It was Christmas Day, and I was deep in the middle hills of Lamjung Nepal. It was one of the rare rainy days in the winter, and I was making myself miserable with homesickness. With the rain, I couldn't go for a walk, or play soccer on the empty rice terrace with the kids of the village.

After dinner, I wanted to go to sleep right away, but my host family urged me to stay awake. I was oblivious until the mother came out with a tray of special snacks. Here was an assortment of special treats that they make for their festivals that she had made to help me celebrate Christmas. That and a plate of oranges made for one of the most touching Christmas gifts I had ever received.

My village family in Lamjung, 1995

My village family in Lamjung, 1995

I returned over and over to this village, because of the people there. Off the tourist route, it wasn't a place that many foreigners spent time in. I had been assigned them as a host family during a village study tour on the UW-Madison College Year in Nepal program, and I felt extremely lucky.

My last visit was in 1999 as a Fulbright scholar. The challenges of building my own jewelry business in New York have kept me from returning to Nepal or the village. With the spread of the internet and social media, I have been able to keep in touch more easily with this family and other friends from the village, despite the distance and years.

There was Bibek, who would be my nephew by our adopted family relations that would write me from time to time. I noticed that he was involved in volunteering and social activism. The last time I saw him, he  was quite small.

Bibek and I Back in the day. 

Bibek and I Back in the day. 

When I woke up on April 25th to news of the earthquake in Nepal, I spent the next few days glued to social media and the news, trying to locate all of my Kathmandu Valley and Lamjung people.

Once I found out that they were safe, I began wondering how I would choose to help. Those of us who had spent extended time in Nepal always dreaded the day when we would hear that the long-expected earthquake would come.

In considering where to donate, I asked what Bibek suggested and I learned that he was headed to volunteer with an organization based in Lamjung, Sarvodaya Sewashram. They provide a range of health, wellness, and agricultural programs, but after the earthquake, all energy has been directed towards recovery. I sent him $100 from myself and later $200 from my family and that got the ball rolling.

Friends also wanted to donate, so I set up a donation page for the organization that he was volunteering for in Lamjung. Donations came in at a rapid pace. We were able to send $2000 for relief supplies within a few days.

Volunteers from sarvodaya sewashram delivering the first supply of relief to a village in lamjung

Volunteers from sarvodaya sewashram delivering the first supply of relief to a village in lamjung

As he was delivering these supplies in the village of Rainaskot, the villagers asked him to help them rebuild their damaged houses. At that moment, I was still awake at all hours, reading updates from Nepal, so I was awake when the message arrived at nearly 3AM New York time. Without thinking too much about what it would take, I decided that I would help in this mission and our partnership in rebuilding began. 

What followed was
 thousands of messages on Viber to plan this undertaking.  Including the message on May 12th, when Bibek informed me that he had lost his own family home in the large aftershock that day. Despite this major personal setback, he carried on and we commenced months of finding architects, holding the first fundraisers in New York and Racine, WI, securing building permits, finding our non-profit sponsors and all of the other details large and small that  go into such a large project.

On September 18th, 2015, an inauguration was held in Rainaskot, and we started the first permanent reconstruction project in the Lamjung district. 

Then, on September 25th, 2015, I landed in Kathmandu, 20 years to the day that I first met my family in Lamjung. It had been 16 years since my last visit. We went to Rainaskot, and got to know every villager, and learn what was in their hearts. Krishna Oliya, our senior advisor also joined us for part of the stay, and shared his extensive knowledge of the entire area, including the history, culture and agriculture. 

Currently, the five houses are nearly done. We are nearing $60,000 in donations and pledges. When we are done with this village, we plan to carry on, village by village, doing what we can to help the 600,000 people whose homes were damaged and destroyed in the earthquake.

As the vision has grown, our team is growing too, with a number of individuals and organizations committing to support this plan through advice, architectural and engineering expertise, and fundraising skills. The challenges are daunting, but with the support of so many, we can face and overcome the obstacles ahead. 

With love and gratitude for all of this support,

-Natasha Wozniak