On a recent trip, my wife Yoko and I met with people in Kathmandu and its surrounding villages, and listened to their stories. With the guidance of a local social worker named Ananta, we visited families living in temporary shelters in Panga Village, one of the worst hit areas by the earthquake.
We were first met by a 73-year-old woman in red clothing with a white hair bun and a wonderful smile. It was clear in the way the other women stood behind her with worried expressions that she was the spiritual elder, the village “mother” who took care of the people in her village. Her expression turned grave and concerned as she spoke about the earthquake. She said that most of the men had gone away to look for work, leaving behind only women and children. This meant the women had to support each other to repair and care for their community.
Another woman, whose home had been destroyed by the earthquake, spoke of her difficulties in paying rent for temporary shelter. A third woman spoke about the bureaucracy she faces with receiving government subsidies. Many of these women have lost their jobs as weavers and sewers when nearby factories shut down due to earthquake damages. In the temporary home of a woman named Nirmala, Yoko and I sat in a circle with twenty Nepal women and listened to their stories, one at a time.
One group of five women in this circle expressed their wish to start a small spice business, in which they would grind, package and sell their own spices as a way to revive their livelihoods. Another group shared their interest in making laundry soap. Yoko and I agreed that Mitra Path, along with another non-profit in Vancouver, would jointly provide some initial funding to the group interested in selling spices. Our funds would be used to purchase a high-quality electric grinder, build a workroom, and provide training. We felt honored to be a part of their endeavor.
In another town called Bungamati — known as the home of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, the god of compassion — we visited another dozen families living in temporary shelters. We met with a group of women who wanted to start working again by making and selling candy, ointments, and soaps.
We also met with wood carving artisans who had lost their workshop to the earthquake and wished to rebuild it so they wouldn’t have to leave their town or even their country in search of jobs, as many others have been forced to do.
In Kathmandu proper, we also felt a strong sense of community. Amid crumbled buildings, we could hear people praying and chanting around the temples. Despite shortages in petroleum and cooking gas, people were cheerfully sharing what little they have.
Touched by the stories here as well, we decided to fund a compost fertilizer project, which would have the potential to create income opportunities for the local farmers.
Mitra Path was founded on the belief that good livelihoods create flourishing communities. The cultivation of work gives people the dignity, freedom and fulfillment that empower them to give back to their communities. Not too long ago, I was in a workshop called “Serving the One,” taught by Zen Roshi and Greystone entrepreneur Bernie Glassman. He said to us that we should serve those who aren’t able to get help from the government. Inspired by his words and sparked by these initial engagements in Nepal, Mitra Path has begun to set its commitment to serve an underserved community through the creation of livelihoods.
My encounter with that elderly woman who greeted me in Panga Village stays with me even now. Her eyes full of love for the people in her village, she did not ask me for anything in particular. She only asked that I listen to her, and her hope was that something may come of it. She repeated the Nepali words, “Ke garne” meaning “What to do?”
At Mitra Path, mindfulness is the foundation of our work. It points the way to action. When we bore witness to this grandmother’s deep love, and to the stories she and the other women shared, when we listened to their situation from our hearts, loving action sprang naturally. By bearing witness, we knew what to do.