Nepali Reflections: Almost one year post earthquake(s)

In the summer of 2013, I had the privilege to travel to Kathmandu, Nepal, where I worked with a Fair Trade handicraft organization called The Association for Craft Producers (ACP).

At the Association for Craft Producers, I worked as a textile and product designer, with a focus to create products that were both contemporary and relevant in a global marketplace, yet that sought inspiration from traditional Nepali motifs and handicraft design.

Outsourcing in the untraditional sense, ACP works with over 1,400 artisans from 15 districts of Nepal, the majority (over 90%) women. This outsourcing model allows women to work from their homes, maintaining their relationships with their families, educating their children, and contributing their income to their home economies. Because of the financial and working contributions these women maintain within their families, the women of ACP also receive greater support and respect from their husbands and fathers—an important point for a male dominated society. ACP also provides other benefits to their workers in the form of a savings program, school scholarships which focus on the education of female children, a retirement fund, medical allowance, and paid maternity and paternity leave, among others.  

Working in Nepal and for ACP was—truly—a life changing experience. Not only being able to travel to a new and distant country but to have the ability to work within a new cultural context was extremely eye-opening. What I discovered there was that it is not only relevant for these handicraft organizations—whether in Nepal or elsewhere—to provide a market for people to sell their handmade goods and to provide employment services, it is just as important to perpetuate an environment that allows artisans to explore and manifest their creativity. Many of us are are creatively inclined human-beings, and environments and services within these organizations that allow people to explore these passions can lead to some outputs that are truly radical. Returning from Nepal, I took these insights and poured them into an extensive research project that looked at the artisan sector under this lens.

This is why—when a massive earthquake and violent aftershocks struck Nepal almost a year ago, my heart went out for all of those affected. It was an interesting feeling to have. While there had been a massive earthquake in Haiti a few years prior, the sense of empathy I had towards and with the people I’d met in Nepal was overwhelming.  In the aftermath, over 9,000 people were discovered dead, and 21,000 injured. Many culturally significant monuments and temples were destroyed or badly damaged, and entire communities, villages, and homes were badly affected or completely obliterated. And as millions of dollars in aid poured in I couldn’t help but wonder what was to come for Nepal. While all of those I’d met in my time there were fortunately safe, many of their family members and friends were deeply wounded—both physically and emotionally. I remember feeling helpless being so far away. Helpless, yet hopeful, as if my time in Nepal taught me anything, it’s that Nepali people are some of the strongest and most resilient (not to mention, cutest).

So now—almost a year later, why this blog post? While aid immediately poured in during the aftermath of the quakes, Nepal continues to need all the help and support it can get. I know Nepal is close to my heart, but hopefully just hearing about some of the social impact work that ACP provides for it’s workers, and just how badly the country was affected, will urge you to think this through with me.

If you’re interested in learning more, I’ve provided a list of articles at the end of this post. If you’re inspired to make a time or monetary donation, there are a variety of ways you can contribute, here are a few.  

Tourism: While monetary donations through foundations and non-profits are important, perhaps the most beneficial way to contribute is through tourism. If you can, perhaps plan a few days into your trip that focus on volunteering. It will open your eyes to some cultural nuances and I bet you’ll even make a few new friends! Be sure, however, to do some research on the organization you’ll be serving with beforehand, this will help you know what to expect and learn more about the reputability of the organization. The country is exquisitely beautiful, and maybe you'll even be able to do some trekking while you’re there!

The Hope InitiativeFounded by a great teacher and friend of mine, this grassroots organization is committed to deeply understanding the human needs of Nepali people, and giving them tools and resources to overcome poverty and hardship. A year later after the quakes, they are continuing their efforts to rebuild schools, homes, and entire communities in Nepal.

Association for Craft Producers: Mentioned in the body of this post, this Fair Trade handicraft organization supports over 1,400 artisans and producers across Nepal. Economic success is vital to continuing to lift these communities up from the aftermath of these quakes. Contact me directly for ways to contribute.