated there, a village meeting was held and plans for the future were discussed.  Part way through the meeting though, some of the villagers interrupted with tears in their eyes, announcing that someone had just fallen off a cliff and died.  This man happened to be John’s next door neighbor. The entirety of the third day in Kalikot was thus devoted to funeral proceedings, and interactions with the deceased’s family.  The man’s children (he had six) and wife were understandably upset, and were already expressing concern for their future and well-being, whereupon John and Karan promised to look after them.

 Though this is certainly sad news, the clinic has so far proven to be very successful and necessary!  Currently protocols are being established as to who exactly they are able to treat, as people are coming from as far as 4 hours away because they’ve gotten word of the doctor in Kalikot.  

Hope everyone is doing well, and do look forward to another update sometime between now and Christmas!

We have a Doctor!

Hi everyone…Hope all is well at home and a very Happy Thanksgiving was had by all.  I am currently in Surkhet, and was able to have a fantastic meal with the 2013/2014 fellows. It turned out pretty amazing, with Chicken, Stuffing, Potatoes, Green Beans, Carrots, Bread, and Becky’s amazing deserts.  I’ve been so lucky to have a really great group of people to work with and share life with in Surkhet, and I am very thankful for all of them.  When I first got here it was easy to make comparisons to last year, the people, the experience, the place…but I really love everyone in this group, and am embracing the new experience that is this year.  While I miss the “OG” daily, I’m thrilled to be surrounded by such interesting and talented people now. Image

With regards to the project…the last week has been the most significant to date.  In the biggest piece of news, earlier this week we hired Mim Bahadur Karki, a doctor from Kalikot.   He has a great deal of experience working in the hilly areas of Nepal and is qualified to deal with medical issues unique to Kalikot.  He has a great reputation and has worked with a number of my Nepali contacts in the past.  Yesterday we went on a big shopping trip to get the first round of medicine for the clinic.  Fortunately, we had a relationship with the medicine vendor and were able to purchase everything on our list for whole sale prices.  I’ve had discussions with Karan, the doctor, and individuals from Kalikot and everyone is excited to get to work.

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In addition to our doctor we also rented a small home in Surkhet.  I’m a huge fan of the property which is roughly ten minutes from Kopila Valley, and very livable.  The home will serve as a springboard for OdaKids, as the majority of major purchases will be made in Surkhet.  Additionally, if patients are in need of care beyond what we are able to provide in Oda, they can come down to Surkhet in order to receive additional treatment.  As the nearest large city, it made a great deal of sense for our team to have a place of our own in town.  The house will also house Karan and me while we’re in Surkhet.  As I’ve mentioned in past posts it was my experience in Surkhet that inspired this journey, so I’m thrilled to have a more permanent place to call home while visiting Surkhet.

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Over the past week, we also purchased a motor bike to help facilitate operations.  Whether making supply runs, or handling patients in the event of an emergency, after some serious thought the need for private transportation was necessary.  Already, it has been invaluable in terms of helping Karan and I make the necessary purchases for our project!  On Saturday Karan and I woke up at 530 am in order to go to Temple, and get the bike blessed.  It was a pretty surreal experience, but I’m thrilled that we went…the blessing definitely put some minds at ease.

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Now that things are getting underway, I plan to update the blog much more regularly.  The past several months has been an up and down adventure in terms of finalizing planning, but now that the project is going forward I’m very excited to share the adventure.  For now we plan to focus on the clinic, until we reach a place where we feel we are in good enough shape to push forward on other projects.  Per usual I appreciate all of your support, and I know full well that I would not be where I am or doing what I hope to do without the support of everyone at home.

Good Bye Nena

So much has been going on these past few weeks.  I took a trip to Kalikot, I made some huge strides with my project, and sadly Nena left Nepal.   Nepal will not be the same without her presence, the day I met her I knew she was special.  She has been a constant source of calm and perspective, which I’ve come to appreciate even more in recent months.  Whether teaching Yoga, or joining me on a morning runs she is someone I’ve gone to with just about every issue I’ve run into while in Nepal .  I love her more than any blog post can convey.  She’s an amazing person, and amazing friend, and I will miss her so much.  The one thing I can take solace in, is knowing that this is not the end and with Nena I’ve found a friend for life.

Image Me and Nena

As for the project, things are finally taking shape. On my trip I was accompanied by Nena and Karan.  Nena was a spectacular resource, in terms of getting another westerner on the ground in Oda, and getting to hear their perspective.  Additionally, Karan was someone Tope introduced me to several weeks ago as a possible program manager for OdaKids.  He proved invaluable on our trip, and I look forward to working with him in the future.  He is honest, hardworking, speaks fantastic English, and we share a similar vision.  I am working on lots of details right now, but I’m happy to say that for the first time in a while I am feeling very comfortable with our game plan and trajectory!  I will post a big blog update soon, providing much more details about everything going on up here.

 ImageMe and Karan

Also, for those of you who have contributed to OdaKids here is a quick story about a young boy that was treated thanks to your support.  After we arrived, a young boy named Ansa came to where I was staying to say hello.  I learned that last month his mother passed away, and last year his father passed away.  He is currently living with his older sister who provides for a family of her own, that being said he was one of the happiest boys we ran into.  Unfortunately, he could not sit down as a result of Impetigo which took over virtually his entire lower body.  After speaking with Karan, we chose to bring him with us when we left to get treatment in regional capital. For just $7 we were able to get him ointments and antibiotics to treat his condition.  Just this morning I heard from Karan’s mother, and Ansa is experiencing a strong recovery due to the basic medicines we provided.  While OdaKids was able to “Come to the rescue” in this instance, there a countless individuals battling infections and diseases which could be easily treated with simple and affordable medications.   It is kids like Ansa that inspire me, and conditions like his that encourage me.  In a country like Nepal such a small amount goes such a long way and I’m excited to help Ansa and the hundreds of kids in a position just like his.

 ImageHappy Ansa!

Hope all is well at home!  I look forward to more worthwhile updates soon!

Life as usual

Since I last wrote, I’ve been getting back into the swing over here.  I’ve really been enjoying myself back in Nepal, and I’ve moved from a local hotel into the hostel where I stayed last year.  It has been wonderful spending time with the Kids, catching up on their lives, and helping out as needed around the house. I’ve really enjoyed helping out with of manual labor, as there are about 10 construction projects going on around the house.  Whether carrying cement to the roof, cracking cement in the kitchen, or assembling reusable maxi pads in the women’s center it’s been really nice to contribute in a meaningful way.  Not only do I love spending time with the aunties and the uncles, there is also a very cathartic element to manual work that I’ve always enjoyed.  

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Team work at its finest...

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Hanging with Sagar

 

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Working on the roof with one of my favorite people ever, Amrika

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Kites with Yaga and Santosh

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Visiting Laxmi and her family

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Arti's Birthday Party!!!

As you can seen by the pictures I love it here, that said, I remain extremely excited to get going on my own journey before I slip into a sense of complacency and comfort.  I love Surkhet, I love the kids , and I love the staff .  In many ways I feel like I could stay forever, however, I know that the kids are in great hands here with a wonderful new group of fellows, and that Kopila Valley is humming along stronger than ever.  In that vein, I know that while I love life here with these people, I must keep pushing forward with my own journey, and that inevitably it will need to dovetail to some degree from that of Kopila.    Like I mentioned in my last post, things have changed a bit with OdaKids, however, the beat goes on.   As I’ve talked to friends and family the common theme has been that these unexpected bumps in the road will be the norm and not the exception, and fortunately the bumps in the road are much easier to deal with while I’m here, surrounded by all the reasons I started this journey initially.  To that end, I will keep updating the blog with my status.  At the moment, I’m speaking to as many people as possible trying to establish the most meaningful way I can contribute.  The more people I speak to the clearer that picture becomes, and I feel strongly that I will have a much better grasp of my future within the next few weeks.

Back In Nepal!

Just got back to Nepal a couple of days ago!  The old principal from Kopila Valley picked me up from the airport, where I received the VIP treatment getting whisked to the front of the security line and quickly getting out of the airport.  After catching up with him for some time, I met with our beloved travel agent Rijen, along with Michelle and Pujan the owners of Hotel Courtyard.  After one very jetlagged night sleep, I made my way to the airport and ultimately to Surkhet.

Since getting back its been a whirlwind!  So much catching up, and so many hugs to give. It really is like walking into the happiest place on earth, with enough love and smiles to last a lifetime.   Just yesterday we went to the pool at Shani Village resort, with some of the older kids and did swimming lessons.   It was such a great afternoon, and I had a blast catching up with everyone!

As for OdaKids I will be sure to pass along more updates soon, however, as with everything in life plans tend to change and evolve with time…and I’m in the process of working on that evolution now!  While I figure everything out, I’m just so happy to be back in Surkhet a place that I love with the people that I love…the people and the place that made me fall in love with Nepal in the first place. 

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Perspective

Sorry for taking so long to provide an update, but for those of you who haven’t talked to me, I am actually still here in America.  This unexpected turn of events, began to unfold Sunday, September 8th.  I was visiting a good friend of mine in London, making some last minute purchases in preparation for my flight to Nepal, which was slated to take off late that night.  Shortly before I was planning to leave to the airport, I received a call from my sister who asked me “did I hear the news” to which I responded No. Over the next few minutes, I learned that after returning from Europe doctors found an egg sized tumor in my father’s lung and they were exploring treatment options.  After pushing back my flight back one week in London, I decided to go into a “holding pattern” as I learned more news about my father’s situation. Unfortunately, the initial information was quite negative and the more I learned the more pessimistic I became.  It was on Tuesday night, after talking to my father and breaking down in my friends London apartment that I decided the the only course of action was to return home, and support my Dad while we learned more about what was going on.  As many people who read this blog know, my mother passed away from cancer 3 years ago and it was almost impossible for me not to instantly return to that nightmare and consider the worst case scenario.  The combination of anger, sadness, and confusion engulfed me for two weeks, as I tried to reconcile the loss of my mother with the increasing reality of having to fight the same awful fight once again.  My focus evaporated, and I spent the majority of my days going through hypotheticals trying to figure out what I would do given the worst case.  I could not help but feel overwhelmed, as this news hit me like a pile of bricks literally on the eve of the biggest move in my life…and the anger, sadness, and confusion were replaced with a resigned “you’ve got to be kidding me”.

ImageFamily vacation just prior to hearing the scary news.

It was about this time, when all of my mental gymnastics and hypotheticals had played out where in contrast with my mother’s story…we began to hear good rather than bad news.   The first trickle of optimism came when my dad went in for his MRI, to which the doctor mentioned that things look clear in his brain and spine. After spending countless hours on WEBMD, I knew that this was a huge piece of news, as lung cancer spreads quick and those are two of the area’s that are most susceptible to metastasis.  This good news calmed our nerves and led us to Thursday. September 24 and the appointment that I knew was going to change everything.  Either life would proceed as planned, or the foundation on which my family stands would be shaken to the core.  The feeling in the pit of my stomach while we sat in the waiting room is something I will not soon forget, and while I did my best to maintain a sense of calm, the weight of the moment was crushing.  Then, with just a few words, the weight was lifted when the doctor said the tumor was benign and the first few doctors were mistaken in their prognosis.  The relief that swept through the room was palpable, and while we’re not totally out of the woods the road ahead looks far more manageable than what we were facing just one week ago.

So now, here I sit and I come back to the Title of this blog post which was “Perspective”…and as I read my last blog post, I can’t help but feel like this experience put everything in to perspective.  The fear of failure has dissipated, other peoples vocal negativity has faded to a white noise, and I’m simply excited to get going.  I’m excited to be back in Nepal, I’m excited to see the staff, I’m excited to meet the new volunteers, and most of all I’m excited to see the kids.  Having lived through this past few weeks I know that anything that I will face initially pales in comparison to what we faced with my Mom and what for a scary moment we thought we would have to face again with my Dad.

At this point I would equate my nerves to the sensation of standing on the top of the 10 meter diving board.  We all know that feeling of looking down, knowing we’ll be ok, and knowing that it’s just water below, but for many the nerves of simply looking down can be enough to shy away from the jump…there is an entire celebrity TV show about this!!!  To that end, I feel like I’ve just been waiting at the top of the diving board psyching myself out for the past month, and while I’m glad I came home…I feel now that I know my Dad’s outlook is optimistic, that I’m ready to make the jump.

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I’ll be sure to send along one more update before I leave on October 6th.  Thank you so much for everyone who has supported me over the past few weeks.  I am so blessed to have such a wonderful group of family and friends to lean on, and it is during these challenging times where I am reminded about how lucky I really am.

The Squeaky Bicycle

As I sit here drinking my big gulp, and counting down the days until my departure I can’t quite articulate the feeling inside of me.  I feel like it is part stress, part excitement, part sadness, and another part fear.  I’m beyond excited to see the kids at Kopila, along with Nena, Maggie, Kelly, Tope, Amrika and the other Volunteers and Staff in Nepal.  On the other hand, the reality of my decision and the overwhelming magnitude of everything came crashing down on me early last week.  I don’t think there is anything you can do to fully prepare for reality of life without internet or friends, and I think that fear of the unknown is what eats at me most.  I’ve done my best to ready myself, enjoying my time with friends and family organizing the necessary parts and piece’s for my trip back but at the same time I can’t help but feel a bit anxious about this move.  I think about my friends that I’ll leave behind, both in the States and when I depart Surkhet for my new Nepali adventure… an unsettling feeling that I can’t quite kick. Well, as we all know when it rains it pours, and right about the time I started worrying about the imminent departure…I was taken by the financial reality of everything.  For that, I really have no one to blame but my own expectations.  Going into this summer, I expected to steam roll through the organizational process and jump right into fundraising.  Unfortunately, as with most things that was not the case and things were much harder than I initially anticipated.  I spent the summer working through fits and stops, trying to devise a game plan to get Odakids off to the right start. Rather than expediently jumping the gun on fundraising, I spent my days talking with different individuals, increasing my knowledge, working on business plans, budgets, and all sort of other legal documents.  As a result of this diligence, and on the eve of my departure I was smacked with the reality of everything…my 5 phase plan doesn’t go anywhere without support of friends, family, and inspired strangers.

To that end, and to come back to where I started, I’m not sure what it is that creates that pit in my stomach, that starts when I wake up and doesn’t end until I go to bed.  Is it fear?  Unease?  Stress? Money?  Ultimately I think it’s all of the above.  Having talked to friends and family, some encouraging some discouraging I’ve come to the realization that that the unease is inevitable, but can concentrated and used as a fire in my belly that keeps me motivated and on track.  At such an early stage in the game I can’t have every eventuality covered and I can’t expect to fundraise like a finely tuned machine…Rather, I am a squeaky bicycle doing my best to get moving in the right direction.    I know full well, that this is just the beginning of my challenges and my struggles, but as I scroll through the pictures of the kids and their smiles, I remember the sense of fulfillment I took away from my experience, and ultimately I remember why I’m doing this.  Nobody ever said this was going to be easy, but as with everything the most satisfying things in life take time, dedication, and effort.  They take falling down and getting back up…so to that end, despite the angst and the fear, the hope and the dream will keep this bike squeaking along.ImageImage

Summer Update

For those of you who have followed my blog from Notjustatree I apologize for the delay since my last real post.  As you can imagine this summer has been quite hectic, and I’ve been running around like a crazy man trying to get everything set up correctly for OdaKids.  That being said, I’ve already learned a great deal about the business side of Non-Profits that I wasn’t exposed to while volunteering.  I think the biggest change has been setting my own schedule, and sticking to it.  During this summer, there has been no shortage of things for me to do, and at times it can be daunting.   It can become very easy to keep work mode on to the point of burning out, and I’ve really needed to set internal “work hours”.  

With regards to our accomplishments, they’ve been numerous.  By virtue of reading this blog post, you’re aware that we launched the new website.  Additionally, I’ve set up several fundraisers in order to gain support and awareness for OdaKids.  I’ve worked through a business plan, budgets, Tax Filings, and legal requirements.  The process has been quite humbling, and I’ve had to call upon a great deal of friends and family to help get things done.  Without and small army of people helping me organize and manage our current workload, I would be much further behind.  These people have been incredible, and I owe the little success we are currently having to them.  Like I mentioned in previous blog posts, I’m blessed to have amazing people in my life.   Whether that has meant offering pro-bono legal advice, project counsel, and a million other things I’m forever indebted.

One of our most recent successes was our Fort Lauderdale fundraiser.  It was a great way to kick off our fundraiser campaign, and a fantastic audience for my first ever OdaKids presentation.  We had our kinks and slips through the presentation, but the evening was a huge success.  Not only did I get the opportunity to catch up with old friends, we also got off to a great start spreading the word about OdaKids.  I’ve said it to just about everyone I’ve talked to but I am both thrilled and anxious about the road ahead.  While verbalizing my project and OdaKids to the audience, I nearly overwhelmed myself with the scope of what we’re trying to accomplish.  This summer has certainly been a test, but in those moments of self-doubt and angst I’ve been able to turn back to the pictures of my time in Nepal.  It can get very easy to lose yourself in the weeds of what is going on, but from time to time just scrolling through those photo’s re-centers me and provides the necessary clarity to my days. 

I promise to provide more updates soon.  The next few weeks are busy, with a fundraiser in DC with the Ambassador from Nepal and another fundraising event in New York.  While I look forward to the events, and spreading awareness for my organization, I’m also growing excited to kick off the project in Nepal!

Thank you to everyone’s continued interest and support.  It means the world to me.

 

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Welcome!

Welcome to my newly created OdaKids Website and Blog!  For those of you following from Notjustatree.blogspot.com, all of the posts have been moved over to the new website, and going forward updates will be posted to OdaKids.org.  Right now I'm in the process of figuring everything out with regards to the Non-Profit, Website, and Fundraising and will be sure to post a big summer update soon!

Reflections on Kalikot

This is a little belated, but I figured I'd still share some of my thoughts from my 11 day trip to Kalikot!

Well the journey to Kalikot culminated in bloody and infected feet, leach filled shoes, and a new, more developed outlook on Nepal.  Prior to this trip, I had heard the kids talking about their villages, there village families, and the difficulty of life in Kalikot, however, it wasn’t until making the trip that I fully grasped the background of many of our Kopila kids.  For those of you who don’t know Kalikot is a region north of Surkhet, and while its not too far distance wise, it is tremendously challenging to reach due to the mountainous terrain and underdeveloped roads.  Additionally, Kalikot was the epicenter of Nepal’s civil war and its people suffered the most causalities and setbacks of any other region in the country. 
Village in Kalikot
A yearlong curiosity inspired this trip, and I left on a rainy Wednesday morning with my good Nepali friend Sandip.  The trip up was intense to say the least.  Fortunately Sandip was related to the driver, and he let us sit up front which afforded us a bit more space.  That said, the seats also gave us a front row view for a trip down one of the worlds most terrifying roads…This is not sarcastic, National Geographic has ranked Jumla Road between Surkhet and Mamna the world’s most dangerous. During the early portions of our trip, I realized where this reputation came from.  About 4 hours into our drive we ran into a huge traffic jam, this jam was the result of mudslide on the road.  After an hour of waiting and every able bodied man helping to clear the road, the cars, buses, and tractors began to make the perilous pass. Several faced some real difficulty and at times 15 to 20 people were out pushing vehicles around the corner.  Fortunatley, our bus driver was a pro and made it through the pass easier than other…Unfortunately we ran into another mudslide about 30 minutes later which resulted in another longer delay.  Unbelievably, this was the “easy” part of the drive, and Sandip said the scary part was yet to come.  I learned what he was talking about shortly there after when news broke that one of the buses just in front of us “summersaulted” off the mountain.  This crash resulted in 6 fatalities and over 30 severe injuries.  Our bus actually provided water to the bus of wounded people driving down for medical attention in Surkhet.  I actually felt tears welling up in my eyes as the bus of bloodied and battered people came driving buy.  If I wasn’t on edge enough, a few hours later we reached the “scary part” also known as “S More”, this challenging corner involved the bus making a 3 point turn while teetering on the edge of a cliff.  I regretted our front row seats immensely at this point and am sure I nearly cut off Sandip’s circulation while grabbing his arm through this terrifying sequence. After a few more harrowing hours we reached Mamna safe and sound, albeit my anxiety levels were through the roof.  Upon getting out of the bus in Mamna, As we walked to the White House Hotel I quickly came to the realization that I wasn’t in the Nepal I had gotten used to over the previous 8 months.  A common theme of this trip was exhaustion and me sleeping like a rock (despite some pretty dilapidated living quarters along the way) by about 9 each night.
 
Mudslide on Jumla Road

Bus over the side

After a great sleep, we woke up to another rainy morning in Mamna, drank some tea, and waited out the passing storm.  After a few hours, the rain let up and we began our adventure through Mamna and onto Sarabara.  I have a number of people that were wonderfully helpful along the trip, and during this leg it was Karkha Singh who carried by bag for the entirety and expertly guided us to our destination.  After being pent up in the bus for an entire day previously the 8 hours of walking was actually quite pleasant.  During the walk we practiced Nepali, and I stated my goal of making big language strides during the trip.  A goal which was quite easy to accomplish thanks to total immersion.  In Sarabara we met Dil and Top Malla who served as our guides for the majority of our trip.  They were amazingly helpful throughout, and not only helped me with my Nepali but helped me survive.  One of the most challenging moments came during the morning of day three when we hiked from Sarabara to Chillkaya.  In order to reach Chillkaya we had to cross a ridge, which entailed getting through the mountain town of Lubra.  While not the worst part of the walk, this was certainly one of the scariest with a near vertical rock face that we had to ascend in order to get to our destination.  It was at this point where I realized how incredibly strong and coordinated the Nepali people are.  While I consider myself in good shape, this was a completely different type of workout compared to anything else I’ve put myself through.  In addition my large frame and size 13 shoes did not help while attempting to step down through some tight passages.  Lubra aside, we made it to Chillkaya, and I was blown away.  It was easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.  Like an oasis sitting in the middle of Kalikot, this village was full of fields and gardens and other flat area’s which seemed so odd having hiked exclusively through mountain villages.  We had a wonderful night in town, met lots of kids and adults, and I was invited to speak at their village council meeting at the school that evening.  Like everyone else we met on our travels the people were extremely kind and welcoming.
Path to Lubra
After a wonderful evening in Chillkaya, we spent the next day in Kantampur visiting Sandips birthplace and family.  This was a relaxing day which climaxed with a beautiful trip to the river where we bathed and hung out for a couple of hours.  The next morning we set out to Oda, which is Tops (Kopila Co-Directors) home village.  We stayed in his home, and the welcome mat was really rolled out in a big way.  Unfortunately, on our first night in Oda symptions started emerging of an infection that I’m still getting over today.  A mild pain that evening turned into an unbearable pain in my feet the next morning, which completely halted my ability to walk.  Instead, I woke up the next morning to ankles the size of grapefruits.  Evidently my bug bites got extremely infected leading to a full day of immobility.  To make matters worse, medicine is nearly non-existent in Oda and we were forced to deal with my infection in the village way.  This involved soaking my feet in scalding water and then draining the pus from my sores.  While this sounds disgusting, it was so much worse than I can even convey over the blog.  Despite my infected feet I decided to wake up the next morning and visit a school in a village called Romni, which is about an hour and a half away.  This is where the 9th and 10thgraders who remain in school go when they finish school in Oda.  Going into the walk I did not know how involved it was going to be and borrowed some sandals for the walk.  This turned out to be a massive mistake, not only was the walk tremendously challenging in sandals…but due to the wrong sized sandals digging into my feet, another infection was formed which further limited my walking abilities.  That said, visiting Romni was one of the biggest highlights from my trip.  While visiting the school of 320 I learned that they had never been visited by a westerner and I was the first white person the vast majority of the kids had ever seen.  They were shockingly shy, but so sweet and curious about their visitor.  Sadly, our time in Oda came to a conclusion all too soon.  Unlike some of the other villages, the number of Kopila relatives made Oda feel like a second home to me.  The kids would all come to Tops house in the afternoon and by the time the sun was going down there would be 30 to 40 kids playing, talking, and observing quietly from afar.
At this point we began the home stretch of our 11 day journey.   After a 2 night stay in Dilikot, we began the long trip back to Surkhet.  Unlike the trip to Kalikot, we decided against the walk in deference to a walk to Dailekh followed by a bus from there.  Since the beginning of the trip, I had heard lots about this walk, including the perilous mahabua where many people have died or had very serious injuries while attempting to pass.  Our trip took two days, and started out at 10 am.  The first 4 hours were incredibly challenging from a physical standpoint, and while I wasn’t afraid I was beyond tired as we walked uphill non stop for the duration of the morning.  The next sequence was flat, albeit nearly as challenging due to a huge rainstorm that soaked our clothes and pinned us down in a small hut for over an hour.  This rain finally did subside though, and we progressed towards the infamous Mahabua.  For about 2 hours Dil Malla carried all three bags while gripping me tightly by my jacket.  He was a great guide, that kept me from tumbling off the mountain more than once.  The most extreme instance came on the “Lahina Pass”.  During this portion Dil brought all the bags to the bottom, and returned so he could guide me unimpeded by bags.  Additionally, he had me take of my shoes so I could get better traction and feeling on the wet rocks.  At this point my feet were bleeding tremendously from the infections, and day of walking which resulted in a pretty gruesome site as I scaled down the rocks.  I quickly see why Dil made both decisions.  At one point, during this pass there was no path, rather there was two step stones roughly 6 feet apart.  In order to get through, I was forced to hang from the mountain side, grasping onto whatever I could as Dil took hold of my shoeless feet to guide them to safety.  After getting past Lahina, the path eased up a bit and we were able to walk at a good clip to Ukrabash, where we reached at 8pm.  To make matters worse with my feet, after Lahina I didn’t put my wet socks back on my feet and just wore shoes. I learned when we reached ukrabosh that this was a mistake, and upon taking off my shoes was shocked to find my feet covered with several leaches, and bleeding even more profusely than they were earlier in the day.  Thankfully, at this point I was exhausted, my feet were numb, and I really couldn’t have cared less about the leaches.  At that point I was just ready to fall asleep so we could wake up and get to Dailekh.  After a bowl of chow chow I went to bed, and slept like a rock until 5am, when we woke up for day 2 of our trip. Day 2 was pretty straight forward, and we reached Dailekh in 5 hours, got some lunch, and jumped on the first bus to Surkhet.  The drive was only about 4 and a half hours, which was a welcome change to the Mamna drive.  Tope and Maggie picked up Sandip, Dil, and myself from the bus park.  
Mahabua

Success with Sandip and Dil Malla
It took me several days to write about this trip, and I’m actually sitting on the airplane right now to the States wrapping it up.  I think a combination of exhaustion combined with my farewell to Surkhet really slowed down my progress. Excuses aside, I learned a tremendous amount about myself and my desire to continue working in Nepal during this trip.  The most startling, albeit comforting realization was that my bloody and infected feet  combined with general discomfort did not lessen my desire.  Rather, quite the opposite occurred, as sat there bloodied and battered my resolve hardened and my passion solidified.  I came back from my trip with a unflinching certitude that this is where I’m supposed to be, and this is what I’m supposed to be doing.  This confidence inspired me to talk to Top and Maggie in order to come up with a plan for my future.  Well, the future is exciting but scary…In September, I am going to move back to Nepal and after a few weeks head up to Oda in order to work with the people up there and develop a project of my own.  More on this soon, but very excited to know where I will be and who I will be working with for the foreseeable future.
Until next time…

So Long Nepal...Again


Well I’m sitting here in Himalayan Java on my way back to the US!   I had a great night out with Rijen last night, and met up with some of my Kathmandu friends later in the evening as well.  Kathmandu has really become a home away from home, and it’s so great to show up to so many friendly faces each time I’m here.
Beyond my night out on the town in KTM, the past 2 months have been great, granted I’ve certainly faced some challenges along the way.  The most significant albeit rewarding of these challenges was my 11 day trip to Kalikot, a trip that pushed me to the limit, but provided the necessary inspiration for the next chapter in my life.  I will be posting a significant blog post “Reflection on Kalikot” soon, which will delve more into that trip.
As for my departure, the second time around wasn’t quite as jarring, and thankfully no tears were shed.  That said, I did have one point where I nearly lost my composure.  Yesterday morning, I walked with the Vice Principal (Minn Sir) to get tea and watch the kids compete in a 5k race organized by SOS.  The same morning I was planning to say farewell to Laxmi (I’ve posted about her in the past!), but Laxmi came to the hostel while I was out cheering on the kids.  From what I’ve gathered I just missed her when I came back, and she had left into a torrential downpour.  The thought of missing my goodbye, along with visualizing Laxmi disappointed and trudging home in the pouring rain was about all I could handle.  Thankfully, Nena let me borrow her Iphone and I left her a little message to watch at school.  I guess the silver linings in saying “goodbye” is that I will be back in September, and despite missing all of the kids, staff, and fellows I love so much…I will soon be with my family and friends from the US which I look forward to, including one of my best friends Scott who is getting married on Saturday!

Hope all is well…more soon.

So Long Safira...


Today is the last day for Safira, who over the past 8 months has become one of my best friends in the world.  She was the first one I met when I arrived at Kopila, and has been the only person here throughout the duration of my stay.  One blog entry could definitely not handle the number of superlatives I could associate with her.   So…I guess I’ll just stick with the obvious, I love her and I will miss her!  We’ve had some amazing times, from our morning jogs to our absurd relationship with Amrika Auntie.  Kopila will not be the same without her, and I feel so blessed for having such an amazing friend in my life.

Me and Safira

Laxmi


Today’s blog post is about one of my favorite people here at Kopila.  While I’ve been here I have been blessed to meet some amazing children that have battled through lots of adversity in order to get to where they are today.  One of those kids is a beautiful 13 year old girl named Laxmi, who I’ve become very close with over the past 8 months. From the get go I knew she was someone that needed a friend, and someone to lean on.   She is so special in so many ways; however, unfortunately she was picked up late by Kopila and is only in the third grade.  As a result of this, she does not have too many friends in her class and his separated by the children her age most of the time.  She’ll frequently come up to me and explain how I’m her best friend, and that she doesn’t have very many friends in her class.  This is both heartbreaking and humbling.  We’ve developed quite a friendship, walking to the temple together, working on English and math, going out to lunch occasionally, and simply spending a few moments here and there together.  Until recently, I’ve loved Laxmi, but I haven’t know too much about her life outside of Kopila.  That changed abruptly when I took the time to walk home with her and Pabitra a couple of weeks ago.  During this trip, I learned how much she deals with outside of school, she has no father, her mother is mentally handicapped, and her brother is away for work most of the time (he is a long haul driver).  Additionally, her brother’s wife passed away recently leaving behind an infant child.  These realities have left Laxmi as the 13 year old head of the household.  She takes care of her mother and her niece while her brother is away, which is most of the time.  While visiting the Sunar house I saw the single room where the 4 family members, eat, sleep, and live.  Despite these nearly impossible circumstances Laxmi still comes to school most days with a huge smile on her face.  Recently she’s been coming to the hostel to meet me in the morning, and we’ve been walking to school together.  Just like when I wrote about Sunita, it is stories like this and the strength of my relationships with many of the other children that has solidified my resolve and my desire to continue working in this country and in this field.  While I’m not sure exactly what this will look like yet, my priorities have certainly shifted, and my desire to help Laxmi, and others in her shoes has never been stronger.
Pabitra, me, and Laxmi @ Laxmi's house

Pooja, Me, and Laxmi @ The Temple

So Long...


Today’s blog post marks the beginning of the end for our original group of fellows.  Last week Mallory left, and just two days ago Ben departed.  It’s definitely been an adjustment, getting used to life without the “OG”.   As I told Ben, I view my relationship with the other fellows as for more than just “housemates”, and am confident I’ve made friends that will remain in my life forever.  We’ve had our fair share of ups and downs, but I couldn’t feel more blessed to have met Safira, Ben, Kelly, Nena, and Mallory who have been constants throughout my time in Nepal.  It is due in no small part to them that this experience has made such a profound change in my life…and I credit these people for helping me keep my sanity and positive disposition throughout my first year in Nepal.  As I’ve mentioned in past posts, living, eating, and playing with the same people for nearly a year can really take its toll, however, Maggie constructed a wonderful group and thankfully we all meshed from the get go(more or less!).  Next up in the line of people leaving is Safira (the one westerner I have not spent a day in Nepal without)…not sure I’m ready for that challenge quite yet.
Happy Memorial Day weekend back home!  Hope everyone is having great lake weekends, beach weekends, and BBQ’s!
So Long Benji...We'll miss you!

Final Fellows Dance!

Field Day!

Hi All...below is a blog post I typed up for Maggie's blog, figured I'd post here as well!

Hi everyone, this is John guest blogging for Maggie once again! While Maggie was back home at the Forbes Women’s Summit we’ve had some exciting things going on back here at Kopila, including our first Annual Kopila Field Day. Field Day kicked off our Inter-House competition between Sun, Moon, Star, and Sky house and this year the stakes have been raised. In addition to competing for the house trophy, we’ve also promised the winning house a year end MoMo party. For those of you who were not following last year, the inter-house competition is a year round event, with points awarded for excellent behavior and achievements. As for Field Day, the morning started off with lots of energy, and the enthusiasm lasted throughout the day. Whether it was the Sun House and their award winning house cheer, or the oldest kids rooting for the nursery and KG students the day surpassed even our most optimistic expectations. Some highlights were the Donut eating challenge, which involved seeing which student could eat a donut hanging from the ceiling the fastest, an epic tug of war tournament, a nursery fruit & vegetable themed relay race, and last but certainly not least a Sari wrapping competition, where 4 Sr. Boys dressed up their house teachers. When all was said and done the Star house emerged victorious, and the day concluded with a school wide dance party up on stage. Next up for the inter-house competition is art month, which kicks off this Friday!

Back in Nepal

Per Usual its been too long since I last posted…Things have been hectic here, and I’ve been getting back into my Kopila Routine.  That said, the transition was much easier than my first trip over, and in many ways I feel like I’m home.  From the moment I stepped off the plane in Kathmandu, things just went so much better than my first trip, and felt natural.  After landing in Kathmandu, the driver from our go to hotel in Kathmandu (hotel courtyard) was waiting for me.  He drove me through the city, which rather than feeling overwhelming and slummy, felt familiar.  Upon arriving at the hotel, I was met with a hug and a drink from Pujan and Michelle (the hotels owners), and sat with them to catch up on the last two months of my life.  As always they were amazing hosts, and we had a wonderful conversation to catch up.  Additionally, during my first night in Kathmandu I was able to catch up with our travel agent Rijen who is one of my favorite people in all of Nepal.  As with anything in life, it is amazing how far a few friends can take you and how much of a difference those relationships can make.  The difference between my first trip, and the feeling of being alone and uncomfortable to the second trip cannot be understated.
After just one night in Kathmandu I jumped on an early flight to Nepalgunj to begin my second tour of duty in Surkhet.  During the flight and 2.5 hour car ride, I felt a huge mix of anxiety and excitement.  I was beyond excited to see everyone, but anxious about the homecoming I would receive.  Turns out there was nothing to be anxious about, and it was one of the warmest welcomes I’ve ever received.  The kids were amazing, and it was so good to see them all again.  It is times like that where I know I’m in the right place, and doing the right thing.  The warmth and enthusiasm on their faces propelled me through the day, and we had a great time catching up.  In addition to the very warm welcome, other exciting things have been happening here at Kopila.  We’ve kicked off the spring/summer sports season, working with the girls of soccer and the boys on volleyball.  I will be sure to update everyone on our progress, and post results about the upcoming games.  Additionally, we recently celebrated my 26th birthday, which was a blast. From the moment I woke up the kids were showering me with flowers, hugs, kisses, and birthday wishes.  While booking my flight, I was unsure about whether to celebrate my birthday in the States or in Nepal, and in retrospect am so happy I was able to spend it with the kids.  The birthday celebration culminated in a big dance party at the hostel and a freshly baked cake from our newest volunteer alli. One last bit of exciting news, I have been working on my Nepali for 3 hours a day, and have learned the alphabet, how to read, and write, and have been working with a tutor to hone my skills!  One of my big regrets from my first trip was my rather limited efforts to learn the language, thankfully I don’t think I’ll be making that mistake twice.
Ok…that’s all for now, from this post on I will be sure to post more often, so if you’re still reading be sure to check back soon!
 

Back to Nepal!


As I write this, I am standing at a charging station in the Doha Transfer Terminal.  On a brief aside, this is arguably the worst airport ever, and being stuck here for 14 hours after a 15 hour flight Houston is not the greatest thing in the world.  That said, I’m in a surprisingly good mood, and am getting increasingly excited for my return to Surkhet!  The past two months have been a whirlwind, but an absolute blast.  I think the grand finale might have been the highlight of the trip as I was honored to be a groomsman in my great friend Andrew Haas’ wedding.  We had a wonderful weekend, and it was such a great way to end my 2 month “vacation” from Nepal.  For those of you who don’t know Andrew he is one of the more thoughtful people I’ve ever met, and for his groomsman gift he decided to sponsor Monica from Kopila valley!  I was extremely touched by this incredible gesture.
In other news, I will be getting into Nepal at 435 today, and then jump on the first flight out of Kathmandu Thursday morning!  Between the kids, staff, and volunteers I am ecstatic to see everyone’s faces.  After living with people for 6 months its amazing how close you get.  I view the fellows as some of my best friends in the world, the staff as family, and the kids as some of the most amazing young people I’ve ever met.  While I was home, I was able to show off pictures and stories of my time in Nepal and was giddy each time I had the chance to talk about it…alright, maybe not EVERY time (it can get tedious saying the same story a million times!), but I certainly could never get sick of saying how much I love the kids and the people at Kopila Valley. 
I will be sure to update the blog with increasing frequency now that I’m getting back!  Hope everyone is doing great.

Catching up!


Well its forever since my last blog post, so I figured I’d catch up on everything that has gone on during the past month.  Since we left India my brother and I visited Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, and Hong Kong.  The trip was amazing, and we got lucky at a few stops away including in Phuket, when the hotel upgraded us to an ocean front suite, with our own private pool!  We also got bumped up to business class on our way from Hong Kong to San Francisco, so I think we really had some great Karma during the last leg of the trip.  During our adventures, I would say my favorite stop along the way was the Taj Majal in Agra, India.  That said, India was easily the most challenging country we visited and I would suggest going elsewhere if you’re wanting to have a “relaxed” trip.  Beyond the Taj Majal, the temples of Angkor were amazing, along with Ha Long bay in Northern Vietnam.  Beyond the site seeing we had some great times in Phuket , Singapore, and Hong Kong.  The highlight of the tail end of our trip was meeting up with some of my friends from the States in Hong Kong for Easter weekend.  We had a blast, and it was great catching up with everything.
 
Angkor Wat

Halong Bay

After saying goodbye to those friends, Bobby and I took the flight to San Francisco to meet up with my Dad and Sister.  As you can imagine, we were tremendously jet lagged by the time in, and the 15 hour time difference certainly took a toll.  Despite the jet lag, we enjoyed a wonderful day in San Francisco, and spent some time at the Golden Gate Bridge, Union Square, and other notable San Francisco destinations.  Following our day in San Francisco we worked our way up the cost stopping off in Napa, Eureka, Eugene, Portland, and ultimately in San Francisco where we dropped off Bobby.  After saying goodbye to Bobby I took the cross country trip back to DC, where my sister picked me up from the airport.  The first night back in DC was surreal to say the least.  I think the biggest change was not the city but my perspective.  While nothing has changed, and I went with Mary to one of my favorite restaurants (Cactus Cantina), I have changed and it took me a little while to put a finger on what was making me feel a little off.  The following day I had a tour DE force of sorts, going to work in the morning, to lunch with friends, getting my suits ready, and then dinner with some other people before heading to the airport.  Which brings me to now, I am currently in Louisville Kentucky where I’ve been working since Monday!  While it was probably a bit too quick of a turnaround, I’m happy to report my skills have not completely left me, and I was able to jump back into a project in stride.  My old company has been tremendously helpful with regards to giving the chance to get some work in, which is wonderful with respects to the bank account!  I even wore my Nepali made suit on my first day back to work.
 
Golden Gate Bridge

As for the rest of my trip back to the states, I will be in Kentucky again next week, then DC for a few days before heading to Houston for one of my best friends weddings.  Following the wedding I will be jumping on a plane to Doha and headed back to Nepal!  Lots more updates and Blogs to come!
Friends!