Nepal: January 12th

12 Jan 18
Kathmandu to Pokhara

Today, we are headed to Pokhara. We were scheduled to do this yesterday, but decided to stay in Kathmandu an extra day after our late night before. Our activities yesterday were lovely and I’m so glad we got to visit the Shakti Samuha Safe House. To get to Pokhara, we rode a public transit bus both way. It will be lovely to find cleaner air- at least, we are hoping it will be so in Pokhara.

Paul: “what do you call it when you finish your Nepalese dinner?”
Alaina: “no mo mo mo!”

restaurant at our lunch stop

1:30 p.m. and we are in crawling traffic on a mountain road. We stopped for a delightful lunch of rice and noodles. Nepalese food is much like Indian and it’s delicious!

The car horns are so much cooler than ours!

We arrived in Pokhara after ten hours on the road and were excited to find that the air is indeed cleaner! We checked into our hotel, and then took a walk to the lake to explore the city and find dinner. This was the evening that Jay, our delightful biology professor member on the trip, held true to his wish for fresh vegetables and plan to get them. See, as we walked the streets in Kathmandu and in Pokhara, vendors offered the freshest-looking vegetables for sale. Wanting some but having no kitchen of our own to prepare them, Jay simply purchased some, gave them to the restaurant cooks, and asked that they be steamed. We enjoyed steamed vegetables with our noodles that evening!

Coming into this trip, I was curious to observe the difference in “connectedness” of the world, compared to my last trip in 2010. Then, I had next to no communication with anybody back home for the entirety of the trip. The only time I got to check email or post on social media was at a little internet hut where we paid for 30 minutes of time to use a computer and internet. Of course, this was also back when smartphones had only just come into existence. I did not yet have one and neither did most people I knew. Departing for Nepal, I had a smartphone along with me, but I did not know how often I would be able to connect to wireless internet over the course of our trip. I was surprised to find that I actually had access to wifi nearly everywhere we stayed. I have no profound conclusion to this, it’s just an observation and small marvel to find that communication in the world has come this far in eight years.
I think though, to a conversation I had with a fellow teacher a few years ago about the rate of change in cultural norms among high school students in the past decade or so. When we were in high school, texting was only just making its debut, you were cool if you had a flip phone, and social media was maybe something a few people were on. I wonder if ever in history has the way we communicate changed so much in such a short period of time- and will it continue to change at such a rate, or was this a revolution? This revolution is what I feel I see in my connectedness to home now, compared to 2010.

Nepal: January 11th

11 Jan 18

This is an extra, unexpected day in Kathmandu- David decided after arriving back in the city so late last night and not able to find dinner at that hour, that it would be wise to relax for a day before traveling. An unexpected day with no agenda was rather exciting, and David had several ideas on ways to make use of our time. (more ideas than we had time for, actually)

We began by taking a tour of the monastery associated with the Shechem Guest Home- a friendly monk showed us around the building and patiently explained the rituals and principles of the monastery.

prayer wheels at the Shechem monastery

The monk talked about many aspects of life in the monastery; from the process by which to boys come to study here (must be a wish of both the boy and the parents) to the projects that take place- we toured the place where they make incense and the art studio. One thing that especially stuck out to me was his discussion of body, mind, and soul and seeking unity between them. This is what they refer to as enlightenment and life is much easier when you can achieve unity between them. This reminds me of studying ballet- especially when dance is done so as an offering to the Lord. The physical component is the most obvious, but it also takes commitment and focus to grow and improve as a dancer. That could be all you need to gain technique, but the aspect of spirit, dancing for a higher purpose- to give back to the God who gave you that gift, brings a new depth to dancing

After our monastery visit and lunch, we got for a visit to the Shakti Samuha Safe House in Kathmandu. We rode public transportation to get there, which was an adventure! When we

photo courtesy of Nina: selfie on the public transit bus!

arrived, we were ushered into an upstairs room and served milk tea. I was impressed by the team that was there in the home: a coordination, case manager, psychosocial counselor, and a home counselor.

“We try to protect from problems, but sometimes they happen anyway. In this case, we try to build them up stronger than before.”

The mission of the Safe House:

  1. Missing case/rescue
  2. Repatriation
  3. Rehabilitation
  4. Reintegration
  5. Follow-up (see if they want to come work for the Shakti campaign because they are the warriors.)

Women stay in this home for 6-12 months. This is the first step when they return from trafficking in the effort to reintegrate them to life in Nepal. Here, they receive counseling, health services, and entertainment as well to make life integration as “normal” as possible.

young boy at the Shakti Samuha safe house: he took a liking to the men in our group!

After 6-12 months, women are transferred to a Halfway Home. They usually spend another 6-12 months here, learning life skills. What these life skills might be depend on the individual- their needs and their interests. Some may receive education- they will place women in classes and schools based on their interests and skills.

The obstacles they face are “infinite.” First: their budget. Second: collaborative operations- Shakti works with governments, families, and many more- all in efforts to rescue and rehabilitate women and battle trafficking. Third: the stigma, the perception of survivors by society.

We asked how the Shakti Samuha workers receive their training. They said they learn to do what they do through experiences in their lives- studying, doing, and experience.

How many enter this program every year?
There are no fixed numbers, but 2004-present, 660 women have passed through this home. There were approximately 69 in 2017. Only 9 were actually survivors of external trafficking. (outside Nepal) There are four home like this in Nepal. The youngest girl to enter this home was eight years old. The oldest was fifty. Normally, they are teenage through early thirties.

David then asked Charimaya if she would share some of her personal story, and she shared much more than that! Charimaya is one of the original founder of Shakti Samuha- she was also the first woman in Nepal to prosecute her trafficker. (a case which she won) I must note that throughout these meetings, I was never aware of which women in the room were formerly-trafficked women and who were only workers for Shakti Samuha. I very much respect that they were never introduced as such- it reflected their commitment to viewing these women as survivors rather than victims and not allowing their past to define the person they are today.

Nepal: January 10th

10 Jan 18
Day trip to Sindhupalchowk district

Today, we drove five hours to visit a Shakti Samuha center an heavily trafficked area. We arrived at 2:00 p.m. and were fed a wonderful but spicy lunch. I almost died trying to eat it. (dramatic yes, but I felt that way at the time) Then we toured their new ginger farm. These plots were planted by women of the town through a microloan fund. I wish I could bring some ginger home! Then we visited the school. It was a short visit, but some of these girls have received scholarships, so it was very special!

Sindhupalchowk women with some of their first harvest. They are currently looking for a good buyer for their ginger!

We were only at the school for about fifteen minutes or so. It was nearing sundown and we were anxious to get down the mountain before dark. School was just letting out, so we were able to talk with the students for a few minutes. A few of our group took a peek in the school building, but I wanted to hear the conversation with the students, so I stayed outside. Though there were students of all ages, David asked several questions to a group of girls who were in the eighth grade. Their favorite subjects were (roughly in order) English, math, Nepalese, English, and Nepalese. (you go, girl who likes math!!!) All five of them plan to continue to high school next year, even though it means walking down the mountain (and yes, it’s steep! And dusty!) for two hours in the morning and three in the evening. That’s commitment to continuing one’s education!

8th grade girls at the Sindhulpalchowk community school

Jasmine, a girl from this town who completed school in the Sindhupalchowk district and now studies at the college level in Kathmandu, traveled with us on this day trip. She didn’t speak much English, but we were able to make some conversation with her on the way! She now studies social work in Kathmandu.

Our group in Sindhupalchowk

I would love to see the first day after rainy season here. Each tree and leaf is so covered in dust, I can only imagine that first day, the sunshine, the leaves so fresh and green.

I wonder how the dust affects the photosynthesis for these plants?

Nepal: January 9th

9 Jan 18
Kathmandu, Nepal

We went to bed near 7:30 p.m. and weren’t asked to report to breakfast until 9:00 or so, so I was excited to catch up on sleep! Unfortunately, as tired as I was, my internal clock was pretty screwed up and I only slept about six of those. On the other hand, Paul slept like a rock and was so still and quiet, I actually checked to make sure he was breathing!

After breakfast, we took a twenty-minute walk from the Shechen Guest House to the headquarters of Shakti Samuha. This was the first of many meetings of its kind on this trip. We entered the building, were introduced to some people who worked there, asked to remove our shoes, and then ushered into a room, where we sat on pillows lining the perimeter. There we spent 1-2 hours listening to a presentation on who Shakti Samuha is, how the group began, and their mission in Nepal. Our conversations were translated by Sarala, a native of Kathmandu who works for Shakti Samuha and was assigned to accompany us on our entire trip. She has worked as a project coordinator for Shakti Samuha since 2012.

We were welcomed with *tika* and white scarves. We were then served milk tea, which we discovered throughout our trip, is a staple welcome in Nepal.

Kathmandu headquarters of Shakti Samuha

Notes from my meeting with Shakti Samuha:

Shakti Samuha translates to “power group”, meaning a group meant to empower those within and around it. It is the first group established and run by survivors of sex trafficking, whose goal was to “convert our tears into power.” In 1996, five hundred women were rescued from brothels in India- 300 of these women were Nepalese. Repatriation into Nepal culture was extremely difficult for these women returning home because there were no government programs for them to adapt back to “normal” life and many shunned them because of their experiences and line of work in India. In fact, the government-run centers that some of them were able to go to treated them badly. It was difficult to get identification in Nepal and for health reasons involving HIV, the Nepal government did not even want to bring the girls back in the country to begin with. Eventually, seven organizations petitioned the government to recognize the trafficked girls as citizens of Nepal bring them back home. In all, 128 women migrated back to Nepal- the rest had fled or married in India. They were met at the airport by journalists and publicized as prostitutes, therefore making their homecoming even more difficult.

At some point, fifteen of these women attended a ten-day empowerment training together. The message they received from this training was your experience was not your fault. Together,  they brainstormed for a name and began Shakti Samuha organization. This organization is different because it doesn’t just work for survivors but with survivors. Notice that they so often refer to survivors in these terms, rather than “victims.” This is intentional- a victim is one who is living under the oppression of trafficking. A survivor is one who has determined that trafficking does not define their character and actively seeks healing and a better life.

There are thirteen districts in Nepal that are especially prone to human trafficking. Though they lack specific data on many of these areas, open borders and older infrastructures make trafficking easier here than in many parts of the world. A major earthquake in 2015 in proximity to India and China gave even more opportunity for this to happen.

Shakti Samuha receives some government support.

Almost all castes are affected by trafficking, but the poorest castes are affected the most.

Shakti has a sister organization (unnamed) who treats survivors who return with HIV/AIDS. It is difficult to reintegrate survivors into their families- it is a patriarchal society and these women are often seen in a harsher light because of their experiences. Shakti will routinely assess a home situation when a survivor returns to Nepal, to determine the risks of reintegration and being re-trafficked. If a woman cannot return to her original home, they work on social integration into society, helping her find education and/or a job, based on her skills and interests. They provide education, art therapy, and help if the women wants to pursue prosecution of her trafficker. (though there is no pressure to do so)

Shakti Samuha does not directly rescue women who are trafficked, but does coordinate with groups who do (mostly in India).

How are women trafficked? Usually, trafficking happens through a family member or trusted acquaintance who promise a young woman higher education or work abroad. When the family and/or girl take up this person on the offer, they do indeed send them abroad, but not to the destination anticipated. Sometimes, the trafficker will even send regular reports and a little bit of money to the family so they believe their daughter is successfully working or studying as intended. This also makes it more difficult to prosecute a trafficker later because they family was paid in part for the trafficking. Sometimes trafficking occurs through false marriage- a marriage that is carried in Nepal but not considered legally binding in Korea, China, etc. Young girls “fall in love” on social media. 

Nepal: January 8th

8 Jan 18
En route Istanbul to Kathmandu

We are nearly (two hours) to Kathmandu. It’s been almost twenty-four hours of traveling with three hours’ sleep at most. I pray to be awake and present as begin our time in Nepal.

From the plane: our first glimpse of the Himalayas

David has told us we may be able to see Everest from the left window of the plane. It just so happened that Paul and I had reserved seats there, unknowing of this perk!=)

We have arrived in Kathmandu, Shechen Guest House. It is a peaceful haven, though the rooms are chilly. We had nearly two hours to wash and rest.

(L) more mountains from the plane (C) the city of Kathmandu (R) Shechen Guest House courtyard

The airport was an interesting, escalating experience. It seemed a very quiet airport when we landed- only two other planes at the main gate and little activity outside. Yet that lasted only until we got inside, where lines were long for visas. Once through that process, we experienced the baggage claim area, which was chaotic and posed risk of being run over with a luggage cart.

The city: dusty- every plant, tree, and surface is covered in it. There is much traffic and unlike home, there seem to be few traffic laws. On the way from the airport, we saw all this and noticed that outside storefronts and in public area, many men sat idle even though it is midday. This is something one in our group noticed and asked about, we were told there is 46% unemployment here in Nepal, which explains the visible idleness- there are simply not jobs enough to go around.

After our two hours of rest, we walked to a restaurant for dinner, where Sarala (our group leader and host from Shakti Samuha- more about her and Shakti later) ordered a sampling of Nepali food. Nepal food seems exactly what one would expect geographically- with India to the south and Tibet/China to the north, Nepali food is the perfect mix of Indian, Tibetan, and Chinese. We ate a lot of naan and daal on the trip, as well as fried rice, soup, and chow mein. This dinner was also our introduction to momo- wonderful little dumplings filled with spices and steamed vegetables or chicken or buff (water buffalo)!

(L) Kathmandu traffic (C) entrance to the Boudhanath Stupa, around which we spent much of our walking time and found meals (R) momo!


Nepal: January 7th

7 Jan 18
9:30 p.m. Istanbul, Turkey

This trip is certainly one of long layovers but luckily few legs. It is easy in such a busy airport to become frustrated with those who wander in our paths, who are simply unaware of those around them But I was struck with a thought as I was nearly knocked aside twice by a woman- God loves her, she is His child,and so am I. Out of this large (so large!) crowd of people, I find it amazing once again to realize God’s deep and personal level of love.

We are camped in a coffee court in the airport. We have been here several hours and have a few more to go. Sleepy. Occasionally, a few will go walking while the rest watch over luggage. People-watching, reflecting on, and admiring the diversity of God’s Creation.

(L) Good morning, Istanbul! (R) our coffeeshop camp in the airport

The Night Before Departure

It’s nearly 25 hours until we take off for our Learning Tour to Nepal with New Community Project! I hear Mr. Paul rummaging through the basement for various objects (many of which we haven’t seen sine he moved in this house), I am waiting for several items of clothing to dry on my inside clothesline, trying to think of what necessities I’ve forgotten to pack, and reflecting on this trip ahead of us.

It’s been eight years since I traveled to Burma with NCP. I went during the Interterm of my senior year at Bridgewater College, and signed up to go mainly because of InMotion’s first two Christmas productions: “Hope of the World” and “Let There Be Light” in 2008 and 2009. When preparing “Hope of the World” in 2008, we decided it would be nice for a Love Offering to benefit a good cause, and I chose NCP’s “Give a Girl a Chance” program because I felt it was relevant to the dancers at our studio (who were all girls at the time) -girls who not only had access to public, private, or home education, but who also had the privilege of furthering their education through dance lessons. The opportunity to share the gift of education with girls elsewhere seemed like something they could understand and appreciate. After spending a season promoting this cause that I came to love even more, I felt that it was important to go see this program in action and meet the girls receiving education scholarships. Not only would it be a wonderful experience for me, but it would allow me to better relate the message and purpose of the program to those in our community.

My original NCP trip was actually supposed to be to Nepal- I chose that learning tour because the dates complemented my college schedule but soon after signing up for the trip, the NCP director contacted me and asked if I would still be interested if the destination changed to Burma (Myanmar). That was fine with me, so it was to Burma that I traveled during January of 2010. Paul was also supposed to travel to Nepal two years ago for their 2016 tour, but I screwed up that plan for him. (though Paul is ahead of me on NCP tours- he’s traveled with them on four separate occasions!) We were dating in the time leading up his 2016 trip and discussing marriage plans for the coming summer, so he decided vacation days would be in short supply for moving to VA and honeymooning and thus put his airline ticket money towards an engagement ring instead;-) So here we are in January of 2018, finally off on this trip together!

Some reasons I am excited about this trip: I have been on several trips and vacations since my last NCP Learning Tour and though each have been lovely for various reasons, I missed the heart of learning that truly existed on that trip. Walking with people, visiting them in their communities, meeting them where they were and seeing the joy it brought simply that we were there with them was beautiful! I am also excited to travel with NCP again after continuing InMotion’s Christmas productions each year since becoming studio director. To date, we have raised an estimated (not calculated) $12,000 for “Give a Girl a Chance” and I am so excited by the scholarships that have allowed girls to receive education around the world. I will probably never know the extent to which this has impacted the lives of these girls, but I hope to catch a glimpse of what this can do for them and share that with my InMotion family back home.

Some reasons I am anxious about this trip: some of the issues we perceived the people encountering in Burma were recovering from a recent cyclone, living in a police state, and the environmental hardships of hillside farming/gathering firewood, etc. Our host group in Nepal is one who supports women and children who have been victims of sex trafficking. In all, I feel that what we are to encounter is very “heavy,” and I pray for a spirit of understanding, peace, and love as we visit, listen, and interact with them.

Our pastor came over this evening and anointed Paul and I for our journey. I feel blessed that we can go on this trip, but I was also blessed by the reminder of what a light we can be in the world, and the light that others can be to us. I pray this journey can be one to share with our community back home, and one that grow us in heart and in our love for others. I plan to journal as much as possible during this trip, and I hope to share those journaled thoughts here with you. My blog (though I no longer have access to edit) from my Burma trip is available here  and I will post photos and updates on our Nepal trip if we at some point have internet access.

I am praying for InMotion as we begin classes on Monday, and I look forward to working with all my dancers when I return in two weeks! Paul and I appreciate your prayers as well, both for our travel and for each of those we meet along the way!