One theme that kept emerging wherever we went in Nepal was generosity. Every where we went, I just kept being pleasantly surprised by these simple and sometimes not simple acts of kindness that just seem to be a part of the Nepali culture.
Our first little taste of this was through the owners of the homestay we stayed in whilst in Kathmandu. I’m going to do a little plug here and say that if you’re ever travelling to Kathmandu, you must stay at the Blue Mountain homestay in Thamel. Comfortable, clean, great price and run by some of the friendliest people you’ll meet. What is unique about this place is also that the owner, Mr Bodhi, employs young boys from a rural village who have been identified as being at risk due to a combination of factors including poverty and having no family.
He takes them in, houses them in his guesthouse, supports their education, provides them with vocational training through their work at the guesthouse and through his travel agency. When we asked Mr Bodhi a little more about it, there really didn’t seem much to it. To him, it just made sense that you would do something like that. You need staff, so why not give the opportunity to someone who really needs it and set them up for their future.
A dedicated soul
Our time in Nepal was made so much richer due to the opportunity to spend a few days in a rural village, Ramchay and do some interviewing there- a real chance to experience authentic village life in Nepal. This was all due to our connection with our new friend, Sanjaya. I was put in touch with Sanjaya through a friend. He was so keen and willing to help us out with what we were doing and really just enjoy our time in Nepal. He succeeded.
So, here is a man who provides the perfect example of generosity. Sanjaya has many strings to his bow. He runs his own trekking business as a guide, is employed by an Australian NGO (World Youth International) to set up and support their volunteer placements in Nepal, he is a cranio-sacral therapist and recently took on the very important role of being a Dad. But that’s only a fraction of what he does.
Over the course of getting to know Sanjaya, we learned that he sponsors around four or five children for their education; two young boys at a local orphanage in Kathmandu and two young girls in the village of Ramchay. He regularly visits this local orphanage and helps the manager out with ensuring that the children are receiving the best possible care and education. Education is incredibly important to him. He is in the process of setting up his own NGO, which will focus mainly on providing good quality education to girls in Nepal.
The issue of girls receiving education in Nepal is huge. Up until recently, it just hasn’t been given priority with many girls dropping out even before they’ve finished primary school. The options for them are limited. Many are married off young, via arranged marriages and continue a life with very little freedom and independence. Sanjaya is very passionate about this issue and is working to improve the situation for Napali girls. In his spare time, Sanjaya is also organizing a teacher training program for rural teachers; a very busy man!
It is this attitude of “if I can help in some way, then I must” that was so present in Sanjaya and lots of people we met in Nepal. Sanjaya was telling us how he recently had his wallet stolen from his jacket pocket. He admitted to feeling so upset and frustrated, but took from the experience the message that “maybe I need to give more”.
And how about you?
As I said, generosity just seems to be a part of the Nepali culture. We even received the question at one stage by a young Nepali man, “So, do you support any poor children for their education?” To him, it was actually a normal question, not leading at all. Because in Nepal- if you can, you do. And here we were, obviously with enough money to travel the world, so it seemed normal to assume that we would also be sponsoring someone who needed it. The question caught me off guard a little, because… well, we don’t support anyone for their education, or sponsor any children in need. Maybe at times I’ve felt that maybe this is because I can’t afford it, but really I can. I think that was a further lesson to me in how simply generosity can be and how integral it is for the functioning of our world.
A collective culture
When we reached Pokhara, a beautiful town located on a gorgeous lake and surrounded by the Annapurna Ranges, we noticed this even more. It seemed that every second shop was connected to some women’s cooperative, or providing opportunities for children in the community. There were signs for different NGOs everywhere we went.
We even came across a sign requesting that travellers not give money, food or other items to the children begging in town. The sign, creatively expressed, “By giving me food, money or other items I ask of you, you are supporting my life on the streets, which will inevitably lead to a life of of violence, drugs and poverty”. The sign explained that there are MANY organisations in the area working extremely hard to support these children in more effective and sustainable ways, and that giving children even just the smallest bit of money or food, is discouraging them from seeking out these services. We’re heard this message before, but no one has ever gone to the trouble of actually making a sign and overtly explaining this to well wishing tourists. It was that extra step that was taken to make this sign that highlighted to me the commitment to ensuring children were supported properly and well.
I’d like to do a bit more research and find out exactly what influences this kind of attitude in people. As someone from Australia, where there are a lot of generous people, but a huge amount of selfish people as well, it really does fascinate me. Perhaps it is due to their religion; most Nepali’s believe and practice a combination of Buddhism and Hinduism. Or maybe it is because most people have had to struggle to survive at some point and for those who have come to live a comfortable life, they are never too far away from the poverty that they once experienced.
Or perhaps it is due to the incredibly strong family values in Nepal. There is definitely much more of a collective culture here where family is the centre of a person’s world, and that includes extended family and to a lesser degree, extended community. Maybe this strong connection with family and community, creates a greater sense of responsibility and commitment to their people. I’m not sure, but it was refreshing to be around.