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Memoirs from Nepal- by Miuccia Halim

Miuccia Halim

“Where you sit depends on where you stand.” As our team huddled together in the dimly lit dining hall of Machhapuchchhre Village Inn in Nepal, we attentively listened to our mentor, Samrat Katwal, emphasize our roles as outsiders of the rural community we were aiming to help. Even today, this phrase continues to resonate in my mind, reminding me of my background, my privileges, and the extent to which I am capable of impacting the lives of people with values, cultures, and mindsets different from my own.

This meeting took place a few days before Christmas, and our team had arrived at the village a few days prior to begin executing projects we had been planning since October. For 3 weeks, as part of a University of California, Davis Study Abroad program, my project team and I worked with the Women’s Development Committee in Machhapuchchhre Village to propose an income-generating enterprise the village women could take on.

When I first returned from the trip at the beginning of January and peers inquired about my travels, I found it a bit difficult to summarize my experiences. It feels as if so much has occurred in only 3 weeks! From bouts of stomach flu (this is a whole other story) and 8-hour bus rides from the bustling city of Kathmandu to the rural village of Machhapuchchhre to active observation sessions in villagers’ homes and intense bargaining discourses at the city market, I had involved myself in a vast array of new experiences. However, I’ve recently been able to sit down and reflect on 5 key learnings from my journey:

1. Listen… actively.

The key to collaborative relationships involves active listening: listening not to respond but to understand. When we practice active listening, we understand other people’s perspectives, goals, and motivations. We build trust and rapport and develop authentic, sustainable relationships. It makes the biggest difference when we pay attention to someone, acknowledge their viewpoints, and wholly engage with them.

While I was in Nepal, I discovered that dynamic listening enabled me to fully immerse myself in my interactions and understand my team members on a more individual basis. When my teammates and I cared personally for each other, we were able to bond and establish a personal connection, contributing to a productive and enjoyable work environment.

2. Step outside of your comfort zone.         

For most of my life, I’ve grown up in – what I admit is – the bubble known as the Silicon Valley as well as attended university close to home. That’s why I’m grateful for how Nepal has widened my global perspectives and understanding of privileges. There were occasions during the trip when I experienced extreme discomfort – whether it was from sickness, traveling to an unfamiliar environment 7,548 miles away from home, or interacting with individuals whose viewpoints and communication styles differ greatly from my own.

However, I came to realize that it was during these moments of unfamiliarity when I learned to become more resilient, challenge myself to overcome those struggles, and appreciate the opportunity I was given to equip other women, who may not have experienced the same privileges that I’ve had growing up, with the encouragement and knowledge to pursue their passions. When we step outside of our comfort zones, it can be scary because we’re enabling ourselves to be vulnerable. But how can we ever experience life and come to understand how fortunate we are and how we can help others if we don’t expose ourselves to the unknown?

3. In order to help someone, you first need to understand what they need.

Often, when non-profit organizations look at rural community development, they seek to influence entire communities without taking into consideration what the community members already know, what they need at that present moment in time, and how they can collaborate together to sustain change after the non-profits leave.

When we initially arrived at the village, my teammates and I had to sit down and determine our roles as outsiders and observers before proceeding to establish an active understanding of the villagers’ current scenario. During the project planning phase, we uncovered how imperative it was to remain critical of our understanding of the villagers’ needs and interests. Only when we understood what the villagers needed were we able to present a feasible and sustainable business proposal.

4. Conflict is inevitable. What matters is how you approach it.

When it comes to working with team members from different cultures, it’s important to recognize that conflict is inevitable. In fact, conflict can be healthy because it fosters collaboration, open discussion, and productivity in a work setting. By learning to recognize conflict, approach it with an open mind, and work as a team towards a solution, we educate ourselves on how to efficiently solve disagreements in the workplace.

There were occasions when my teammates contradicted in work communication styles and methods for approaching assignments. It was when we recognized the conflict and collectively worked together to manage it that we were able to arise at a solution and move onward to accomplish the project’s goals.

5. Adopt a growth mindset.

The world is a vast arena of information, and we have plenty of room to learn and grow as intellectual beings. By adopting a growth mindset, we generate a natural drive for challenge, knowledge acquisition, and self-development.

Even though I arrived at Machhapuchchhre to assist the village women, I feel as if I’ve gained a whole lot more from them—from listening to their life stories to observing how hard they worked to support their families. By maintaining an open mind throughout the trip, I acknowledged gaps in my knowledge and worked to fill them in by engrossing myself in my work and striving to learn as much as possible from both my teammates and the villagers. Only when we embrace the fact that we don’t know anything do we appreciate the joys of discovery.

Ultimately, where you sit does depend on where you stand. There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” solution, and often, there is no one right answer to resolving real-world problems in international societies. By practicing patience, humility, and empathy, we can understand not only ourselves and what we’re capable of achieving but also the individuals we interact and form relationships with. And when we accomplish that, we are well on our way to discovering ourselves and inspiring those we help to realize how much potential they have to represent their interests and accomplish their goals.

Miuccia Halim is a senior at the University of California, Davis graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Science in Managerial Economics and minor in Communication. She is currently the Marketing Manager at Aggie Reuse Storeand the Career Development Director at Davis Women in Business.

This blog was taken from author’s linkedIn.

CATCHING LIGHT- by Bukelwa Nzimande- South Africa

During an intense two-week International Sustainability School fellowship programme in Nepal, I had the privilege of sitting under the teachings of  inspiring and resourceful men and women, both in a formal and informal context.  Every single one of them a change-maker, ground-shaker and innovator in their immediate space. From social “behavioural change igniters” and campaigners, to grounded community leaders, small-scale farmers and social entrepreneurs, breaking grounds and changing the narrative in their local spaces, by finding solutions and answers to complex issues in their country. The commitment and optimism they carried, partnered with their positive wiring and resilience to push forward and “trek” unchartered grounds, was both encouraging and contagious.

“There is an amazingly functional and sustainable life outside and beyond our common spaces from which we can go to draw out inspiration”

During these charging sessions, and amidst intense moments of introspection and challenge, I realised that every country whether developed, developing or under-developed has these kinds of people. Individuals who are ambassadors of positive change and trailblazers for new and sometimes unconventional ideas. These sessions also confirmed for me, that everyone has the potential to do ‘outstanding things’ and that ‘outstanding things’require commitment, dedication and patience.

Beyond my personal development journey and the numerous discoveries I made during this trip, I also found a new sense of appreciation and respect for my people, upon the realisation that they too definitely have resources and solutions to contribute towards our nation’s sustainable future. As a matter of fact, there are people already doing amazing things within the sustainability, development and social justice space. I was again after a long apathetic season encouraged to sow into the resource and “strength-force” of my own country, and also to intentionally begin seeking out similarly aligned fellows and individual in South Africa to learn and grow from. From small-scale organic farmers in the midlands to the brainchild of a struggling yet resilient social entrepreneur fighting a whirlwind of challenges in their immediate space. Making moves and waves for the greater good and benefit of others and our planet.

Changemakers begin with choosing to be constantly inspired and mobilised beyond themselves to be responsible citizens and arrows of creatively relevant solutions. They stand in solidarity, joining hands with those who have long been fighting social, economic and environmental injustices and forms of inequality by contributing towards finding short and long-term sustainable solutions, particularly focusing on mitigating and buffering the impacts felt by the most vulnerable groups and people in our communities. Yes, the challenges which plague South Africa may be overwhelmingly daunting without reminders and sign posts of the goals we together seek to attain. But working together in ploughing the immediate land we find ourselves in, and realising that there are more people working towards the same visions and goals will see us rising above the paralysis and even seeing an impact and eventually change. Connectedness says, no matter where you are in the ocean, a ripple in the deep pacific will touch you…eventually.

Awareness, Connectedness, Consistency and Patience: my four magic words.

Awareness: As my perception of meaning and success evolve and my naivety lessens, I’m most certain now that our growth and learning processes take time, and have no upper limits, and that everything or person we encounter presents an opportunity of learning. We must therefore seize these endless opportunities of learning, and curiously inquire beyond our exposure. Connectedness: We certainly grow in community and thrive upon exposure to different environments and unfamiliar rhythms. We find our magic in unknown spaces. We should never shy from striking meaningful conversations with old men and women carrying depths of wisdom and knowledge or meeting new and inspiring 21st-century critical thinking individuals. Inquiring and engaging the young and old seeking to marry the beauty of the different worlds. Lastly, lets learn beyond our books, interests and desks and seek exchange opportunities outside our own small circles and continue to look outwards and upwards…and be intentional in developing ourselves. Consistency and Patience: Starting from the bottom and working upwards is never quick nor easy…and sometimes the challenge only ends when we get to the top. Things that are worthwhile take time and effort and we need to be prepared to pay our dues.

As a young girl, I had the privilege…or curse of having to sit and guard the process of refilling a water storage tank which once full, would be our family’s precious source of sustenance for months. Some of these tanks can have a carrying capacity of up to 20 000 Litres, and sitting and waiting for slow trickling water to make its way out of a tap, traverse upwards through a thin garden hose to enter the tank was certainly no fun. More so, when the neighbourhood kids were carelessly playing and singing merry tunes down the road having more fun than when you were around. I recall these moments because although basic, they taught me numerous life lessons like the fact that: most, if not all essential processes take time and require long periods of waiting while listening to never-ending tunes of monotony and ploughing the same grounds, sometimes till the hoe gets blunt. It’s a rather simple analogy, but I think its true what they say about the application of simple strokes and basic principles when solving challenges of varying complexities.

Bukelwa Nzimande

South Africa

This blog was taken from- https://kelwamindfields.wordpress.com/2016/07/24/catching-light.

Trekking with Nature by Keturah -Liberia

My travel to Nepal for the International Sustainability School in the summer, 3 – 12 June 2017 is one travel experience that I certainly will never forget.

The 10-day experience was a combination of learning from experts, living like a local, trekking, and establishing friendship with amazing  professionals from different countries.

As a Liberian studying in China, I was fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to meet and bond with 7 bright fellows from Serbia (Aleksandar Maksimovic), Brazil (Joao Pedro Maciente Rocha), South Africa (Ra’eesah Hendricks), Kenya (Issac Mariga), Tanzania (Kazim Mustafa Mohamed Hamza), Philippians (Marylaine Uy Ma. Dujunco,) and Nepal Manju Khadka).  We were all selected out of over 500 applications from 73 countries.

In addition,  I met and learned a lot from two amazing officials of the Hands on Institute, Mr. Samrat Katwal, Executive Director, and Mr. Bijay Raj Poudel, Co-founder, Hands-On Institute,

The most fulfilling and unforgettable day of the trip for me was the trek to the Australian Base Camp on Day 3 of the training.

By coincidence, we had to travel to the camp on June 5, 2017 (World Environment Day). We went to complement the formal sessions in Kathmandu with a practical connection with nature.

We started the journey at 6am from Kathmandu in a vehicle and after about 7 hours of riding to Dhampus, and lunch break, completed the trip with forty (40) minutes of trekking uphill to the Australian Base Camp.

On our way and also while up there at the camp, we experienced the most breathtaking view of the snow-top mountains surrounded by clouds and trees I’ve ever seen. The breeze blowing in our faces, the clear blue skies, the surrounding clouds, and chirping of birds; there was so much beauty, solitude, and happiness that makes one forget about everything else and live in the moment. The smiles on the faces of the rest of the fellows confirmed the joy we all felt.

The journey through the trees was exciting. I now have a special feeling for flowers because of the bright and lovely flowers I saw on the way.

Walking through the forest felt like I was watching a movie; but yet I was a part of it.  The birds were whispering, beautiful flowers waving while the buffalos were quietly watching; I felt one with nature.

It was refreshing to finally arrive at the camp after 40 minutes of trekking. Trust me, it was more like the feeling you have when you win a marathon. Luckily, we met a better view of the landscape at the camp. The Himalayas was peeping at us through the clouds. I couldn’t help but stare and marvel at such beauty.

If there’s one thing I took back from this experience, that thing is, Nature is beautiful and must be sustained.

I recall the interaction with the local people during my time in Nepal and observed their unique culture; how friendly and accommodating they were, how happy they looked, how simple and appreciative they are; I was touched. I left Nepal with a new perspective of life- to live in the moment and find joy in simple things.

The discussions with my colleagues were stimulating and we established friendships that will certainly last for a lifetime. I wish to express sincere thanks and appreciation to Hands-On Institute for the opportunity afforded me.


Keturah M. Sandikie