Charna is one of our pioneer SETH activists who joined us in Nepal this past January to co-facilitate a SETH workshop for teachers at the Bright Horizon Children’s Home and School. Her personal story and connection to the people and place of Nepal is deeply moving, as is her continued activism for the thousands of earthquake survivors in Nepal whose journey to rebuild their lives is only beginning. Here is Charna’s story. We hope you are as inspired as we are.
I was born in Nepal fighting for breath, for my life and my mother’s life. I learned how to fight to protect before I learned to walk. Thankfully, my mom stopped using heroin when she was four months pregnant, though seven and a half months in, the placenta severed, after she fell down the stairs during an earthquake. When I was born, I was four pounds, and told it took months for my arms and fists to relax and unfurl away from my body. At the hospital, they placed me in a proxy incubator, a cardboard box, in a room away from my mom. The first people to take care of me were Nepali nurses.
Mom left Nepal when I was still a baby, and took me back to the states. Four years later, she left her boyfriend, after he hit me and then her. She was like Wonder Woman. She was tough. She was from Jersey. But later she stayed when her next live-in boyfriend, George, hit her. He was emotionally, physically and sexually abusive to both of us. I vowed I’d never be in a relationship that was abusive.
After Mom broke up with George, her free spirit again had air to breathe, and when I was 16 we went back to Nepal.
I met Marilyn. She was a family friend who took over our restaurant in Nepal when my mom left. Marilyn gave up her American citizenship and become a Nepali citizen. She was an 80lb wisp of a woman. From the minute Marilyn got off her motorbike wearing red high-water corduroy pants, and purple tennis shoe, she delighted me.
Marilyn led jungle tours and worked at a shelter for battered women and children. With fierce brilliance, she edited books about women’s rights. When she spoke about the mistreatment of women, her voice grew louder, full of sharply annunciated consonants that I imagined built safe houses. She was strength and comfort personified.
When it was time to return to California, I begged my mom to leave me in Nepal. I wanted to stay and work with Marilyn. I wanted more of what she had, whatever it was. Marilyn saw me and appreciated my gift: the part of me that knew how to fight for, protect and nurture others.
“What if I refuse to get on the plane? You can’t force me.” But, things were finally good between us. I boarded the plane to go back, but left a part of myself there, with a promise I’d go back.
On January 15th this year, I fulfilled my dream.
I am finally in Nepal, at the Bright Horizon’s Children’s Home. There is a view of the Himalayas from the guesthouse we are staying in. I look out at the white-capped mountains surrounded by clouds of pink. Water pours from my eyes. This is my heart opening.
The teachers give me an incredible gift. They bring me back to basics. I speak in broken English and overly expressive gestures. We hold them in a field of agape, unconditional love, and introduce a hugging culture.
I am deeply touched by how enthusiastically the Nepali teachers receive us. The intimacy we create with the teachers progressively breaks down gender taboos. Male teachers test the waters first by hugging us, then each other and the female teachers. Then this spreads to the children.
One of the experiences that moves me the most, is witnessing how collective healing in community is embodied in their culture. By day three of our training, during a tea break, spontaneous singing and dancing breaks out. Instead of going back to class we recognize this as a way they inherently know how to resource after the hard conversations about the symptoms and the causes of trauma. We keep dancing.
I healed my own trauma over the past 25 years, so I could be of service in a sustainable way. I am here now. To stand for the end to the abuse of children and violence towards women everywhere, because no woman and child should stand alone. To stand for the reclaiming of our bodies as our own so that all women and children can access safety, comfort and joy. To stand for love and safe physical contact, because it’s what is twisted, misused and withheld in abusive cycles.
This January, with the support of the SETH program, I came full circle, back to my sixteen-year-old intention. I began the work Marilyn inspired me to do. I stayed with her in Swayambhu and took care of her during part of my visit. When I reported how well our training at the school was going, she looked up at me. That familiar toothy grin rose like the moon above the table and shone on me,“That’s great”.
As an incredible epilogue to this journey, Marilyn died shortly after my visit with her, and passed the torch to me. I will carry on the legacy that she left behind, but will include myself in the circle of care. Her joyful presence will always be remembered.