Penny Godfrey on the frontline

Today I am bringing you the amazing story of the “forgotten people” as written by Penny Godfrey who accompanied me to the frontline.

For those of who don’t know, and I suspect many of you do, I take business leaders to the frontline not only to experience what life is really like for people in third world countries post disaster, but to also help us to find sustainable solutions for these communities.

These solutions ultimately lift people out of poverty, despair, desperation and hopelessness and back into a life that is independent and self-sufficient again.

I’ve found that business leaders who come with me to the frontline experience the journey of a lifetime…and in return they give a lifetime of experience to those they help.

You see, my Be The Change: Business Leaders on the frontline program takes the best, most inspiring and visionary business leaders and uses the skills they’ve honed in business to solve challenging real-life problems in some of the poorest and most marginalised communities in third world locations.

If you’d like to find out more about my Be The Change: Business Leaders on the frontline program, simply click here

And now…

Penny Godfrey: “The forgotten families.”

The child, around two years old, naked from the waist down, his filthy, ragged vest hanging off one shoulder, ambled alone, in and out of the traffic. My driver gasped. Vehicles slowed down to avoid the tiny figure until he made it safely back to his home on the central reservation. Welcome to India.

“The purpose of our life needs to be positive”, the Dalai Lama said, and with that in mind, I caught my onward flight from Delhi to Nepal. In just a few hours, I would join international humanitarian Linda Cruse for an insight into her world of compassion and service, helping victims of the 2015 earthquake.

A hastily-erected camp, set amidst the rubble, dust and noise of Kathmandu, is where I first see Linda in action. With her striking blonde hair and loud, infectious laugh, she’s a beacon of hope to people who have suffered so much. “How can we help you to earn money?” she asks, family by family, starting with the most vulnerable. It’s intense, time-consuming work, moving from one humid shack to the next, carefully documenting each story, while figuring out how to provide ‘A hand up, not a hand out’.

“You’re a business-woman” she tells Pubitra, a frail 42-year widow, who physically clings to Linda like the life-line she is. A mother of six, she’s now selling enough masala tea to feed her family and send her children to school.

We head to the mountains, to Devpur, which enjoys breath-taking views of the Himalayas. Living conditions are tough, with 95% of homes destroyed, and most livelihoods lost. But there is so much joy here. The plastic Kerplunk game I take to the local school is met with gasps of fascination. Snap is played over and over to howls of delight. The local shop-keeper’s shy daughter, in her frayed, pink tutu is so happy to see me each day to practise her reading. One young chap, with excellent English, gives me a Nepalese rupee, and is over the moon with the English penny I offer in return. What this village has in abundance is community spirit and camaraderie. “Poverty doesn’t equal unhappiness” Linda had told me, and I see it for myself, first-hand.

Just before leaving I meet Laxmi, an 18-year old primary school teacher who lives in a small shed with her parents. Her father slowly, methodically carries enormous tree trunks up the hill, to generate fires hot enough to make bricks, so he can painstakingly rebuild their family home. He wears white, in mourning for his parents, killed during the earthquake. Their hospitality, warmth and dignity, in the face of such suffering, makes me cry. “Please come and see us again” they ask softly. “I will. I promise.” I say

I’m reluctant to leave. There’s so much work to be done. But I depart with great energy and purpose. I went to give but all I did was gain. What a trip. “Was it life-changing?” People ask. Quite possibly.

Thank you Penny! I hope you enjoyed her personal account of her trip to the frontline.

Lots of love

Linda x

P.S. I’ve got such an exciting announcement coming up in the next week. Be sure to keep an eye on your inbox! It includes a link to watch a short video recorded in front of an inspiring and live audience last week…YOU WILL NOT WANT TO MISS IT!!

18 months on and no help post Nepal earthquake…

I have been a humanitarian aid worker for 17 years but still on every frontline mission I feel the same sense of pure joy as we are able to give a ‘hand up’ to the forgotten families and positively change the lives of the people who have faced unbelievable devastation and huge challenges.

I have just returned to Kathmandu after an extraordinary journey. The village we have been in is high up in the Himalayas on the border of Tibet and Nepal.

For the past 18 months the village has been cut off by a massive landslide triggered by the earthquake. They have received no aid. After the earthquake it took 10 days for even the next village to reach them with basic survival supplies.

To reach the village, after a long off roading jeep journey we had to climb down a steep mountain side, across a stream and up another mountain face that was strewn with loose stones and boulders following the landslide.

The last half an hour trek in we faced strong winds and a freezing hail storm.

As my Nepali guide pointed out our final destination and I could see our red tents on the horizon the sky cleared and a double rainbow appeared. It was as if the Universe was cheering us on.

Local men and women stood with beaming smiles in the hail storm to welcome us as we walked through a make shift triumphant arch made of bamboo and leaves. They placed a sacred scarf, a kata, around our necks and with hands placed in prayer they led us the last few steps to their homes.

The village of just 150 dwellings hangs on the side of a steep hillside with no easy way to move around.

They had never seen a foreigner before, none had ever made it to their village, it was fun for all as they looked us up and down and touched our hair and marvelled at our footwear and clothes.

Exhausted after our journey we snuggled into our mountain home. A small red tent perched on a ledge. January in the Himalayas is pretty cold. Even with a Himalayan sleeping bag – I kept on my eight thermal layers and added an extra pair of socks and very warm hat with ear muffs. Waking up in the morning and unzipping the tent to a snow covered mountain was surreal and awe inspiring.

One by one we started to meet some of the most vulnerable families. So hard to know where to start – as all seemed desperately in need of help. Many of the villagers as well as losing their livelihoods and homes are severely psychologically traumatised. The landslide triggered by the earthquake killed many loved ones. One father lost both his wife and 15 year old son under the landslide and he cannot accept that they have gone. He still wanders the village stunned in a daze.

Pore Kamsya, a 30 year old woman had just given birth to her last child when her 29 year old husband was killed by the landslide, buried in the rubble. She has four children Prasad 12 years, Sunil 8 years, Maya 5 years and Sapana now nearly 2 years old. Everytime we met her she would hang her head as the tears fell holding Sapana tightly close to her.

The picture below is one of my meetings with her and her children.

Her husband was highly respected by the community, a great husband and father. Pore just could not recover from her loss. Her family were worried about her and her 4 young children. Pore seemed to have no will to live. Nothing could rouse her out of her depression and deep sadness.

Bit by bit through getting to know her, gaining her trust and through various of her friends and relatives sharing her story we began to understand that her living condition – a small dwelling with 10 other relatives – was adding to her stress and inability to recover and start again. She felt useless, dependent and numb.

The ‘Be The Change’ team bit by bit distilled a possible solution. We build her a small dwelling to give her space and independence with her small family and we also help to provide her with a sustainable income with her own buffalo. She could sell the milk for regular money enabling her to buy the staples for the family. A local man kindly said that he would donate the land.

I will always remember how Pores’ face lit up when our idea was suggested to her. She physically and emotionally changed, she lifted her head, straightened her back as a smile crept across her face. In her wildest dreams she never thought this could be a possibility. She was radiant. We had hit the jackpot.

Rebuilding shattered lives, facilitating mothers like Pore to regain their self -esteem and dignity makes me dance for joy! Feeling blessed and on cloud nine as we transform devastated lives here one family at a time.

The level of strength and resilience of the village people is almost unbelievable – and to hear them sing as they perform their daily tasks despite all of their hardship – I wish – just for one day everyone could witness and feel in their hearts such grace and courage.

Thank you to those who joined me on the frontline, made the long hard journey high up into the Himalayas and stepped out of their comfort zones to help those in desperate need with a much needed hand-up.

They have helped people in a way they have never before and those people will treasure it for a long time come.

I will be back in touch again soon with more stories of the amazing people we are meeting on the frontline.

With much love

Linda x

One year on – Harka – the boy with no arms

As you probably know, I have so many stories to tell you about my trips to the front line and the many people we’ve been able to help over the last 16+ years and here is an update on the amazing progress this amazing young man has been making since we met him in early 2016.

Just before I get to that, I know many of you have a huge desire to help and I am aware that I am perhaps not so forthcoming with letting you know how you can do that, so let me share just a couple of ideas with you.

You could donate some money, either on an on-going basis, every now and again, or even just a once off. The money we receive from our kind and generous followers enables us to help people on the front line to rebuild their lives and become independent again. Every cent and every dollar helps.

Click here to find out how to donate and how much to donate

You could join me for a trip of a lifetime to the frontline. I have just taken a group to Nepal, am taking another group in February to the frontline and will be doing more trips throughout the year.

Click here to find out more about joining me on the frontline

You could also help by sponsoring someone that we’re working with on the frontline, in the same that Robert does with Harka (you’ll find out about that in the story below).

Click here to go on the waiting list and we’ll be in touch

 

Now let’s get on with updating you with Harka’s progress (the boy with no arms in the picture below)!

Feb 2016 – Post earthquake in Kathmandu Nepal I was taking a base assessment and visited a disabled school to see if there had been any casualties there. It was the middle of the day and term time, and I found just one boy aimlessly kicking a ball against the wall, head down. I asked the administrator what the situation was.

Harka, 11 years old, had been brought to the disabled school two years previously, both of his arms burnt off to the socket after falling down a hill and grabbing onto a live electricity wire to save himself.

Once Harka was at the school there was no further contact from his family. Abandoned, Harka adapted to life with no arms and learned to write with his toes. But no school would take him. Hence he was alone at the disabled hostel that day. Having no arms he was unable to use the bathroom on his own. Each day he had to watch the school bus collect the other children and he was left behind.

I was determined to solve this for Harka but every idea was stopped by the school until we came up with the idea of paying a caregiver to sit at the back of the class so that when Harka needed to use the bathroom – he could.

The school agreed and a most generous sponsor has committed to funding Harka’s caregiver.

One year on – Jan 2017 Nepal

An excited administrator greeted me at Harka’s hostel and beckoned me to follow her. Harka was standing on the table using his feet to play Bagh Chal, a traditional and very popular game in Nepal.

It’s a fast action hunting board game, two sides taking part: 4 tigers trying to capture the 20 goats who defend themselves by blocking the tigers. It was quite obvious that he was having a lot of fun.

He nodded and smiled and me then returned his focus to his game. I followed the administrator to her office.

She proudly handed me Harkas school report

English, Nepali, Maths, Social Studies, Science & Environment, GK + Moral Science, and English Grammar. Final grade on each subject A+ .Remarks: Outstanding.

I could have cried with joy!

Harka had missed nearly 2 years of formal education after his accident, had been given a second chance at education and he was maximising every minute. The school was delighted. No issues and the carer was doing her job well of managing Harka and his use of the bathroom.

The school also noted that he was talented in extracurricular activities, he was a budding artist and a good footballer.

Harka, his board game over, joined us in the office. He wanted to show me his love of sketching and asked if he could draw my portrait. Paper and pencils appeared and I sat back and gazed out of the window as he worked. The finished product was excellent – he even included my sun glasses perched on my head.

When asked how much he enjoyed school – he beamed  – he loved it. ‘Maths’, he said is his favourite subject. Mingma, the lead for Be The Change in Nepal, jumped in and said, ‘ ‘when until you have finished your education, you will be great in my accounts department’. Harka’s smile got even broader.

About to leave the administrator then put the icing on the cake, someone from Harka’s families village had, by chance come to the hostel to visit another student. The administrator had asked the man to pass on to Harkas family the great news of Harkas sponsor and his incredible success at school.

One month later Harka’s father and brother took the long journey from their countryside village to see Harka. There was not a dry eye in the hostel as the family was finally reunited.

From a boy abandoned with no hope to a top student reunited with his family. So many many thanks to Harka’s kind and generous sponsor Robert, who is supporting Harka every step of the way.

Harka’s smile says it all.

Much love from the frontline – Linda x

P.S. Oh, and just before you go…

If you’d like to help like Robert does and become a personal sponsor, then please join this waiting list

If you’d like to donate and help our frontline projects to be successful, then click here to find out more

And finally, if you’d like to find out about joining me on the frontline, click this link for more information

Forgotten families – 10 minutes from death, the story of baby Arrush, a day of extremes and another lesson in gratitude.

Linda Nepal

 

Nepal 6

Salty sweat is pouring from my forehead making my eyes sting. My vision blurred, I stumble as I climb over a mound of slippery mud covered broken bricks, all that remains of Sitashmas family home that was flattened by the quake.

This young tiny Mum tells me how she had walked out of her parents house carrying her 8 month old baby just 10 minutes before it collapsed. As she pulls her small baby Arrush closer to her chest she shares her daily prayer of thanks for them both being  saved from certain death.

The arrival of our jeep to this remote mountain village of Devpur, standing at an altitude of 1,800 metres has created quite a stir. Since one group came and delivered rice to the village seven days after the first earthquake no one has been near them.

Nepal 2

It was a tough route to get there, especially the last 8kms, a steep dirt track made slippery and unstable by the heavy rains and deep mud tracks littered by large stones hurled down the mountainside by the landslides. Nepali friends had approached many jeep companies to take us there but on hearing the required destination all refused saying that it was too difficult.

Determined to reach there we did not give up until we found one fearless and thankfully experienced driver who would take us there.

Crammed into the jeep we bounced, slipped and maneuvered our way slowly up the track only needing to get out and push once. I must admit I kept my eyes firmly closed at times when the cliff edge seemed a little too close. The driver was fearless.

Nepal 5

As far as the eye could see was complete devastation not a building left standing in this mountain village. As I looked across the valley the story was the same. Bright plastic sheets covering bamboo poles, the most basic and temporary shelter, standing next to each pile of bricks.

Amidst the piles of rubble a red plastic chair appeared for me to sit on, and a small group of villagers gathered. An elderly man stood leaning on a stick to  share the villagers fears and worries. Devpur survives on farming, it is an agricultural village, the 9 villagers that died were resting in their houses after l lunch before returning to the fields.

 

Nepal 2It was obvious that this is a resilient and hard working farming community, everyone, man woman and child playing their part.

The elderly man was adamant that they did not need to be given food, they are able to grow enough to feed themselves, their simple twice daily diet of dahl bat, consisting of rice, lentils and vegetables.

But many of their livestock were killed in the quake; buffaloes, cows, goats and chickens. And the animals that did survive are suffering, they have no  shelter left standing to shield them from the intense heat and rain. This exposure to the elements is making the animals weak and sick.

The positive attitude and emotional resilience of the villagers was humbling.

What they desire more than anything is to be fully self sufficient again, they don’t want hand outs, they want a hand up. Their wish is to have their livestock replaced and for their remaining animals to have a shelter and be well again.

You can imagine after a day spent on the frontline here in Nepal I return tired, dirty, a tad emotionally drained but very grateful as I wash my hands under a cool tap.

Nepal 3

It is almost three months since the powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal at 11.56am NST on April 25th with the epicentre 80kms north west of the capital Kathmandu.  Followed by another huge earthquake (6.8) on May 12th.

After the 25th April earthquake more than 1,000 aftershocks happened in the first 24 hours ( that’s 3 shakes every 2 minutes), and then a terrifying 30,000 jolts during the subsequent month. Hard to even begin to imagine . And they continue ….on just June 24th we had a 4.0 magnitude shake. No wonder the people live in daily fear.

Nepal 4

My humanitarian career now spans 15 years and I have assisted in livelihood recovery in many natural catastrophic disasters – my mission always to reach the forgotten families in the farthest flung areas and give them a hand up. My mission in Nepal is the same.

Love from Linda on the frontline x