Last year I ran for fifth grade student representative at my school. I made a few promises. If you vote for me, we’ll stock the bathrooms with softer toilet paper, rather than the stuff we get now. We’ll have more parties on Purim and definitely more sufganiyot on Chanukah. Fresh, sweet lemonade on hot days. More free time at recess. More treats! All these things seemed to me to be owed us. Rightfully ours. And as student rep, I would make sure it happened.
Recently, however, many of my assumptions about the world and kids and what we deserve, or don’t deserve, were challenged. This is my bat mitzvah year and I’d been talking with my family about doing something a little different. Rather than a big party with my friends, I would go to Nepal with IsraAID, an organization I’d been hearing about from my mom for a long time — mainly because they’d been doing such amazing work in Houston, her hometown.
We thought we’d ask them what we could do as ordinary Israelis to help after the massive earthquake that destroyed so many lives in Nepal. To be honest, I didn’t really think there was much a kid my age could do.
On the first day, I took a look around Kathmandu. I went to Durbar Square, a place with all sorts of antique buildings and temples. It was also one of the places hit hardest by the earthquake in 2015. There were a few signs up on buildings that indicated they were receiving help from all sorts of NGOs. But then we headed out to the mountains. Places you can’t find on Google maps or Waze. And many places that NGOs simply haven’t reached.
The IsraAID staff educated me on the needs out in these villages, but nothing compared to seeing it with my own eyes. No desks, no toilets, no light bulbs, no clean water, and of course no school supplies, just a concrete room, with absolutely nothing. Even for the kindergarteners, only three blocks in an empty room!
In my school, we have two computer rooms, which both have around 20 computers each. We have an animal room, with hamsters, rabbits, mice, walking sticks and more, a “fun” room with poofs and board games, and costumes, etc. We even have an art room, and a mini- drama theater.
But the kids in these schools didn’t have complaints. I taught them a song with moves in Hebrew (Kol Ha’Olam Kulo), and they taught me a Nepali dance and song (Cutu Ma Cutu). We brought them crayons and paper and asked them to draw the place they feel safest and happiest. Even the principal and teachers couldn’t help but color. I can’t imagine how long it’s been since they’ve had access to these things we take for granted.
At the same time, it was hard to see the kids who couldn’t take part — big brothers and sisters, younger than me, holding little siblings in their arms because their parents were out in the fields, working.
I sat down with some of the kids and asked what they wish could be different in their school. They couldn’t name one thing. It made me think about “the toilet paper isn’t soft enough” complaints at my school. These kids didn’t even have toilets. You could see the one they once had though. It had literally collapsed down the side of their mountain. Now they must find hidden places to use the bathroom outdoors without any privacy. The smell wasn’t great.. Even to get a drink of water, they have to walk nearly a kilometer to reach an unfiltered stream source. And that source can change, making the walk even longer. Their uniforms were tattered and clearly old, so sixth graders were wearing what looked like skirt’s for little girls. In one school, there were no upper grades because too many children died in the earthquake to justify a class. And yet, they couldn’t come up with anything they would want. The impulse to ask didn’t even exist.
I asked them where they wanted to travel — anywhere in the world! They all said Kathmandu, the capital. I asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up. They thought a long time before saying “teacher” — the only option they are aware of other than field worker. I asked them what they do after school. The all said they collect grass for the animals. Somewhat different from my schedule of after-school activities.
Fighting for sufganiyot on Chanukah seems less urgent now. On this trip, I learned how to respect and cherish all the things we have. I can’t wait to go back to Nepal in the summer and see everyone again. Hopefully when I go, it will be with a whole community of supporters behind me, representing the generous spirit of Israel — bringing them water filters so they wont get sick all the time, usable toilets, school supplies and more. Just basic things… so that maybe they can have a little opportunity and even wish for things like I do.
One of the best parts about bringing hope to these wonderful people is doing so on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people. It made me so proud to be able to connect with the Nepali people all while wearing an Israeli flag on my shirt!
So I want to invite anyone reading this to join me and give as much as you can to this mission — it’s worth it. All our donors will receive ongoing updates on the villages we’ve helped, so we can see how far our dollars go.
Hundreds if not thousands of lives can be transformed because of us! Can you imagine how bright their future will look after they’ve received the transformative gifts of water, electricity, education and self-sustaining income?
All on behalf of Israel!
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