by Team Dayā Founding Member Jordan Mitchell
This morning I returned home to Seattle after a 2.5 week trip around the world. The destination was Nepal; where I was so very fortunate to play a small part, with both a fabulous team, generous donors and an incredible community, in building a school to support education and literacy. I’m not sure I will ever find the words to describe the experience (and I tear up when I try), but I hope that everyone I know has a similar experience at some point in their lives.
We arrived to the community of Dhayapur to a parade of men, women, children and music — with local dances, garlands, tikka applied to our foreheads, and a ceremony in honor of the school we were about to break ground on. The whole community (I would estimate 100-150 adults, with ~150 children) then signed a covenant to build the school with us, and we put the first shovels in alongside the mayor.
Over the rest of the week, we connected deeply within the community. We stayed in their homes, walked through their fields, harvested and ate their rice, played with their children, danced to Nepali music, and above all we WORKED. Days started at 6am with yoga to stretch and warm our bodies for the hard, physical work in the hot, humid sun. Along with about 100 helpers from the community, and a handful of skilled laborers, we dug the foundation by hand, laid gravel and rocks by hand, bent rebar by hand, and mixed concrete by hand. We wore gloves and earned blisters, while the community worked with their bare hands (with no blisters).
Each night our aama (mother within the homestay) cooked us dinner. All our meals were prepared over an open fire, and eaten, within a hut made of cow-dung, mud and sticks. We ate with our hands while sitting on a straw mat. There was a single light bulb which frequently went out, along with the power for the entire community.
Our homestay was surrounded by rice fields and had 3 generations within it already, though they generously opened up one of the two rooms for me and my two friends Jay Sears and Hasan Arik to sleep in. Baje (grandfather) and baji (grandmother) wedded 65 years ago when she was just 10 and he 15; she explained that marriage prior to menstruation was known to bring good fortune to the parents. When I explained one evening around the fire (using a translator) that we came from the other side of the world, where the sun had not risen yet in my home even though it had already set there at theirs, they seemed confused — they didn’t know the world was round. (I didn’t bother showing them Google maps at that point, choosing to simply enjoy their company and talk about the porridge they were cooking for the family cow.)
There were two huge takeaways for me personally. First, the Nepali women were unbelievably impressive — I will never forget their warmth, strength and inner beauty. They out-worked every man there, wore brilliant colors, and were the critical glue holding together the community and farms while the men often travelled elsewhere for work. They taught us Nepali words, and laughed and danced while we all worked. Gender equality there is …. well, let’s just say it’s still early in development.
This said, the second key takeaway was a solemn reminder that civilization, “progress”, money and material things do not bring happiness. This community had very few things, yet they had everything they needed and were very happy. One afternoon we asked a group of them what’s the ONE thing they don’t have which they wish they did … it wasn’t a new cell phone, money, a stove, refrigeration, tractor or building tools; all of them answered “education”. What an honor and privilege it was to help build them a school, where both adults and children could learn to read and write!
Finally, it was time to say our goodbyes. Again the whole community came together and many tears were shed with the words that separated short, happy Nepali dance sessions. Team Daya will always be welcome there, and many of us plan to return some day. We left forever changed, all feeling so incredibly fortunate to have had the experience, while also knowing that they too will remember our visit for the rest of their lives.