By: Hailey Sinoff
The hats are available for sale here.
I learned the art of giving from the ultimate source: Nepal’s young-hearted.
Lesson one: Food is more than food, always.
Growing up in a West Coast mountain town, I learned what I thought were the golden rules of eating: ill your plate with colors and vegtables, and the moment your aren’t hungry, stop eating. In Nepal, meal time etiquette has only one simple rule: eat until there is nothing left to eat. Being full, sick, or tired is irrelevant, because when food is served, people come together. I wish I had understood earlier how important the act of eating together is to the Nepali, and more importantly, how precious a gesture the offering of food can be. Not until my second week of teaching, when a student offered me a bundle of green (not close to ripe) plums, did the lesson kick in. This student was only nine, but from generations upon generations of relatives setting the example for hospitality and generosity, my young student was able to give me the second lesson of Nepali gift giving: When you offer nourishment, you are building the foundations of friendship. Food is so much more than just fuel. It is a reason to gather, a way to celebrate and creates an ability to interact when interactions seems intimidating. In the case of Pooja, my darling class four student, it was initiating a friendship.
Lesson two: Stop Talking.
My first weeks in the classroom were challenging to say the least. Once I learned that my students’ vocabulary was limited to four English words (“yes, chocolate, ma’am, and what”), a heavy sense of discouragement weighed down on me. Before I’d gone to Nepal, words had always been my safe haven. I knew that with some strong verbs, eye contact, and good articulation, I would be understood. In Nepal, words betrayed me. They became a chasm between the village and me. On the third Tuesday of my teaching, my Ama (Nepali Mom) brought me a cup of afternoon ginger tea, as she often would, yet on this day she did something she never had before. My Ama pulled up a chair and stared at me. Initially I tried my hand at Nepali to make conversation, and when that flopped (as my efforts usually did) she didn’t leave. Ama sat next to me in silence for two hours. No words were spoken. No stories shared. Ama showed the power of being present and how we/one/people/friends you don’t need a single words to form a bond, but simply an authentic display of your caring. I never felt out place with her by my side ever again. Ama showed me the beauty that lies in simply being. She taught me the gift of being present.
Lesson three: Mindful Smile.
The Nepali give out smiles the way monsoons give out raindrops; they are abundant, refreshing, and powerful. Their smiles feature full teeth, and cheeks rising high enough to make crescents out of eyes. I tried my best to give out as many as I could, although when I was sick or tired it was easier to keep my mouth at ease. In one of these moments, a four year old sibling of one of my students, Santos, picked up on my exhaustion. We made eye contact and his face dropped. I could tell he was confused since he had never seen me sick before. I knew he was waiting for me to smile at him, but I held to my stoney gaze. Selfishly, I wanted this young child to see that on this day, I wasn’t excited to be at school. Several more never ending seconds passed, and Santos’ face returned to a smile, however, this was not just any smile; and it was different than the one he had worn just moments before. This was a mindful smile and it was meant for me. In a way that doesn’t scientifically make sense to me, Santos’ smile released me from the my nausea and returned my face to a smile as well. While all smiles are good smiles, the ones given with a purpose for a purpose are transforming. The magic in mindful smiles is that you can’t help but return them. They can be given out indefinitely, and can impact so many lives. If you join Trek to Teach, or even just travel to a place where you don’t speak the language, don’t just smile, smile mindfully.
Lesson four: When gifted, give
Once I was seen as a member of the village, I began to see the lessons of giving constantly. Each friend, neighbor, and naked, roaming toddler had something to offer to me. I began to struggle with their new found support. The village was now accepting and appreciating my impact, but found difficulty believing if I was making an impact at all. I wanted give to them as they gave to me, yet felt I lacked the skills to do so.
Two hundred students line up for the anthem every morning to pledge allegiance to their country and show their commitment to their school. Every one of them believing that the education in the days ahead will provide a future free of poverty and isolation. Unaware that their education is more of a holding room, than a mind stimulating institution. Many of the teachers don’t go to their classes to teach, and the teachers that do teach, only provide a book and copy practice. Applicable knowledge is not being retained, and educational breakthroughs are hindered from the absence of teachers. As a foreign English teacher who is supposed to be part of a solution to such an educational predicament, I often questioned if my impact was enough. The students had made leaps and bounds in progress, but how were they going to remember the information without reliable or engaging teacher? How can the students build a future paralleling their dreams when they don’t have the resources or inspiration to stay in the classrooms?
How can I make sure the students remember my lessons and optimism for their future?
After extensive reflection on this question I decided I needed to do as the Nepali do and give more.
During my last weeks in my village of Kliu, my mission was to give to them in all the ways I had been taught to give by them. I ate all the food I was offered with appreciation. I sat in silence with friends and I smiled and smiled and smiled until my cheeks ached from exhaustion. When I said goodbye to the village I shook with tears and mumbling promises of a return trip.
Yet I don’t want a return trip. I don’t want to leave and come back. I want to stay with my village, and support them, in a way that allows them to continue breaking their educational barriers and push boundaries in whatever professions they have. My hope is to provide a safe space for the students to be on campus then a part of me will always be there.( these students are endlessly wise and deserving)
To do this I am building a playground, but I can’t do it alone. With the help of bigtruckbrand.org I have designed two hats inspired by the views and culture of my village, Kliu. 100% of the profits from these hats will go towards funding a playground for the school I taught at. Through this, if nothing else, they will always have a reminder of my love for them, and know that I will forever be moved by the lessons in giving they gave to me.
Whether you apply for Trek to Teach, buy a hat, or pass the message of this mission along, you have the power to make a real difference in the lives of these students. You have the power, without leaving your home or the place that you’re sitting in, to give an extraordinary gift. The only question is, will you?