To Lily: How I Spent Your Dollar in Nepal

Lily is one of those people you hope desperately will be your friend and then realize gratefully that she totally will be because she is kind and loving to every human she meets. She was one of my very first people I met when I moved across town. She has long beautiful red hair and she is quick to laugh and even quicker to offer help to you if you are in need. She is in grad school and busy and although most of the time I only see her as we are leaving or coming to and from work at all hours – she always yells out hello to me, and I’m so grateful she has been my friend the last couple of years.

I am your annoying friend that is always trying to get you to give me money for fundraisers. Save the babies in Africa, come on this humanitarian trip with me, come stop by this benefit concert etc. etc…… Bless all of you that still follow me on social media at this point.

When a huge earthquake hit Nepal this past Spring, my co worker at HELP International and I talked on the phone for hours as we tried to decide if we should jump on a fundraiser and start building a crisis team to send over to help. It’s always a hard decision. Will it be safe? Will the volunteers just be taking food and shelter from those already lacking? Will we be able to do the good that is needed? Within 24 hours of the quake, we decided that the answer was that we should go.

We started an online fundraiser, we opened up the application, and I started posting and texting and doing my “the world needs you” bit that you all have heard from me before. My big thing for Nepal was that “Even a dollar will help.” I said this to everyone I talked to, and over the next month or so we were able to raise almost $10,000 to spend on the ground in Nepal. We had alumni give, strangers give, board members’ companies give – and it was exciting to get ready to go. I would be leading the team and overseeing the funds raised, and I was grateful every time I got a notification on my phone that someone else had donated.

As I was coming home from work one day, I heard a familiar voice call my name. It was Lily, bounding across the street to excitedly give me a hug. “Suzanne!” She exclaimed. “I saw your posts. I’m in grad school and crazy busy but I keep meaning to give this to you! I have an extra dollar for your ‘even a dollar counts’ post! Thanks for all you do!” And she was gone as quickly as she came. She got in her car and hurried off to I’m sure the next thing on her long todo list. I don’t know why I was so grateful for that specific dollar. There had been a lot of dollars come through those weeks, but there was just something about the simplicity of Lily’s dollar and our interaction where I knew she listened and cared and was doing a small but meaningful gesture – exactly like I had asked and really needed. As I packed for Nepal the next week, I thought about her and her dollar and felt impressed to bring it with me rather than just add it to our bank account with the rest of the funds. I packed it with me in my passport and left for Nepal. The rest of this post, is actually just for her.

 

Dear Lily,

I hope you know how much that meant to me. The simple act of believing in me. Believing me that I wanted just a dollar and promised to do good with it meant a ton to this poor fundraising humanitarian heart. My first few days in the main city of Kathmandu, I was overwhelmed. I was alone and I had never been there before and there was devastation everywhere. Many of the surrounding areas had 99% of the homes completely destroyed. I wondered what I would be able to actually do with your dollar that I had asked you for, but I took it that week and I exchanged it over into 104 Nepali rupees. I didn’t know yet what projects we would do as a team, but I put your rupees in a small pocket in my purse and I kept them there. I had three months and I was going to do your dollar well.

The next week as I was evaluating damage in the city, I started talking to a man who was very slight in stature and very sad although the optimism of Nepal is unreal. Such a joyful and wonderful people. A group of them were uncovering what used to be one of their homes, and he told me they were all helping each other, but the work was very slow. No tools. No cranes. No money to buy more shovels. Picking away brick by brick and not even knowing where all to put it was a daunting task for them to do and for me to try and figure out how to help with. I asked him where he was living while they worked and he showed me a small group of tents across the way: leaking, cramped, and dirty. In talking it came out that they only had one bag of rice left. He showed it to me along with many family members around and about. In development, we don’t do handouts, but in crisis we do sometimes. This was one of those times. I ended up donating food to the small group of families staying there. Simple things that would last about a month. As I was checking out of the tiny little side store, I remembered your dollar. I asked the man I was buying from, how much lentils could I get for 104 rupees? He put them in a bag and handed it to me. I thought about you and your dollar as I looked at the lentils in my hand. Is this what I wanted it to go towards? I bought them, but not with your dollar.

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A month later we were in a village helping a group of local retired engineers complete homes for earthquake victims. They had a request for us to finish the homes with paint since they had run out of budget. It was fun to pick out the paint and find the families and see their excited faces as they planned for their new homes. As I was in the store getting the paint brushes and paint, I realized that one of the brushes cost about 100 rupees. I thought of your dollar. Would you want your dollar to go towards giving this family of 12 a bright yellow new home? The mother had picked the color and it had taken me forever to get her opinion out of her! The cutest family. I know you would have loved them and their squishy baby like I did. But as I checked out, I left your rupees in my purse.

 

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A few weeks later I went to the book store to buy some new books for a shelter for sexually assaulted children. We were donating a library and I wanted some local language books to add to all of the donated books we had brought from the States. I picked out book after book and I realized that some of them were about a dollar. I scanned them to see if I saw one that you would have picked out. I thought about the children I had grown to love more than any other group of children in my life and knew that you would love reading to them as I did every afternoon. Again though, when I checked out, I didn’t take your rupees out of my purse. We worked on so many projects in Nepal. I loved all of these projects and I got annoyed at myself because at some point I was going to have to spend your dollar. I just wanted it to be what you would do, or maybe I was keeping it to help me be mindful of every dollar I spent that all of the donors had given.

 

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It was my last couple weeks in Nepal. Nepal was full of more emotion for me that I realized at the time. But looking back, I don’t remember a single time in my life where my heart felt so many things and grew in so many new ways. This specific morning I was alone walking into town when I saw a little boy face down on the pavement. I’m really careful about marketing – I never want to post pictures of the dying third world baby to pull at people’s heartstrings and get emotionalism to do work for us. This doesn’t help the beautiful people I’ve met while I’ve worked abroad. But the honest truth is that there are people dying every day from hunger and disease and sometimes when I come across a scene that hits me hard I try to sneak a picture, if appropriate, so I can remember those times when I stood and said, “this isn’t fair.” It’s those memories that keep me doing this even when I’m tired and wondering if I’m making the difference I really want to make. A little boy asleep in the road with no where to go was one of those moments for me, and here is the picture I took that morning:

 

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Street kids are hard to see. Sometimes their parents make them beg, sometimes they really are orphans, but always it’s hard for me. I saw him sleeping there and my heart broke. How could I leave this place next week when I had so much left to do? I walked over to him and kneeled down by him. He was out and for a second I was worried he was dead. I touched him, and he stirred, looked up at me confused and held out his hand for money. He didn’t speak english very well. I picked him off the ground and held his hand and started walking. He was lethargic and didn’t even ask me where we were going. As we approached a coffee shop I knew, I thought “I’m going to get this kid a fruit shake.” Again, hand outs are bad. I know that. I know I should’t give him money or anything, but my heart hurt and I knew he hadn’t probably eaten in a while. I motioned for him to sit and I ran up the stairs and ordered a fresh mango shake.

The man handed it to me and said “It costs 108 rupees.” I looked in my bag at the pocket I had guarded for three months and pulled out your rupees. I thought of you walking with me in Nepal and finding the little boy and I know how loving and kind and warm you are and how you would be right with me in buying him a fresh fruit shake for breakfast. I handed him your rupees. I brought the drink to the little boy and he drank it quickly as he sat next to me. We didn’t talk and when he finished he smiled and quickly hugged me and ran off. I sat there for a long time and thought about all of the dollars and all of the times I could have spent your dollar. The homes we built, the shovels we bought, the paint brushes that were needed, the seeds for the gardens, the pencils for the literacy class, the rice for the earthquake victims, so many things. It happened on every project I was on – me figuring out something that was about a dollar that I could have used it for. In the end it went to him though, for better or for worse, and I hope you approve. Your dollar mattered. I promise it did. And I feel grateful to you and all the people who gave their dollars in trust that some good would be done. Thank you for being you, Lily. Your love made it to Nepal.

Your friend and neighbor,

Suzanne

 

 

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