GRATITUDE FOR GOOD
A Blog by Gratitude Alliance
On 25th April 2015, a huge earthquake devastated Nepal. At 7.8 magnitude, followed by aftershocks, over 8,800 people lost their lives, villages were flattened and thousands of homes damaged or destroyed.
We were deeply shocked and saddened by the news. Just two months earlier, we had participated in a number of programs designed to empower healing, dignity, joy, and transformation for the students and teachers at Bright Horizon Children’s Home (BHCH), a school and safe haven for nearly 300 orphans and vulnerable children from the poorest, most remote areas of Nepal. We were relieved to hear that all the children, teachers, and staff at our partner organization were alive and safe, with minor structural damage to the school. And we were also moved and heartened by the many messages of support received from our community of everyday activists asking how they could help, where best to donate, wanting to do something to alleviate the suffering seen in the media in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.
So the Nepal Solidarity Fund was started, our approach: 'to be patient and thoughtful about how to distribute the funds in an ethical, equitable, and sustainable way'. To support locally led groups providing relief and rebuilding at a grassroots level, because we believe that local change-makers know best. Our decision to partner with the Tibetan Buddhist monks at the Porong Gompa monastery in Kathmandu to help remote communities recover and rebuild was inspired by Porong Gompa's commitment to a quick response, deep, local connections, desire to serve those remote villages who may have been forgotten, and compassionate approach, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or caste.
We are pleased to report that, together with funds from other global supporters, your generous donations are bringing shelter to residents of Sisneri, a remote village 4 hours from Kathmandu, Nepal, whose mud and thatched rooftops crumbled during the earthquakes. After surveying the need, Porong Gompa returned to distribute strong metal sheets to rebuild rooftops and give clothing to the 85 families in the village.
Our heartfelt gratitude to Porong Gompa for helping to support and sustain the villagers of Sisneri. And to our community who gave so generously to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Nepal. Thank you!
We are thrilled to announce the recent launch of the life skills and leadership class for high school students at Bright Horizon Children's Home (BHCH). With the healing skills learned through the Safe Embrace Trauma Healing (SETH) training program in January 2015, local teachers are now equipped with skills to address symptoms of trauma, empower students to develop self-confidence and emotional intelligence, and promote healing, leadership, and personal transformation.
We are incredibly grateful for BHCH teachers' efforts in spreading grassroots healing skills to communities in Nepal.
Check out our latest video, a celebration of the Bright Horizon Children's Home (BHCH) in Nepal, which has its 15th Anniversary this year.
The song was written by musician, Bam Vox, together with BHCH alumni, Navraj and Sangam. Bam joined our healing convoy in Nepal last January, sharing his love for music as a form of healing, play, and joy.
Thank you to Bam and to all the BHCH students, teachers, and staff. We are deeply moved by the shared experience of co-creating a space of healing and joy!
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 am overwhelmed by the expansive feeling in my heart, and cry from gratitude every day. Layers of old stories that belonged to my family, about being alone, having to fight and work hard to be loved, are shed. Here I am, stepping into a new story of extended family and unconditional love. One that says “being” is more than enough. I leave with my heart full of family, (nane and me) godsons and goddaughters, brothers and sisters.
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.
What legacy are you inspired to create?
By Rachel Crowther
As updating and posting to social media is my main job for GGA, I spend part of each morning, cup of strong coffee at grabbing distance, surfing news sites. It's entertaining, heart-wrenching and educational. But some articles make a lasting impression. A couple of months ago I came across a photo-essay. It showed how some Nepali women practice the chaupadi tradition, sleeping in sheds isolated from their communities while they menstruate. I'd never considered that periods were anything other than a sometimes inconvenient but integral part of being female. That in some places and cultures, periods are shameful and taboo. That they represent a huge barrier to education for large numbers of girls who don't have access to sanitary conditions at school or any means of dealing with their menstrual flow. That it's an equality issue.
Today is Menstrual Hygiene Day. I love that the date has been chosen for its significance - 'May is the 5th month of the year, representing 5 days, or the average number of days (between 2-7) a woman or girl spends menstruating each month. And, 28 represents the average number of days in a menstrual cycle.' And that it is drawing attention to a problem that's been hidden, thanks in part to our own embarrassment about discussing normal bodily functions. It's important that we do talk about periods. As Menstrual Hygiene Day org.'s fact sheets state, menstrual hygiene is fundamental to:
Things will only change if we talk about periods for what they are, a part of life for 49.7% of the world's population, 5 days per month for 40 years during their lifetime. Without shame. And make them easy to deal with. As with many issues, education for all is key. Education gives access to knowledge and skills and breaks down myths and taboos. It's time for a change. Period.
By Amy Paulson
There is a small pond in Matatirtha, a rural village resting high above Kathmandu valley, whose name in Nepali means Mother Earth. On Mother’s Day, orphans come to the pond to look at their reflections in the mirror of the water and see the face of their mothers.
It is this serene and spiritual place of Mother Earth that we journeyed to earlier this January to empower healing, dignity, joy, and transformation for the students and teachers at Bright Horizon Children’s Home (BHCH), a school and safe haven for nearly 300 orphans and vulnerable children from the poorest, most remote areas of Nepal.
Each morning, 25 teachers, caregivers, and staff arrived to a freezing classroom, greeted warmly with smiles and hugs by our co-founder and creator of the Safe Embrace Trauma Healing (SETH) program, Elayne Kalila Doughty, MA, MFT. Originally developed as a grassroots healing model for caregivers who work with female survivors of sexual and gender based violence, the SETH curriculum has since been adapted to work with anyone whose trauma originates from the challenges faced by communities in fragile settings: conflict, abuse, human trafficking, disease, abandonment, extreme poverty, and more.
Co-facilitating the training was Charna Cassell, MA, MFT. Last December, Charna joined our SETH L2 global activism program where therapists, social workers, and other healing professionals learn the SETH curriculum and how to teach it in a global setting, fundraise among their communities as healing activists, and volunteer their skills at projects around the world.
After one week of training, a second week of observation and coaching, and the launching of a leadership and life skills course for early high school students taught by the teachers most interested in facilitating healing trainings with other organizations and communities in Nepal, we achieved the following outcomes:
Putting a camera in the hands of children is one of the most interesting things that a photographer can do, through their eyes we can liberate ourselves from the usual conventions of photography and discover new ways of looking.
The eyes of young people are not obstructed by the rules, or suggestions on how to take the perfect picture.
When I thought of this project, the selfish part of me could not wait to learn and be inspired. In reality I would be the one who would have to teach. But teach what? Can you really teach photography?
The project ‘Photography as Healing’ was born in my head and developed thanks to a collaboration with Global Alliance Gratitude and Amy, co-founder of the NGO, who demonstrated enthusiasm, had a relevant project available and accepted my proposal.
The idea is to "teach" the art of photography to children living in villages or marginalized communities in the world. A simple way for these children to express themselves, to tell their life stories, to gain hope and self-esteem. To explain to them that there is a world in which photography is not just 'Selfie' photos and memories, but also stories from our own point of view.
I was playing with a number of things, written explanations, technical applications of photography. Worse still, I had with me some examples of photos to show them.
Thank God I did not do any of it.
Nothing could be worse worse than rules to an unfettered mind .
I asked myself, who am I to tell them that an overexposed photo is not good? Who am I to say that a crooked horizon is not aesthetic? If photography is really the story, they must tell it how they want to, even with dirty, burnt or blurry photos.
Who am I to hold these guys glued to a chair to hear speeches about light?
Success, then, that when I put cameras into their hands, their focus shifted from me to the lens.
I asked them to tell of their lives in school and nothing more. The result? Not a single 'Selfie'.
We did editing, I taught the basic rules of photoshop and I let them change their pictures as they wanted better. The outcome was pink clouds and skies, broken light. Tones of blue and green.
I was surprised how uninteresting black and white was for them, when usually black and white opens people's eyes. They created only a few black and white photos. When I tried to tempt them, telling them that black and white is the simplest solution to the problem of creating an "effect", Their faces lit up, not because they agreed, but rather were laughing like crazy at the fiction of life in monotone.
The world in black and white is fake. And they are right, life is in color, exaggerated, saturated, illusory. But always colorful.
Translated with permission from Chiara's original post at Love the Shoot
By Amy Paulson
Last Tuesday, I returned from Nepal where I spent almost three weeks helping to oversee our trauma healing training, photography, music, and LEGO projects at Bright Horizon Children's Home. My experience was transformational, heart-opening, and deeply meaningful (project update coming soon).
And yet, sitting in my comfortable, heated home in San Francisco for the past week, I've felt a sense of melancholy. I get this way every time I return from field work abroad. I've written about this phenomenon before. I've warned volunteers about it. I commiserated with co-founder Elayne about it on the phone last week. Still, it always surprises me when it happens. Like when I returned from field work in Cambodia a few years ago and drove straight to the French Alps the next day, only to sit in the snow at the top of a ski lift, tears streaming down my face, wondering what in the world all these people were doing gliding on sticks down the mountain.
This time, the feeling hit me like a freight train.
It's hard to describe it. It starts with overwhelming gratitude as I arrive at home, take a long hot shower, then sleep soundly in my warm, fluffy bed - in contrast to the freezing cold bed where I slept at the children's home, snoozing every night under three layers of heavy blankets, fully clothed in thermals, slippers, scarf, gloves, and beanie (those conditions were quite posh compared to the way most in Nepal live). I couldn't muster the energy to shower every day (or even every other day). The icy water was unbearable when the power was out; the hot water supply was limited.
Then, it shifts to sadness. As I look around me at all the people innocently going about their daily routine, I feel confused. I want to shout: Do you understand that half the world lives in poverty? Do you know that many of our fellow humans, including little children, are often abandoned, persecuted, left for dead, or even killed because of their gender, faith, or caste? Do you know that you hit the jackpot being born in ________ [insert: any developed country in the world]?
I wonder, how can the rest of the world continue about their day unknowingly while this terrible injustice of humanity rages on? And, what does it mean that I am also guilty of living mindlessly, coveting material things, not giving thought to others in the world?
At the same time, I feel sorrow that so many people will never see or experience the heart-opening love that I was honored to witness in Nepal. I listened to a student talk about how the oxygen of his breath in deep meditation is like a medicine he gives to his mother. I saw a teacher apologize if he ever unknowingly hurt another person after learning about the definition of abuse. I observed the teachers making human statue examples of what an empowered person looks like, from one teacher standing with palms facing up, saying "thank you, thank you, thank you" to two male teachers courageously demonstrating a loving embrace. And, I danced, sang, and celebrated our aliveness with teachers, staff workers, and children throughout our stay.
By Amy Paulson
It’s almost 11pm in Matatirtha, Nepal. The power was out for 11 hours today. My laptop battery is about to die. My headlamp is secured to my fuzzy earflap hat, blanket wrapped cozily around my lap, scarf wound tightly around my neck. With no central heating, and portable electric heaters that don’t work when the power is out, the little propane heater in our guest apartment at Bright Horizon Children’s Home roars away, warming up the freezing space enough to be live-able… at least for us non-Nepalis. The bottle of whiskey helps, too.
Electricity in Nepal is a rare gift. Blackouts (“load-shedding”) are a reality for people here, especially at this time of year when water otherwise used for hydropower is frozen. Blackouts can last up to 16 hours a day. Generators are only available for those who can afford it.
For us visitors, it means that the few hours a day when the electricity is on, we furiously scramble to our laptops, send our important emails and post updates on Facebook, letting friends and loved ones know how we are doing. Connectivity is painfully slow. Sometimes it takes one hour to post one photo on Facebook…that is, if you have the patience to wait that long.
For Nepali locals, it means that working via computer is a constant uphill battle. Mobile phones may allow many Nepalis to connect on Facebook or text loved ones - but oftentimes even doing a basic Google search becomes a whole day-long ordeal. Never mind YouTube. Netflix? Uh, no. WebMD, Khan Academy, Wordpress, Wikipedia, or any other educational or practical web-based resource? Forget about it.
And yet, the kids here learn HTML for their national exams. Their teacher, Ajay, explained how difficult it is teach computer class when the electricity and internet are always out. If the power goes back on after the school day ends, Ajay often stays late helping the students learn whatever the day’s lesson should have been.
At night, sometimes the lights go off, like they did while we were eating dinner last week. When the lights flicker back on, our Nepali friends make a small gesture, moving their hand from their forehead to their heart and back again: a beautiful blessing of thanks for light, for electricity… for a basic necessity that we all take for granted.
Yet, in the absence of that connection to electrical power, the people here have a connection with each other. They laugh, cry, and share with each other - not through an electronic device, but in real, face-to-face conversations with each other.
Even tonight, we sat together in the dark, a battery-powered LED light in the corner of the dark kitchen, and we talked about the incredible hospitality, love, and connection among the people of Nepal... the connections we have made with the staff and teachers in the SETH training, the little children who hold our hands, desperate for a feeling of love and safety, the cook who smiles at us with a twinkle of kindness in his eyes, the Tibetan monk who shares stories with us about the hardships not just of Tibetan refugees in Nepal but of the Nepali locals themselves.
That connection reminds me to be grateful. So, as I sit here in the dark, I move my hand from my forehead to my heart, saying a little blessing for the ease and abundance of electrical power that fuels my connection at home, and for the lessons about love, life, and deeply meaningful connection here in Nepal.
It is with joy and enthusiasm that our team travel to Nepal this week. One facet of the trip is to train the staff and caregivers at Bright Horizon Children’s Home to use the Safe Embrace Trauma Healing (SETH) program. This will empower them to help the orphans and vulnerable children in their care who may be experiencing grief, guilt and other unexpressed trauma. ‘Trauma can negatively impact a child's ability to concentrate, learn, develop healthy social relationships and thrive as an independent adult' . Creative arts is one of the three central tenets of the SETH program and self-expression and story-telling will be further developed and encouraged through a music workshop and via a ‘Photography As Healing’ project, during which kids will learn how to take photos, document their lives and create memory books.
Memories, thoughts and feelings are often held in, contained, confined. Instead negative emotion and trauma may be evident in challenging or withdrawn behaviour. The chance to voice the unexpressed, through dance, drama, music, art and photography will give these children an opportunity to tell their stories, show what they feel inside without necessarily having to resort to the complexities of words that don’t flow easily or naturally, or just don’t exist to describe their particular turmoil and trouble.
As the artist Georgia O’Keeffe describes it ‘I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.’
In fact, we all have stories to tell. I would argue it’s an essential part of being human to need to find ways to articulate our personal narratives and who we are, to help us come to terms with our past, enjoy our present and plan for our future. Creativity also helps us move through life with more comfort and peace. For me, happiness, enjoyment and self-expression come from writing (for and as a part of this amazing foundation by blogging and helping Amy put her story into book form), visual imagery and creating jewellery with recycled objects and vintage ‘finds’. Rather than internalizing what’s going on in the incessant monologue in my head, I have an outlet for my emotions and it’s really helpful.
As a foundation, we look forward to using creativity and other parts of the SETH program to help address trauma. The children’s creativity, in the form of their photos and recordings of their music will be shared once the trip is complete. They will tell their stories.
(Reposted from The Gracias Foundation, now called Global Gratitude Alliance)
What does your profile pic look like on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? Is it a headshot, a photo of you with family or friends, or an icon or quote? Do you use your birth name or a pseudonym?
What we show to the world online says a lot about who we are. We have a choice as to how we present ourselves. Sometimes we may even protect ourselves - blocking personal details from the scrutiny of the public. Likewise, we protect the identities of the children, teens and women we support. We are sensitive to their rights to remain safe and secure.
For example, some of the kids we work with carry the intense weight of two secrets they can't reveal to their classmates:
(Reposted from The Gracias Foundation, now called Global Gratitude Alliance)
This January, we're turning two! We are thrilled by how much we've achieved together, and YOU are at the center of it all. So, a huge Thank You (Gracias) to everyone! We hope you'll enjoy our birthday video!
By Amy Paulson (Reposted from The Gracias Foundation, now called Global Gratitude Alliance)
One of the biggest lessons that I’ve had to learn in life – and in the world of international development work – is to let go.
I’m a Type A control freak so this lesson isn’t one that comes easily for me. Rather, it’s a constant process.
For those who knew me in my former life as a finance manager, with my color-coded spreadsheets and perfect PowerPoint slides, this comes as no surprise. For those who don’t know me – you’ve now been warned.