In many ways our trek wasn’t typical – so let me take you back to our beginnings to explain.
We started out as seven traveling together. Not all of us knew each other, but we all knew Michael and Juliet, who had inspired and initiated planning for the trip. They completed part of the Annapurna Circuit three years ago and invited friends to join them when they returned to trek the complete circuit. I jumped on board immediately (as I mentioned previously, I’d been waiting nearly forty years to do this trip!) along with Janet – who had been on the previous trek, Kathleen, Patrick, and Neil. We’d been putting together the details for over a year via conference calls, but we met in person finally, at Toronto Pearson Airport en route to Kathmandu.
In addition to trekking previously, Michael, Juliet and Janet had all made personal acquaintance with a Nepali development organization, Tewa and it’s founder, Rita Thapa, and shared news of their work over our planning period, particularly in the aftermath of the earthquake of April 2015. Tewa was our host and our focus for the first days in Nepal.
We arrived in nighttime Kathmandu somewhat bedraggled after a lengthy flight, the second leg of which was chaotic followed by a baggage claim experience that was practically riotous. We stumbled out to our tourist taxis, somewhat dazed, to be driven through a darkened city in the throes of a power outage. It was difficult to say what we were driving through aside from the terrifying state of the roads and what little the headlights revealed. Thankfully, it was not too far to our destination, and the gates of the Tewa centre opened upon an oasis of tranquillity.
The Tewa Centre is, indeed an oasis. Along with housing the offices of Tewa and its’ sister organization, Nagarik Aawaz (Nepali for “the people’s voice”) the complex operates as a conference, retreat, education and arts centre, a performance space, a guesthouse and a community model for sustainable living. Modelled on traditional Nepali architecture, the various buildings spill down a hillside, wrapped in terraced garden beds where most of the organic produce served in the centre kitchens is grown. The philosophy of peace and respect that underlies Tewa’s operation is palpable in the calm, meditative air of the grounds.
Over three days we met with the organization’s founder, Rita Thapa, along with numerous staff of Tewa and Nagarik Aawaz, hearing about their history, their ongoing work and the challenges that face Nepal currently. We hiked through the neighbourhood and surrounding countryside and toured the cultural sites of nearby Bhaktapur with an eminent professor of history. A highlight was spending an afternoon with an inspiring group of young women in a nearby community, as they recounted personal stories of how they were mobilized by Nagarik Aawaz in the days immediately following the earthquake and how they and their community have been empowered and supported in the months since.
We had hoped, in our brief sojourn at the centre, to be of some assistance – but our combined skill set didn’t offer too much scope. Our conclusion was that our greatest contribution might be to spread the word about the incredible work of these two organizations, Tewa and Nagarik Aawaz. Nepal’s recent history has been tragic and complex, and the government has been paralyzed by infighting, so post-earthquake rebuilding has largely stalled. In the midst of this, what was impressive to me was the degree to which individual Nepali communities have taken initiative and responsibility for their own local reconstruction – and we continued to see this throughout the trek as well. Nepal continues to need international help post-quake; additionally, the country is currently suffering under an undeclared fuel blockade by India that is now affecting all aspects of daily life, curtailing some of the community programs run by these organizations. Assistance that goes through on-the-ground, community-based, Nepali organizations like Tewa and Nagarik Aawaz is more likely to be effective and to reach those in need. Please follow the links, take a look and consider what you could do to help.