Global Service Scholar: Uyen Mai
Nepal is a beautiful country, filled with vast scenic landscapes, vibrant colors, and a rich culture. The people I met have shown nothing but kindness and generosity, and have opened my eyes to the radically different lifestyle they lead compared to my life back in the States. I now come back with the experience of being surrounded by a strong and supportive team of women, as well as new epiphanies about sustainability, well-being, and nonprofit work.
After one month of being separated from the luxuries and materialistic pleasures I have back home, I’ve learned about the idea of “enough,” realizing that I don’t need much to be truly happy. In this case, “less is more.” The short period of disconnect from stable Wi-Fi and the rush of life back home may have perhaps been a blessing in disguise. This gave us the opportunity to spend more quality time with each other, make lasting memories, and form an emotional connection, rather than be distracted and attached to our phones like we normally would be back in the States.
Back at home, it feels like we’re constantly in a distracted state of mind. We’re always trying to occupy our minds with something, from social media to TV shows to work. But, after staying at HerFarm for several weeks, I have learned the importance of taking time to reflect on myself and making more of an effort to take care of myself, both physically and mentally.
As I aspire to continue toward my intended career of working for international NGOs and medical relief agencies, I am approaching this sector with a certain degree of caution and skepticism. After several thorough discussions about non-profit work and foreign aid with one of the directors of HerFarm, I’ve learned how foreign aid can often be detrimental to the countries or communities receiving it if not used in the right way. Take Nepal, for example. Instead of foreign aid helping the Nepali people, it often fuels corruption in the government.
Another problem also lies within Westerners coming to Nepal and telling the people, “This is what you need.” Instead, we should be asking, “What do you need?” For example, supplying all the women in a village with sewing machines doesn’t necessarily guarantee a stable income. In fact, the women might struggle to find work due to competition from their neighbors. Additionally, providing the women with stereotypically female-dominated jobs won’t incite any social change.
The best way to help these women is to provide a means for their economic freedom, ensuring individual liberty throughout their lifetime. This is the type of work being done at HerFarm: empowering women and encouraging them to have a strong sense of self-efficacy. By training women to become photographers, radio broadcasters and filmmakers, all of which are male-dominated professions in Nepal, they’re indirectly sparking social change.
To overcome systemic discrimination, the patriarchy, and inequality, we need to work together cooperatively and respectfully exchange ideas. As one of the directors at the farm stated simply, “The best volunteers are ‘being’, not ‘doing.’ ” Our purpose at the farm is not to focus on implementing a project or doing as much farm work as we can — the people at the farm can easily and quickly get these tasks done themselves. We came for a culturally immersive experience — to learn about each other’s way of life. To Nepal and HerFarm, thank you for showing me the importance of resilience, the gentle strength of kindness, and helping me have more self-compassion so that I may fully enact upon my compassion for others.