A Reflection on Engagement
Ambassador (ret) Scott H. DeLisi
As I speak to people across our nation about this small country nestled in the high Himalayas and my love for it, that is the question I am asked, “Why Nepal?” Why, indeed?
The lack of knowledge and understanding about Nepal is striking but, if you come to know Nepal, the answer to the question becomes rapidly apparent as Nepal touches you in ways that you don’t expect and it will never let go.
Nepal does that to you. It draws you in. It touches your heart. It transforms you.
I sometimes ask my non-Nepali audiences to tell me what they think about when I say the word Nepal?
Some folks think of pasta and Mediterranean sunshine and I have to tell them, “No, no, that ’s Naples.“ They say, “oh.”
I explain that Nepal is a tiny nation, no bigger than the state of Tennessee, that sits at the top of the world and that, until a few years ago, was the only Hindu Kingdom on the planet. And, although it is no longer a kingdom and is struggling to define its new political order it remains a remarkable place…an almost mystical place. It is the Shangrila of legend, the country of the Yeti and the Yak. It is the country of towering peaks, of revered lamas, of Hindu gods and goddesses, and of some of the most resilient, compassionate and tolerant people on this planet.
Imagine this tiny country sitting in the shadow of the Himalayas. A country that sixty years ago was largely closed to the world until recently. A country in which there are still people who know little of cars and airplanes…but a country which in the past 60 years has opened itself to the world beyond its borders and that now is a fascinating and at times bewildering mix of the ancient and the modern. It is a country where you can tweet from top of Everest one day, track tigers in the jungle a few days later, and in between find yourself mesmerized by traditional religious and cultural ceremonies that have not changed in hundreds of years.
Nepal offers it all. Within its narrow geographic boundaries the nation rises from an elevation of 194 feet (59m) in the tropical forests of the terai to an over 29,000 feet (8839m) at the peak of Everest. You can luxuriate in the warmth of the southern plains doing elephant back safaris in search of white rhino and, if you’re lucky, spot a tiger, on one day, and be invigorated by the brisk breezes of Upper Mustang on the Tibetan Plateau the next.
The physical beauty of the nation is incredible and it is a feast for our senses. Beautiful fields of blooming mustard stand against an incredible blue sky in the south with the snowcapped peaks appearing almost mirage-like in the distance. The river valleys and forests embody tranquility and peace. The high mountain altitudes…above the tree line…with their rugged grandeur inspire, intimidate and – as you venture deeper into their remoteness, leave you convinced that you will never be the same.
But just as that physical beauty is a joy for our senses, the tremendous cultural diversity of Nepal engages our intellect and will not let go. Nepal can be sliced and diced over 100 ways. Different ethnic groups, tribal groups, linguistic groups.
People of different regions, faiths, traditions. Each has its own story to tell, its own role in society, its own rich and diverse cultural identity. All central to their being, to their lives, and a critical part of Nepal’s story. Visit Nepal and you will see this play out in an amazing tapestry of exotic, colorful and fascinating festivals and interactions that will leave you eager to learn more.
And then there are the people of Nepal… the nation’s true “secret weapon. The country’s beauty pleases our eyes, the cultural richness engages our minds, but the people of Nepal – they touch our hearts. Never, in 35 years in the diplomatic service, did I meet people as kind, as tolerant, as generous, or as humble or patient as the people of Nepal. It is why, if you go once to Nepal, it will live on in your heart and
call you back again and again, as it has with me and so many others whose hearts have been captured by this incredible country.
I recall flying into the mountain airfield in Lukla to trek into the Everest region. As we left the airport we realized…there were no cars..no trucks…no busses. Beyond Lukla you relied on your heart, your lungs, your legs …and your backs..to transport yourself and your belongings into a world of rhododendron forests, rushing rivers crossed by swaying suspension bridges, and mountain trails leading into the heart of the Himalayas. An experience to never be forgotten as Everest or Ama Dablam peaks suddenly emerge from the clouds.
You can spend weeks exploring the tremendous cultural treasures of the Kathmandu Valley’s three ancient kingdoms of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan. Visit Boudhanath Stupa, one of the most revered Buddhist shrines outside of Tibet and a place of incredibly vibrant life and spiritual peace simultaneously.
Or visit the grounds of Pashupatinath Temple devoted to Lord Shiva in his incarnation as Pashupati the Lord of the Animals. It is said if you make a pilgrimage it will guarantee you will not be reincarnated as an animal. Although non-Hindus may not enter the temple itself, spending time on the grounds is an incredibly experience as you encounter holy men, monkeys, and an ebb and flow of humanity that will overwhelm your senses. And, even if you’re not a Hindu, it doesn’t hurt to hedge your bets about what the next life may be like!
You may even fall in love, as I did, with a blue-eyed puppy along the trekking path en route to the ancient walled city of Lo Manthang on the Tibetan border. That puppy –
– my Bhoti Kukur or mountain dog as they call the Tibetan Mastiffs there…is still with me and is now my daily reminder of Nepal, of why I fell in love with a country that every day found a way to surprise me, to educate me, and to touch my heart.
Today, I remain part of the life of Nepal as the Executive Director of the Soarway Foundation. And in that role I have found another answer to the question “Why, Nepal?”
In today’s world there is an overwhelming array of challenges that we as a global community face, and the number of people in need is daunting. The Syrian refugees. The crisis in South Sudan. The fate of the Rohingya Muslim community in Myanmar. Every one of these crises…and many more…need people to care, to act, and to help. So, why Nepal?
For me, the answer was not hard to find. First, just because Nepal is not in the global headlines everyday with journalists reminding us at every step of the way of the human tragedy unfolding before our eyes, the need is as real and as compelling.
Nepal is one of the poorest countries on the planet and its people face not only the grinding burden of that poverty but the risks associated with living in one of the
world’s most seismically vulnerable nations. The need for support and engagement are self-evident, and the human costs of indifference, cannot be ignored.
The global crises that demand our attention truly are devastatingly tragic, but they are also tragedies on a scale that requires a global response whether in terms of policy, resources, institutional and governmental engagement and vision. We want to help, but can we truly have an impact is one of the questions we must ask.
In Nepal, however, the Soarway Foundation is able to work on a scale that we can manage…that we can touch, and see, and feel. We may be a small non-profit but we work with an array of partners who we know, trust, and whose commitment, not only to Nepal, but also to ethical engagement and transparent practices, matches our own. We can see the impact of their work and we know our engagement matters.
In Nepal our work becomes tangible and translates into real-life outcomes. A year ago, our women’s entrepreneur group in Biratnagar was just a dream. Today there are 52 women whose lives are transformed. Women who know the pride of turning their dream into a reality and whose contributions to their families’ futures include earning funds that ensure education for their children as well as food on the table
Every day in Nepal our partners of the Nepal Ambulance Service saves lives. They are there to answer the call. To make a difference. And the skilled paramedics they have trained will not only touch someone’s life today but they are our investment in the future, expanding the capacity of the medical infrastructure to respond to the next flood, the next devastating forest fire, or the next calamitous earthquake.
Every day in Nepal children in Sindhupalchowk are in classes in schools we helped to rebuild. Every day the children of Sagarmatha Children’s Home, many abandoned as babies, know what love and family really mean.
Each day our colleagues at The Partners Nepal are restoring the environment, preserving culture, and supporting health care delivery, especially for the elderly in Solukhumbu and other mountainous regions of Nepal. And our work to promote accessible tourism gives hope each day to the our Nepali partners who are differently-abled and for whom our partnership shows all they are capable and reaffirms each day that they are no longer invisible and forgotten citizens.
These programs are merely illustrative of our how we engage (learn more at www.soarway.org) but they demonstrate the “why” of our engagement. Because we know that in Nepal we can have an impact. Because we know our work matters.
Because we care.
Whether our projects are large or small, we hope that the work of our partners will be a catalyst for change and set the stage for others to build upon. And, although this work may not make the headlines, that doesn’t matter. Each life touched and each life saved matters and enriches us all.
Step by step, working together with the people of Nepal, we can build a future that they can face with hope rather than fear.
At Soarway, our mantra is “Engage Nepal.” And we hope that you will choose to do exactly that because no matter our passion and commitment, we cannot succeed without the support of others who also care.
When you are asked, “Why, Nepal?” if your answer it is anything like mine, I hope you may choose to act. We are looking for 1000 people who care, who are committed and who understand that they can make a difference by joining the Soarway 1000 team for as little as $10 a month. (Visit this site for more information
Join the Soarway 1000 and Engage Nepal!