Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A trek to higher Himalayas provides a deeper perspective

When I visited the Himalaya Public School for the third time in March 2011, I got to experience first hand the difference that Himalayan Education Foundation is making. I saw it in the smiles of the kids and the gentle eyes of the teachers and elders associated with the school. I had an deep conversation with a 11th grade boy who was telling me how he can't decide what he wants to be when he leaves school, that he likes astronomy as much as he likes psychology. He said there was simply not enough fodder for his academic curiosity. I promised him that as the library gets built, HEF will send the kind of books that will satisfy his hunger for knowledge.

The school administrators and I discussed the problems of the local society, the government, the challenges of the common person in the mountain villages, the hopes of the young kids... and so much more. There were many good ideas thrown on the table about how to actually make a difference in life of a community step by step through education, enabling the local economy, partnering with the right kind of people. We discussed the advantages and challenges of the school adopting progressive teaching methods, and so much more. I left there feeling happy about what Himalayan Education Foundation has been able to do for these people in 2 years, and charged with ideas about what to do next.

Tears rolled down my cheeks as I walked past a very long line of kids on either side of me saying thank you and goodbye when my school visit ended. I was heading next for a 3 day trek into the deeper Himalayas. A 4 hour car took me to a place called Pondunga where there was a sign that said "No road service beyond this point".
The next three days I spent soaking in life in a high Himalayan valley heading towards a glacier named Namik. Drinking unfiltered water straight from the streams, tasting wild flowers and roots, cooking on an open fire with gathered twigs, and having no specific plans on where exactly I was going to stay when I got to the last village in that valley (There were only 3 that I crossed anyway).

I made a point to take time to talk with people - an old man on his 20 mile solo walk (with an altitude gain of 8000 feet!) to collect his monthly pension, the women tending to their cows, the little kids walking 10 miles back from the school where the teacher didn't show up all day, the local family I stayed with who showered me with kind hospitality that made me feel like a
family member. What struck me most was the realization that the more beautiful the landscape, harder it seems is the life of the local people. I didn't have the heart to tell these Himalayan people that unlike them, in America I use a snow-blowing machine to clear the snow in winters and that we can actually live a normal life even in winters. The HPS school in Chaukori that I had just left now seemed like something that people here would consider modern beyond their imagination.
I played tick-tack-toe under candlelight with the little girs at the house of our host and taught them how to write a few letters of the English alphabet, some basic math and I watched them draw things for me. We laughed a lot. But I couldn't stop thinking that behind this laughter is a sadness that there are simply no other options to better their hard and harsh lives here.

The sad expression on the little girl that I saw at the chai stall in Pondunga still haunts me. It makes me wonder - just when you think you have helped someone in life, there is someone else who needs your help even more. There is so much to do and so many smiles to paint on so many faces in the world.

We started Himalayan Education Foundation with a very modest goal of helping a school - and we are doing it. I am convinced our experiences at this school and from trips such as my trek will evolve the direction of the Foundation in very positive ways. I wish the problems of society and the solutions were simple, but they are not. But we listen, we learn and we try things based on the generosity of our donors and the commitment of the volunteers who help HEF.

It was a conversation with a poor carpenter that led me to start HEF a few years ago. My ears an eyes and my heart remain completely open when I travel to the Himalayas for I do not know what it may be that will serve as my next inspiration for helping someone else smile.

Pictures from my trek to Namik village can be found by clicking here.

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