Annapurna Trek Nepal

My heart breaks for Nepal

“We cannot stop natural disasters but we can arm ourselves with knowledge: so many lives wouldn’t have to be lost if there was enough disaster preparedness.” – Petra Nemcova

News of the devastating earthquake this past Saturday has sent shock waves throughout the world. Once again, Nepal is struggling to help rescue survivors after another catastrophe. For me personally, my heart is broken. A place that has meant so much to me has continually suffered and is now in ruins. A place where I found my voice and was inspired to start this blog.

Annapurna Trek Nepal

Me and my Dad at the start of the Annapurna Trek. November 2010.

They sometimes say that bad things happen in threes. In Nepal’s case, I certainly hope it ends at three. A series of natural tragedies over the last year has brought heartache and struggle to this tiny mountain country, one of the poorest countries in the world.

Global Issues Humanitarian Nepal TRAVEL BY REGION
Annapurna Trail Nepal

READ Global: Empowering people with the ability to read #ILD2014

Imagine living in a faraway, mountainous community in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. Despite its unbelievable beauty, most people live in rugged, remote communities with poor infrastructure, difficult lives and few educational or economic opportunities. In fact, Bhutan has one of the lowest literacy rates in Asia meaning countless children and adults are left behind, trapped in an unescapable cycle of poverty.

In 2008, READ (Rural Education and Development) Global, a not-for-profit organization based in San Francisco, changed the future by opening their first READ Center, a community library and resource center that teaches people to read. Before READ began working in Bhutan, the country had only one public lending library in the entire country. Today, there are five READ centers reaching over 37,000 rural villagers creating a culture of reading and providing access to information and resources to help farmers, children and women’s empowerment.

I learned about READ Global’s work before I went to Nepal in 2010. I had wanted to give back to the community and through research on different non-profit organizations, I found READ Nepal, a part of READ Global that works to provide literacy services in Nepal. I fundraised enough money to donate $4,000 before I left and was thrilled the money would go towards such an important cause. (I have written about it here).  Experiencing the rugged remoteness of Nepal during a two-trek in the Annapurnas made me see firsthand how incredibly difficult it is for children to learn. Schools are far and few between. I wondered what life would be like if I couldn’t read or write. It was unimaginable.

The statistics regarding illiteracy are heartbreaking:

  • 773.5 million adults are still illiterate around the world.
  • 17% of children in the developing world will not enroll in primary school
  • 39% of South Asia is illiterate.
  • 50% of women in South Asia are illiterate.
  • On average, kids only go through 4.7 years of schooling in South Asia.
Child Labor, Marriage, Education and Survival Global Issues SOCIAL GOOD Women and Girls
Annapurna Trek, Nepal

On Top of the World at Nepal’s Thorung-La

I will never forget the moment I was on top of the world. I was trekking around the Annapurna through the world’s largest pass – Thorung La. We rose in darkness and anticipation of our two-hour ascent up to the highest point of our Himalayan hike, the pass at Thorung La at an intimidating 17,769 feet (5,416 m). 

We had spent a sleepless freezing cold night at Thorung Base Camp to acclimatize before our morning ascent. I remember being so utterly cold during the night in our barren, unheated room that I emptied every single item of dirty clothing out of my pack and slept in everything I had along with three wool blankets. Unfortunately I was still frozen to the bone and could hardly sleep that night due to the high altitude and apprehension about the next day.

Would I be ok? Would I get altitude sickness? Would I make it to the top? These were all the worries and concerns that were racing through my restless mind and keeping me up in the middle of the cold, dark night.

Annapurna Trek, Nepal

Our last day-long hike up to the top of Thorung La Pass in Nepal.

Adventure Travel Nepal TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY Trekking/Hiking Weekly Photo Challenges
Los Glaciares National Park

My Top Five Wild Hikes

I just finished reading Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” a dark, raw and fiercely humorous book on how one woman finds herself during a three-month long trek through the wild Pacific Crest Trail. The book is powerful, emotional, honest and inspiring, and Strayed uses her brilliant memoir to take a hard look at self-discovery, heeling and change.

Of course when times are tough, we can’t always pick up our bags and leave town. Yet, I often find that there is no better way to escape and reflect upon life than to go on a hike, and the more remote and wild, the better. I have been fortunate to have done many wonderful adventurous hikes over the years.  Although every hike I’ve done has been special and has brought me to a new place, there are a select few that have truly inspired me and are unforgettable.

Here is a list of the top five wild hikes that are bound to get your mind thinking.

Adventure Travel Argentina Chile Guatemala Iceland Nepal TRAVEL RESOURCES Trekking/Hiking

Inspiration

“It is impossible to live without failing at something – unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default”. – J.K. Rowling

P1000140_Snapseed P1020116_Snapseed IMG_0555_Snapseed P1000226_Snapseed P1000212_Snapseed P1020076_Snapseed P1000387

This week has been a bit hairy so I thought I’d post some of my favorite photos of mountains I’ve hiked as they always calm my soul. Photos above from France, Nepal and Guatemala. This fall, I will be adding Bolivia to my list of great hikes. 

Stay tuned…

Adventure Travel France Guatemala Nepal TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking

The Magic of Hidden Places

Often when I travel, I am drawn to the unexpected surprises of places hidden beneath the non-attentive eye. From the mysterious hutongs of Beijing to the labyrinthine of a souq in Morocco, there is always a surprising hidden place to explore.

Perhaps these hidden places open a window into the unknown about the foreign culture you are visiting. Yet they always seem to leave me questioning, thinking and guessing about what it is really like behind these hidden windows of life.

The secret paths within a souq. Rabat, Morocco.

The whitewashed and baby blue walls in a Moroccan kasbah.

Inside the deep alleyways of the traditional Chinese hutongs. Beijing, China.

Another look at a Chinese Hutong.

Peering deep inside a hutong and wondering who lives there? How many homes are tucked away inside?

A hutong without a name or address.

Inside an ancient Chinese Water Village with numerous mysterious alleyways.

Many Chinese Water villages are threaded in waterways like this one that wind around the village and flow out to sea.

The open-air entryway of a home or cafe in Uruguay.

An open-air room of women making fresh torillas out of a building in Guatemala.

An alleyway in Guatemala where a Mayan women hones her craft.

Peeking inside the reddish brown wooden doors of a teahouse kitchen in rural Nepal.

Looking outside a “hotel” window in Himalayan Nepal at the donkey train passageway where modern day trucking is at its best.

TRAVEL BY REGION TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY

India’s quest to become polio free has arrived

As many of you know, In January I attended the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life Summit along with 45 other fellow Americans, who will be working hard to raise awareness and funding to provide vaccines to impoverished nations around the world. 

Since January, I have been steadily following all news vaccine-related and have been blown away by India’s quest to become a polio free nation.  In one of the most populous nations in the world that has many places that are extremely difficult to reach, the massive effort to vaccinate India’s children and wipe the deadly polio virus away, has been a hair-raising feat.

Global Health Global Issues India Nepal SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL BY REGION

Giving back: How a trip to a third-world country changed my life

I started my blog thirdeyemom back in February with modest expectations.  I have always loved to write and I have been a wanderlust since birth.  I wanted to share my experiences of seeing the world with others.  I wanted to have some kind of voice besides my leather-bound journal.

I felt a little nervous about writing a blog.  Many thoughts crossed my mind.  What if no one ever read it?  What if no one liked it?  What if I was disappointed?  

But excitement and anticipation took over all my doubts and I said “What the hell“, you only live once.  By using a pen name, thirdeyemom, no one will even really know who I am!  I can be somewhat anonymous. (Yeah…right).

Nepal TRAVEL BY REGION

Update on Hands in Nepal: Building of Second School Completed

As many of you know, I’ve been actively fundraising for a small, grass-roots NGO called Hands in Nepal which focuses on building schools in rural Nepal.  Most of my fundraising efforts have been done through the sales of beautiful Nepalese, Tibetan and Indian treasures such as hand-woven pashminas, scarves, yak-hair blankets, bags, purses and even baby clothes.

Since late spring, I’ve been able to fundraise $1,670 to date and now have over four boxes of lovely merchandise to sell at upcoming events.  My goal is to raise the $6,000-$8,000 required to build a school in rural Nepal, a place in which 82% of the population live in remote villages and many have little or no access to education.  Only about half of the population of Nepal is literate and most people live on less than $2 a day—-less than a cup of coffee!

I became involved with this organization after trekking the mighty Himalayas last November mostly because I fell in love with this country and its people and more importantly, I wanted to help and make a difference in people’s lives.

The founder of Hands in Nepal, Danny, is an impressive young man, still in college and in his early twenties who works together with his fabulous mother Jan, an educator, as well as several local Nepalese contacts.  This summer Danny, his girlfriend Bree and his mother journeyed to Nepal to build their second school in the remote village of Phulkarka to help with the completion of their second school.

Here is a video Danny recently posted to YouTube which highlights the remoteness, beauty and poverty of this unknown village in Nepal.

http://www.youtube.com/user/Dchaff

Danny’s mother Jan, is working on setting up a sewing co-op with village women to help them learn to make a living and improve their lives.  Together, Danny and Jan make a wonderful team and go to show you “if there is a will, there is a way” to making a difference in people’s lives.  Each school will educated over 80 children that had little or no access to education at all.  An amazing story and testament to the will and power of people to make a difference!

To read more about Hands in Nepal, Danny’s work, and my personal travels to Nepal, please visit my earlier posts under the topic “Nepal”.

Nepal TRAVEL BY REGION Volunteering Abroad

Update on Hands in Nepal fundraising efforts

Rural village in the Annapurna range taken from my recent trip to Nepal in October-November 2010.  (For more photos and stories on my trip to Nepal, please refer to older posts located under “Nepal”).

Hello Readers!

As some of you are aware, I’ve been actively fundraising over the last two months to try to raise money to help a fabulous grass-roots NGO called HANDS IN NEPAL (www.handsinnepal.org) build a new school in rural Nepal.  A recent trip to the Annapurnas back in late October/early November struck a cord in my heart and made me realize how impoverished these wonderfully, peaceful and loving villagers are.  Over 80% of Nepalis live in rural areas that have little or no access to education.  I believe strongly that education is the key to a better future and a better life. Thus, I have worked hard over the last year or so finding NGOs that work in education and help to improve the accessibility of education and learning to the masses, especially in poor, third-world countries.

I’m pleased to say that over the last two months I’ve been able to raise over $1,000 for HANDS IN NEPAL mainly through the sales of hand-made pashmina scarves, yak-hair blankets (made in Tibet) and other local Nepali products.   To me, it feels like a win-win situation as I’m able to offer beautiful products to my friends and family that are made directly in Nepal (and Tibet for the blankets) and donate all the funds directly to Hands in Nepal.  After two weeks hiking from village to village through the Annapurnas, I saw firsthand how hard these women work to sell their beautiful, handicrafted products.  They would be sitting there all day long, some of them not much older than twenty selling their handwoven scarfes, blankets, hats and gloves all for the mere price of two US dollars a piece!  For us, it is less than a cup of Starbucks coffee but for them, it is a day’s living (as the average salary in rural Nepal is less than $2/day).

As someone who has been so incredibly fortunate to have traveled to these amazing places, I feel like it is a requirement to give back to the community.  Hence, I contacted Hands in Nepal and have worked with them ever since on trying to raise the necessary funds to help build new schools.

Per Hands in Nepal, here are some amazing facts on what our money can help build or buy:

$20 = Cost of Student Annual Supplies

$50 = Chalkboard and Teacher Supplies

$600 = One-year Teacher Salary

$1500 = One year Boarding School Scholarship for one orphan

$6,000 – $8,000 = New construction of a four room schoolhouse

Thus, it is amazing to me what a long way our money can go in such a poor country!

Last night I held my fourth fundraising event, a wine and cheese party at my home where I told the story of HANDS IN NEPAL and offered a select collection of Nepali products for sale, all in the name of charity.  It was such a wonderful feeling of accomplishment to hit over the $1,000 mark! It felt so good….like nothing I’d ever experienced in corporate America (I was in sales for many years).

There is something so special and magical about giving back that just makes me feel complete and my hope is that I can eventually reach the $8,000 mark to build a new school in rural Nepal and have a lasting impact on an entire village and generation of people.  It will take time of course to raise the money but with the help of my friends, family and children as well I plan to achieve it!

To learn more about Hands in Nepal, please visit:  www.handsinnepal.org

Some exciting news is that Hands in Nepal’s founder Danny Chaffin’s mother Jan is headed to Nepal this weekend to see if she can start up small sewing co’ops for the women.  Many rural Nepali women are forced into prostitution as there is no other way out.  Human trafficing is a huge deal in Nepal and Jan is hoping to start up another NGO to help these women and give them more options and hopefully a better life!

Global Issues Nepal Poverty SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL BY REGION Volunteering Abroad