Our week combining philanthropy and tourism
with Prashna and his family in Pokhara
The charming lakeside city of Pokhara about 6 hours east of Kathmandu is a jewel of of a Nepali city. Known as a city for adventure-seekers going paragliding or trekking the Annapurna circuit, it's much more laid back than the nation's capitol while still offering plenty of urban amenities.
Knowing we'd have around a week to spare after we finished hiking to Everest, I started looking into Workaway projects in Pokhara. There were many worthy causes to sort through, most of them centered around orphaned children, and I finally decided to visit Prashna and his family. Prashna, who grew up in a children's home, founded a series of philanthropies dedicated to supporting the people of Pokhara and fostering independence. The areas of influence include covering student's tuition, food and housing, awarding interest-free microloans to those pursuing higher education, helping young adults acquire skills and find jobs, and providing microloans to struggling families to help them buy livestock to support themselves. In addition to the fifty-odd children he puts through school, he also has taken in seven to live with him and his family. These kids, Prabin, Bigyan, Rohit, Roshan, Laksmi, Danisha, and Prita, are the kids we lived with for a week and got to know the best.
Prashna's home is a simple yet supplied every luxury we could ask for, like clean drinking water, hot showers, soap, western toilet, a fan, and excellent wifi. I felt I needed to share this list because it's more than we've had in a lot of hotel rooms! We got a tour of the complex and saw the boys' room, the kitchen and dining area, the organic garden out back where they grow beans, pumpkin, corn, and tomatoes, the chicken coop and rabbit cage, the boys' play house, the outdoor laundry and dish-washing area, and the central courtyard where we all spent most of our time drinking tea and talking about life.
As soon as we got to the house, we felt like family. Over a home-cooked dinner of rice, lentils, yogurt, and vegetable curry, we discussed Prashna's work in more detail. It takes about $300 to send one child to school for a year, and the average monthly expenses to feed, house, transport, and otherwise support a child is around $100 per child. For any household that would be a strain and with all the children Prashna supports, the bills adds up quickly.As soon as we got to our room we decided we need to do more beyond our week-long stay here. We had a goal of $250 in mind and put the call to action to our friends and family. Within 12 hours, we hit our goal and ended up with $350 total from outside donations alone. Sending a special thanks to Karen and Barry, Laurie and Kent, Jacquelynn, Austin, Bruna, Shannon, Kyle, Aaron, Jesse, Tristen, Caily, Nancy and Michiel. Your generosity and compassion blew us away and allowed us to present a life-changing gift to Prashna and his family. Together, we have given one child who otherwise would be working the gift of an education.
Every morning, we would start our day with sweet cinnamon tea and play with the kids before they left for school at 9am. The Nepali people only eat two big meals a day and they're both typically dal bhat, a dish of rice, lentils, and a curry mainly consisting of vegetables or beans. It's delicious and filling, especially when it's homemade, but I never could get quite used to having a huge amount of food and waiting 12 hours for the next feeding. There's a saying here: Dal Bhat Power, 24-Hours. The family has three energetic puppies, at least eight kids at any given time, and a bevvy of visiting relatives and house guests. Things around here are rarely quiet or boring.
One afternoon, Dain and I took the bus from where we were staying in Damside a ways down the road to the famous Lakeside district of Pokhara. Cows are sacred animals in majority-Hindu Nepal which is why they're roaming about all over the place. Frequently, they're lying in the middle of the road and traffic flows casually around them, that's why you'll see cows in most of my pictures if you look closely.We were greeted by a cheerful, clean lake dotted with colorful small boats and surrounded by rolling green hills. Save for the Hindu temple in the center of the lake, it felt like I'd missed my stop and gotten off in a little mountain town in Switzerland.
We walked the promenade along the lake, which was actually quite nice and built up with casual bars, cafes, and smoothie places along the water. We ducked into a spot for an iced tea to escape the May heat before strolling down the main street in town. A few girls we met who worked in Pokhara gave us a ton of good advice while we were there, like spend your money at the restaurants on the right side of the lake. Apparently the left side has high prices but low quality. They also recommended we catch an outdoor film at the movie garden but it was either raining or we had family dinner during the 7 o'clock showing. After a day of shopping and running errands, Dain and I popped into a rooftop bar to relax with a Sherpa Beer, our favorite from the Himalayan trek.
We also made time to see Davis Falls, named for a Swiss woman who drowned there in 1961 while swimming. It's a cool site to see because it's right in the middle of the city and just a short walk from where we were staying. It had been raining over the past few weeks so the falls were gushing more than usual but nowhere near their peak around September/October.
One of the most memorable days in Pokhara was spent with the entire family on their only weekend day, Saturday. Prashna said we were going on a picnic of sorts to Upper Mustang, an area about 15 km away from Damside. One of the families Prashna supports was having us over to their home for lunch except we supplied the food and drinks, they supplied the kitchen. The area was much more rural than where we've been and there weren't many solid structures around. There were a few half-finished buildings or piles of materials, I'm not sure if this was due to the earthquake or not. The home we came to was filled with a wonderfully welcoming family and two smart, thoughtful kids who showed us around. Prashna supports both kids, aged 10 and 15, through scholarship and the young adult program respectively. He wanted to show us what a typical family he supports looks like and how they live.
The family's dwelling had a dirt floor and tin walls and roof and inside there was one bed, a table, a dresser, and a small space for storing dishes. Out back, there were a couple of burners for cooking on the ground underneath a tent for shade, an area to clean dishes with a bucket of water, and a small dog house for the sweet blind dog named Juri. While I'm writing this I'm reflecting on just how destitute the family is- the six of them shared one bed with a tattered sheet and there was no power or clean water that I could see. But when you're there sharing a delicious meal, chatting about their son's goals for the future, and chasing kids and dogs around the garden, it's simple another home.
Before lunch, the boys led the group around the neighborhood past the soccer field and up to a vantage point looking down into the valley. A company had recently installed a zipline and a bungee jump and we watched tourists zipping through and bouncing around for a while.
It was on this day, our last, with Prashna and his family that I realized no one here ever complains. I've never heard any of them ever ask for anything, even a snack, and all the children are so well-behaved. They do their schoolwork with zeal and without having to be asked, they take care of each other, play happily, and respect the household. If I had to guess, everyone in this house is grateful for what they have and the people in their lives, and that's a strikingly simple lesson to learn. If I can internalize these qualities even just a few times a day, I think I'll be a much happier and appreciative person.
We had a quiet, lovely last evening with the family playing with the puppies and swapping recipes. Prashna implored us to return to Nepal soon, spending the whole visit in Pokhara next time, and to bring friends. The children each brought us a flower that they gingerly placed in our hands one by one until we each has our own polychromatic bouquets. Prashna also wants us to come back married- there's something we hear just about every place we visit! However long it may take, I'd love to return and see how things have changed around here. If you're interested in learning more about the charity we supported, Aniko Sansar Ko Sathi, please reach out!