The Passion Inside
How an experience in the Himalayas taught me the biggest life lessons
By Melissa M.
Outside of Kathmandu, a forty-five minute drive by bus into the countryside, we stopped. The Himalayan sun was hot on my skin. It was a beautiful hike through the lush green rice paddies. The rolling hills surrounded us and in the silence, distance sounds of a rushing river were in the air. We walked past women working in the fields. Their hands raised together in a cheerful Namaste.
The last leg of our journey led us to a rickety metal suspension bridge that swung over the rushing brown river; no longer silent. Over that bridge I had the experience of a lifetime. A day spent at a leper colony in Nepal.
For hours I sat on a concrete step under the jutting out roof of a red brick building. I spent my time with an elderly lady crippled by leprosy. Her leg was bound at the knee and wrapped in orange cloth. Her fingers curled into her palms. Her head had been shaved, only a white stubble was now showing. In her nose hung a gold ring, and rings dangled from her ears as well. She sat on a handmade cornhusk mat.
As I sat with her she seemed eager to talk to me. She poured out her whole life and tears flowed from her eyes. It was a beautiful thing to be able to give her my time and listen to her. I was listening to her even though I didn’t understand her words. There is a way of communicating even though you don’t understand the language. I understood that she had a lot of pain in her life and was in physical pain at the moment. I also understood that she felt comfortable to share. I learned that empathy and compassion can cross cultural, age and language barriers. There was a level of understanding that I cared about her, that I was engaged in her life and that I valued her. This was demonstrated by spending time with her.
Nepal is a tiny country landlocked in between India and China. It is home to eight of the ten highest mountains in the world: the Himalayan mountain range. It is also home to beautiful people and a beautiful culture.
Seeing this part of the world instilled a passion inside of me, and hearing people’s stories of life taught me so much. Once I saw how people live in ways much different than my own, it changed me and I do not see life the same way as I did before.
I had the opportunity to travel to Nepal in the summer of 2011. I went for a week of training in Illinois, USA and joined my team of 32 other youth and college-aged students to embark on an amazing journey. A journey where we met children, teens, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and grandfathers. Each person had their own unique story. We spent time on the streets and in schools, in family restaurants, in orphanages, in laundry shops and a safe home for girls rescued from sex slavery. In each place we had an intention of finding out their story.
It taught me that people are beautiful and worth our time. I have set my feet in some very poor areas. I know that giving those people things is not going to help them the same way that spending time with them will. Eventually things run out. Things break, and things get stolen. I saw that you can give a person money and clothes and all the material possessions that we have here in North America, yet that is not going to make them happy. People need to know that they are valued. Every human needs to understand that they have worth, they are needed and they are loved. I learned that once a person understands that they matter in this world and their story is worth hearing it will change them. Knowing they matter brings a smile to their face and hope to their life.
Here at home in Fredericton, Scott Wood is one who has found a way to bring people hope; by building relationships.
“One of my favourite quotes is to the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world”, said Scott. “We may feel insignificant or those we build relationships with may feel insignificant, but when people know that you truly care for them and that they are not just a ‘project’, they begin to have hope. Never underestimate the power of your presence in people’s lives”.
Hope can be brought by being kind to others and caring enough to spend time with them. No matter what your situation, everyone needs hope.
According to the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI), Nepal scores 157 out of 187 countries with comparable data. The HDI looks at health, education and income to come up with this data. There are some huge problems facing Nepal today such as human trafficking, lack of education, high poverty rate, and high unemployment rate.
The issue of human trafficking in Nepal is very serious. Every year over 10,000 Nepalese girls, most between the age of nine and sixteen, are sold to brothels in India. Many of these girls are sold by poor families, with the lie that they are being sent for employment in the city or as a result of parents tricked into fraudulent marriages. Some are sold for as little as $50 American. These girls are kept as slaves. After a number of years they are told that they can keep half of what they earn. However because they lack education they have no way of knowing what half means. What she is told is that the half she is supposed to be able to keep is used to pay for her bed, her food and water, and to care for her children. She is now in debt bondage. Often to pay off some of her debt she will give up her own daughters to prostitution. When she becomes too sick or old to work she is kicked out of the brothel, to live out on the streets. She has nowhere to go, no education, she is rejected by society, and she has no hope.
While in Nepal I had the opportunity to visit a home for girls rescued from this life. I cannot imagine what kind of trauma they have lived through, from a very young age. I was able to sit and spend time with these girls. We laughed and smiled together. We bought jewellery from these women as the jewellery is used to support them and to give them a life skill. Having this kind of experience made me value my freedom. A freedom that most girls in Canada take for granted. This was another of many times where I found it very rewarding to give people my time and attention.
Being able to have this experience was priceless. I learned lessons not taught in school or learned by reading about other cultures in a book. I came away with perspective on the world that has shaped me into who I am today, and shaped my passions.
The importance of spending time with people was also experienced by my fellow teammate Brittany Snyder. “Nepal was an experience that literally changed my life,” she said. “It opened my eyes to how much need there is in the world. It solidified in my heart how simple it is to brighten someone’s day, by simply taking time to smile, listen, or reach out a helping hand!”
When people ask me what I want to do after I graduate, I know exactly where my heart is. It is with the people of Nepal. It’s a place, experience, people and passion that gets into your blood and runs through you. The smell of the monsoon rain, the itch of the lice, the delicious milk tea and the fresh Nan bread, and it is all unforgettable. It’s sharing life with real people. It is life with people who have been hurt and need someone to talk to, it’s with children who long for attention, a grandmother who needs a hug, or a laundry lady who longs for a friend. It is spending a day at a leper colony and listening.
Showing compassion is giving hope to the hopeless. It is entering into a person’s life and sharing with them. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, or what culture you were brought up in. There is always a way to communicate kindness.
Melissa M is a grade 12 student at FHS whose travels have taken her to Bolivia, Nepal, Israel, Slovakia and Austria. She is planning on returning to Nepal this summer.