President David Daai: I met Barry many years ago when he came to my studio for his promotional photos. After leaving the photography business, I did not see Barry for some years. We met again at a small fundraiser thrown for WELNepal by a mutual friend.
As other guests listened intently to stories about my work in Nepal, Barry would wander by cracking jokes. I wondered why my old client even bothered to come. At the end of the evening, some of the guests gave me cheques for $25 or $50. Barry then sat down beside me and asked “how much did you say it costs to cover a whole women’s literacy class for one year?"
I told Barry that we would need $450 to do that, and Barry took out his cheque book and wrote me a cheque for that amount. That was eight years ago, and Barry has been supporting a literacy class every year since then. The money and the hockey tickets that he donates to our silent auction have helped literally hundreds of women learn to read and write.
That’s my friend Barry. Please enjoy his lovely recap of his incredible trip to Nepal this past winter.
|Barry Flatman with his class in Sauraha, Nepal|
Sept. 20, 2011: After waiting nearly twenty years, I had both my knees replaced at the same time. For much of those twenty years, I had been “bone on bone” – that is, no cartilage to buffer the grinding of the bones inside my knees. I had become bow legged, developed numerous bone spurs, had two distended knee caps, was riddled with arthritis, had ground my teeth down from the constant pain and moved about the Earth more like an angry, hobbled 80-year-old than the almost 61-year-old I actually was.
The rehab was very hard, very painful and very morphine-filled, but after several months, I found myself walking without crutches and back at work once again - PAIN FREE! One does not entirely realize just how much suffering you have endured until the pain is actually gone – a revelation to be sure. But in the larger picture of the real world, I was soon to discover how little I truly knew about hardship and suffering, or, for that matter, the revelations arising from their absence.
I began to plan for one year ahead, when I knew my knees would be the best they would be for the rest of my life. Looking back on what I was unable to do for the past two decades, it became apparent that climbing in the Himalayas was at the top of my wish list. I further reasoned that if I was to make the journey to Nepal, I would also be able to visit my friend David Walton and see firsthand the extraordinary work of WELNepal – an organization I've supported for many years.
|A few of the Himalayas|
After much careful planning, I found myself winging my way to Nepal! Upon entering the village of Sauraha, where WELNepal is headquartered, I was immediately struck by how clear and direct the people were. I consider myself to be a pretty open and honest person, but I was not prepared for how they looked straight into my eyes, seeming to look into my soul to see who I really was. There was none of the “filtering” I was used to in my western urban environment – no sense of being on guard, of wondering “who is this and what does he want from me?” or “what can I get from him?”. If they decided they would be your friend – that was it! You were friends and you would obviously be coming to their house for dinner that night! They had so very, very little in their lives compared to us but they would, literally from that moment forward, give you the food off their plates and the clothes off their backs without a second thought.
The emphatic greeting of “Namaste,” shared a thousand times a day between
all men, women and
children, is deeply rooted (they teach it to their babies in diapers) and is an
essential exchange between two wondrous creatures (them and you) that
recognizes the unifying divinity within all of us. It is almost always
accompanied by a big, open, gorgeous, pearly-white smile transforming a brief
encounter into a blessed event – a loving exchange between two human beings.
|Barry preparing for his motorbike ride to the village|
Another thing I was not prepared for was the sheer physical beauty of the Nepalese – seemingly every man, woman and child. From the most extraordinarily beautiful eyes, hands, and faces to the startling colours of their wardrobe to the flowing grace by which they move - they are simply stunning people and a joy to behold. Given our western preoccupation with youth and beauty, it was initially culturally bewildering to me to see women, who would be described in the west as having “fashion model” looks, appearing to display no awareness of their beauty whatsoever. They, quite obviously, did not seem to attach the same importance or value to such things. I would soon discover one disturbing reason as to why.
The people I met and befriended in Sauraha demonstrated such warmth and caring in a reality that is so very harsh and unforgiving – especially for the women. From what I observed, the women work from well before dawn to long after dark. They do the cooking, the cleaning, the sewing, the mending, the washing, the scavenging for wood and the hauling of water. They raise the children, tend to the livestock, work the fields and run the shop if there is one. A young, uneducated girl is often viewed as just another mouth to feed and, as soon as possible, will be married off to another family where she will work in servitude to them for the rest of her life. Beauty has little or no useful purpose in this existence.
WELNepal is making a difference and it is breathtaking to behold. All over the region, women are coming together in small groups and, under WELNepal’s guidance, are learning to read. By educating themselves, they are finding hope and fresh possibility in their lives.
|Barry in Sauraha|
Since David Walton began this work 17 years ago, 67 women’s groups have formed in the Chitwan region. WELNepal conducts basic literacy and advanced literacy classes and has created some 15 libraries along the way. The women have created a micro bank for themselves, supporting each other to develop (with WELNepal's help) small income generating enterprises: mushroom growing, candle making and organic farming. Next year may see the digging of wells for year round irrigation and the creation of marketplaces for them to sell the goods and vegetables they have created. And they do all this in addition to their day-to-day work in their homes and communities.
David is known as David Daai in Nepal – a term of endearment and respect – a cherished “older brother” in their family. A quote from a woman brought stark clarity to my understanding of WELNepal’s vital work. She said “I owe a great deal to WELNepal. Before, I used to feel like an animal. Now, I feel like a human being.” There was no attempt to make you feel sorry for her and no sense that she was angry about her lot in life. It was simply a fact.
We must continue to support WELNepal. This, too, is simply a fact.
Oh, yes. I did, also, finally climb in the Himalayas. I embarked on a ten day trek to Annapurna Base Camp in the valley know as The Sanctuary – alt. 4,200 metres. In seeing the sunrise there, I said goodbye to the last twenty years of my life and welcomed the next twenty.
I will never again complain about my “suffering”.
Barry Flatman is a Canadian actor who has appeared in numerous films and television shows. He has starred in ReGenesis, The Kennedy’s, Murdoch Mysteries, Defiance, and Saw III. He is also a longtime friend of David Daai and a generous and loyal supporter of WELNepal’s work.