In 2012 an opportunity crossed my path that profoundly changed my life. I was asked to join a non-profit organization called Bridges Between (BB) whose primary focus at that time was building schools in rural villages of Nepal. I was living in Vail, Colorado then and the organization was based out of Snowmass, Colorado. Life has a funny way of presenting things to us though. With this particular story I actually met the founder of BB on a shared cab ride in Cabo San Lucas, having no idea how much my life would forever change from that day; that cab; that offering of my sun hat to Brooke Paparo.
Swayabhu Stupa in Kathmandu
As time would unfold, James Bengala and I made a huge life decision together. We were only six months into our relationship and we were going to Nepal for three weeks to volunteer. We would be a part of completing the third school and the building of a cold food storage at the Takinsdula Monastery in the Himalayas of the Solukhumbhu region. The only problem was that we really didn’t have a lot of money. So, we both moved out of our apartments and into a shared house with three other roommates paying the cheapest rent possible in the hopes to save money for our trip. We also hosted a very large fundraiser in Vail, and with the help of the locals and lululemon we raised over $8k dollars. We were ready financially to take the leap across the big blue, and we had no idea what we were about to get ourselves into.
Kristina at the Taksindula Monastery with the Himalayas in the background
It was late October when we arrived to Kathmandu, after nearly two days of airplane travel. Karma Sherpa, owner of Sherpa Mountain Travel and a Board Member of BB, had arranged for his brother, Phurwa and nephew, Lakpa to pick us up at the airport. We were exhausted. Sipping on our first of many milk teas as we discussed the project plans, we could barely keep our eyes open. After nearly 14 hours of sleep, we woke the next day, ready to explore the culture and people of Nepal. Phurwa was a great guide taking us all over Kathmandu sight seeing the beauty and chaos of how the city pulses. Dust everywhere, dirt roads, no street lights, cows roaming the streets, family of three on mopeds with no helmets, trash everywhere, and hot, we became intoxicated on the buzz of Kathmandu. So much history in each Hindu temple and Buddhist stupa; so many stories in the eyes of the locals – it was truly a fascinating journey and it had only just begun.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”
Two women enjoying the community farmers market near Phaplu
After a very sketchy plane ride to Phaplu, a two day trek stopping in Ringmu and ending in Taksindula, we arrived at our destination, just two days hike away from the entry city to Everest. We were nestled in the cloud lines, at 11,500 feet, sleeping in tents. The days were warm with the exposing sun and the evenings were extremely cold, one night dropping to zero. Wake up call was at 6am, with the crow of the rooster and the barking of the dogs, followed by a sweet voice outside our tent saying, “good morning, milk tea, coffee?” and a bowl of warm water for washing. Needless to say, at then nine months into our dating relationship, James and I had moved past that awkward stage as we bathed together in our tent daily.
James, the monks and the locals putting up the side wall to the cold food storage
We worked closely with the monks of the monastery and the local towns people building the cold food storage that would be shared by the surrounding villages. Those villages include, Cchulemu, our home base of BB and where Karma and his family are from, as well as Ringmu, Taksindula, Deku and a few others. There is no internet, very little electricity, no heating other than the stove in the kitchens of the peoples homes, no air conditioning, no cars, no showers, only outhouses that one squats in with a small window for ventilation, no clean water, no “luxery” if you will. It is simple and slow living. To transport goods, one carries them on their heads from one village to the next. This made building our cold food storage challenging as we waited for product to arrive. I remember one day our two by four’s arrived. The porter had carried them for two days from village to village, alone, on his head. I was blown away. He warmly welcomed a cup of the famous milk tea upon his arrival.
Kristina drawing with the women and children at the Cchulemu BB school
Dilkumar carrying supplies – the traditional way to transport goods
The people are hard working. They wake early, women in the fields, tending to the crops, alongside the men, and the children attend the local Nepalese schools. Many trek an hour a day to arrive to their schools. These treks are not easy. The roads are dirt, contain boulders and jetting rocks and sometimes the elevation gain is over 1,000 feet. Our teachers of BB astound me. After teaching for the government Nepalese schools 6 days a week, they trek an hour to our schools to teach 6 days a week from 6-9pm. Mostly, children and women attend our schools, were the women mainly learn how to read and write in their own language and the children learn English. They are happy people. The happiest I have ever met. Genuinely offering their food and time, even when they have very little. They are a devoted people to their culture. Crime is very low and everyone honors one another’s religious choices, as Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Muslim faiths are all practiced and respected. There is something to be learned from such an outlook and practice.
Founder of BB, Brooke Paparo (below) and Harmony Scott (standing) painting the inside of the cold food storage
It was hard coming back to the United States. It did not feel right buying anything other than food for myself. I didn’t treat myself to a mani/pedi for an entire year. For the first time in my life, it seemed odd to paint my nails. Conversing with people felt like it was missing something, a back note, a depth or a sincerity. I didn’t find myself judging, just very awake to things. The life was fast, noisy, and unmindful and I struggled returning. But like all things, we become conditioned and about two months later, I returned to my hustle and bustling ways of the American lifestyle, though not completely. There will always be a piece of me that was touched by a compassionate and mindful way of daily living. My outlook had changed and over the years, what I learned during my travels in Nepal, my service of building and assisting to the request of the people, has forever changed me. There are things I saw or lessons I learned then but did not understand while I was there in 2012 and now as I continue to evolve, I understand them more. It is almost as if I had stored them away, knowing, one day, it will click – the “a-ha!” effect. It has.
Young porters taking a break along the road
There is something profound about helping others, about taking time to truly offer an act of service. In yoga we have a name for this; it is SEVA. It means Selfless Acts of Service. I suppose you could call it “selfless”, and in a way, yes it is, but the rewards of volunteering and seeing the eyes of a child light up, to offer your tennis shoes to an old man walking around in his bare feet and to see his smile, to know you are doing good unto others, that reward is beyond fulfilling. Even now, just remembering those moments, tears of joy come to my eyes, my heart was so touched by giving. In yoga we talk a lot about how we are all mirrors for one another. I suppose when I see the joy of my service in someone else, I cannot help but feel and see the joy inside myself; after all, I am seeing myself in them. I think this is why volunteering is so life changing. We realize how simple life really is; how connected we all really are.
Photo captured after earthquakes in Nepal
With the recent earthquakes in Nepal, my heart is filled with much sadness. I found out that our friends are ok and safe, healthy and alive. But many others are not. Homes are lost, food and water is scarce and there is so much rebuilding and reconstruction of the city and surrounding villages that needs to happen. Karma’s family lost their home in Cchulemu, our schools are destroyed and the Taksindula Monastery was badly ruined. One of our beloved guides, Pasang, who works for Karma was missing for a week after the initial earthquake, but were are happy to report he is well and safe. As a result, Karma has put together an immediate relief organization and since day one, he has had a team of people on ground working to help. So far, we have raised over $50k dollars.
James and I after the Wong (empowerment) festival the day before my 32nd birthday. We were blessed by Lama Sarsun Rinpoche.
Naturally, James and I had an initial reaction to go to Nepal and volunteer. We took some time to sit with this and realized that right now is not the right time. Rather instead, I have decided to spread awareness and to host a fundraiserfor Karma’s organization. I have teamed up with Yoga Bound in Carlsbad Village for its three year anniversary on June 20th to celebrate the people of Nepal, bringing together local organizations, food, music and yoga as we raise money for the Nepal Relief. I have lead two very large format fundraisers, and two smaller ones now since 2012 and even though it is lot of extra work, it is always worth it in the end. It is such an amazing way to bring people together, spreading awareness and remembering how impactful and important selfless acts of service is to our overall health and well-being.
Your presence at the fundraiser is encouraged. Entry is $10 which also gifts you one raffle ticket. Upon entry, we will sell more raffle tickets 1 for $5 or 5 for $20. The raffle prizes keep flowing in which is a testament to SEVA and compassion. It brings so much joy to my heart to see so many people wanting to be a part of this cause. I am pleased to be leading a yoga practice with the beautiful beats ofDTO live music! We will have samples of food from Gaia Gelato and Choice Juicery, as well as pop-up shops, tables and so much more If you cannot attend, but would like to donate to the relief, please do so by going directly to Karma’s site HERE. Even $10 goes a long way.
DETAILS OF FUNDRAISER
WHEN: Saturday, June 20th
TIME: 4 – 7pm / Yoga 5-6p / Raffle 6:30 – must be present to win prizes
WHERE: Yoga Bound in Carlsbad Village / 3043 Harding Street
ENTRY: $10 also gifts you one raffle ticket
Feel free to reach out to me if you have questions or want to learn more about how you can be involved! Kristina@yogaboundforlife.com