The first service trek for the Maya Sherpa Project took place in Mera, a remote Himalayan Sherpa village. In May, 2011, six Americans went there to work on a number of the planned projects in education, healthcare and environment. We flew from Kathmandu to Phaplu, amountain village with an airstrip, that is about a 6-hour hike from Mera. We all arrived in the evening, a bit cold and tired, but very happy to find our beds – in the Monastery! While not planned, it turned out that this was the best place for us to stay, as there is no tea house in this village and much of our work would take place there. As it happened, this was perfect, in ways we could never have imaged!
Starting the next morning, we awoke to the horns and chanting of the early morning prayers at the Buddhist Monastery. We started right in on our work that day, first assessing the English and Nepali classes that had started two months earlier with a teacher placed by the Maya Sherpa Project. We also began the tree planning project with both the monks and villagers. These two projects continued to unfold over the next week, as we also dove into work on health care and environmental issues.
Not only were our scheduled projects completed (and we now have some direction for their future unfolding as well), but other important projects came to light that also need attention. We also learned that there are opportunities for collaborative relationships with other organizations.
The trip to Mera was very important in that the actual needs within this community became more apparent as we immersed ourselves in their lives and culture. In general, the week spent in Mera and at the Monastery was one of work, side by side with the villagers and monks. We learned more than we could have imagined beforehand about their values, their needs and their lives. This became an open-hearted experience of sharing, not necessarily just giving, as we all exchanged much about each other and our respective cultures.
As part of this exchange, it became apparent that our priorities are not necessarily theirs, and that is was important for us to understand their values, not impose ours. We also learned that there are any number of very simple solutions to some of their needs. Toothpaste and toothbrushes, socks and computer paper, aloe vera gel and band-aids are taken for granted in our homes but a luxury in theirs.
Another straightforward solution to a problem was to buy a couple of dozen clothes pins for their washing lines. These lines are set up in a field near the kitchen and the hand-washed monks robes are regularly blown to the muddy (and cow-visited) ground by the rain and wind. Washing has to be done all over when this happens. Now they are able to secure their robes on the line and only wash once.
It was also a joy to see the delight on the faces of the young monks when they came to understand a new English word, or create a collage with colored papers and glue. Their appreciation for the gifts we brought spoke more than words can describe. They laughed at our funny ways and we delighted in theirs. We shared cups and cups of tea, whether at their spiritual ceremonies, in the dining room at a meal, or in the middle of a field during a break in planting trees.
Perhaps the most rewarding part of the service trek was the individual and personal expansion that every one of the Americans had while staying at the Monastery. We all arrived wet and exhausted in this remote village with no running water, no heat, limited electricity and hard beds. A short week later, we all left with feelings of respect and wonder, accomplishment and gratitude, delight and sheer joy! We had also made new friends and came to understand more about what we actually all have in common than what our differences are. We gave an education, and we received the same.