Less is More. More with Less
Lilian, for her scholarship, partnered with BuildOn, a non-profit organization dedicated to addressing the international education crisis by ensuring that children living in poverty can attend school. In 2017 she traveled to Nepal, living in a village to be among the families for whom the project would support. She fundraised for materials to help build a school with gender-equal classrooms so literacy, health and community are acknowledged as fundamental human rights.
The following is a direct excerpt from Lilian’s fundraising page, five months after returning from Nepal. It was her first time she could capture her experience in words.
My Response to Adam
Adam: Hey, welcome back! How was your trip?
Me: (after a pause, in a whisper) I think my hear is a little bigger.
Those were the only words I had. They rang so true. Yet I didn’t quite know what they meant. For 5 months since returning from Nepal, I haven’t known what else to say. So I’ve just continued to think, to try to figure it out by reflecting and observing, and to keep considering what I am doing, and more importantly, how I am doing it.
Ram Ram. Danyabad. Sugur ba.
We spent one day prior to arriving at the village learning the basics of Taru.
Hi. How are you? Thank you. Yes. No. Numbers. Good morning. Good night.
And then, our trek leaders gave us our Taru names. Mine is Laksmi. In that instant, I felt myself the furthest from home and the most immersed in the experience. Then something seemed to click in all of us because we started leaning on this new language to help us transition from courteous guests visiting to wanting to become friends with our fellow villagers.
We wanted to learn how to thread sentiments together with Taru words. Good job! That was fun. Your (home or son or daughter or …) is beautiful. I admire you. Can you please show me how (again!)? I don’t feel good. Or, I feel better. Let’s go together. I really love your Masala Milk Tea. It’s so different.
I realized that you can build a relationship by practicing less than 10 phrases. I think we often forget how simple it can be and, frankly, to listen attentively to what is being said, and how, and then repeat to make sure we understood.
Pack Less. Leave Room.
I intentionally traveled with only one backpack – a personal experiment in lightness and self-reliance, but also to respect that I would be traveling to a place where I would really learn what it is like to live within your means, and even then, barely so. Our host families live this way, most with three generations under the same roof, yet there was plenty of room for my nine trek mates and me.
In our tiny abode, my partner Michaela and I huddled with our family, on the floor, around the fire, every night to make dinner, warm up, explain our lives through the pictures on our phones, and understand the precious story of love (grandma is a widow), loss (Santi left her family to be with Gris) and hope (the painted dark circles around Uron, their newborn, “so his eyesight would be good when he grew up”). Our family time reminded me to cherish density again, that intimacy is created rather quickly when you want it, and to focus on the white of people’s eyes more, preferably by candlelight. Really, you don’t need things, what you need is desire.
Our mission to build a school with gender-equal classrooms to enable literacy and opportunity was a merely a string of words. But these came to life every day when, before 8am, the villagers had already arrived on site to work. Our daily morning ritual was a group circle where everyone so moved would be invited to share their thoughts. Our trek leaders were translators only to clarify with words what we could see and feel expressed in gesture. Nothing is lost in translation when what you mean is that you are humbled and ever so grateful to be right there, and then, with each other. And that the work you are doing will outlive each and every one of us.
Our Nepali community is physically half the size of any one of us but they easily have twice the grit. We used the same picks, shovels, hoses and gloves. But they are so much more effective because they work with a steadfastness worth admiring. The ladies, especially, wore beautiful fabrics and attire that exuded an elegant grace in spite of the sweat in their faces.
Pretty soon, the foundations we were digging were deeper than we were tall. At the end of this phase, we could all look out and see how each of the footings tied to a grade beam, thereby outlining the symbolic foundation of what we were all working on – the promise of access to opportunity. It didn’t escape me that our Nepali friends were actually educating us about a really critical synergy: knowledge + purpose. We can know a lot of things but it’s how we apply ourselves that matters. They have mastered the hardest skill – living with intention, now they can round it out with the rest – information. We, on the other hand, have some learning to do.
Today, I re-read my original aspiration, each of your amazing responses and the updates along the way. Thank you is such an understatement, as you made this humbling experience in vulnerability and community possible. It’s a gift that, in this world of increasing temporal moments, this experience is still revealing itself and my heart is continuing to grow. And for that, I am so grateful.
Click here to learn more about Lilian’s experience with BuildOn.