This past spring I visited Nepal for the first time in my life. It had been a dream of mine to climb in the Himalayas and finally I had my chance. I was photographing an American expedition consisting of Don Bowie, Jess Roskelly, and Ben Erdman who were set off to climb the worlds 10th highest mountain, Annapurna I. After spending only a short couple of weeks on the mountain Nepal was devastated by a violent 7.9 earthquake. Our world was turned upside down as we had limited communication to the outside world and we could only hear bits and pieces of the destruction that hit the mountainous regions of Gorkha. Our team quickly decided to retreat from our expedition and move our efforts to helping the Nepali people in any way we could.
After spending 4 months living and working with the Nepali people I began to develop a deep connection for their way of life and sense of community. From the outside Nepal seemed as though they figured out how to show love in a way I have never seen before. But the more time I spent in Nepal I began to see the subtleties of an ancient cast system what still very much alive. As a foreigner you may never see this first hand, but that is why I am going back to Nepal.
“In a world where your fate is sealed from birth, your last name becomes a fixed identity and your socioeconomic situation is a privilege or a prison. Your wages, social ties and even physical acknowledgement is based on a caste system which has emerged over a long complicated history. Who are you and how can you change your circumstances?”
- Team member Brian Mosbaugh
As I trekked through the Manaslu region of Nepal, I was inspired by the people I befriended. Many were in great need due to the earthquakes, yet they welcomed us with open arms. Making our way over high mountain passes to the remote villages cut off from landslides, my heart went out to these beautiful people. There was one group in particular that captured my attention though, they are called the Dalit people (the Untouchables).
The day I planned to fly out of Samagoan, to come back to Kathmandu, two officials came up to us and quietly alerted us to a small people group below the village. Discussing the situation further, we realized how the caste system was still alive and tangible in Nepal. The Untouchables who lived below the village had received little to no aid even though the villages surrounding them had. It’s not that there was a shortage in supplies but a shortage in grace within the social system. It just wasn’t what was done. They received 1 piece of sheet metal when every other household received 14. Life was unfair for them, but that was the lot they have been borne into, at least that was what we were told.
When we became aware of this small community, our new friends pleaded that we not tell anyone that it was them who had highlighted this issue - they could lose their jobs. We went down only a couple hours before the helicopter would arrive and found a beautiful group of people who expected nothing. One father, Pema, of 5 children was paralyzed from the waist down from an injury that happened after the first earthquake. He was the breadwinner of the family, with his wife 8 months pregnant with his 6th child. Their shelter and workplace consisted of a few tarps and ‘lean-to’s’. Without immediate medical attention though, his unborn daughter would never get to meet her father. Something had to be done. As we carried Pema on a makeshift stretcher to the helicopter, I knew the way I looked at life would never be the same again. These people needed a voice where they had been told to stay quiet for so many generations. Through our cameras, we could do that - we could tell the world their story and in turn, work with them to improve their future and give them the hope of change.