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Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Barry's Time with WELNepal

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
Barry preparing for his motorbike ride to the village
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.

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.


Monday, 16 September 2013

WELNepal's 12th Annual Benefit Bash!

Monica McKenna’s 12th Annual Benefit Bash for WELNepal
7:00 pm on Friday, October 4 2013
The Tranzac Club
292 Brunswick Ave
Toronto, Ontario

Last year's bash
It’s that time of year again! The time when WELNepal’s dedicated friends and supporters can gather at a hip Toronto hotspot to celebrate yet another year in the life of WELNepal. Over the years, we’ve helped more than 4,000 women in the lowlands of Nepal master literacy. Now, we’re dedicated to helping them tackle even bigger and more challenging projects.

This year, we worked tirelessly with our Nepali coordinators and women’s groups to hammer out plans for a vegetable shop that will be owned and operated by the women themselves. We watched the women tackle candle-making with inspiring enthusiasm. We also decided to start investing in well-digging and sewing machine projects, as our women’s groups are demanding more income generating programs. 
Our new candle-making class

We grow bigger and bigger every year, and it’s because of YOU and your generous support and encouragement.

To show you how thankful we and the women are, we’re inviting you to a fundraiser that will raise awareness, help the women in our project area further their goals, and — best of all — show you a good time complete with complimentary food, live music and entertainment and a silent auction.

We’re excited to host our beloved bash at The Annex’s famed Tranzac Club for the first time, and even more excited to welcome back, by popular demand, the beautiful women of the belly dance troupe Tribe MayaFire.

Tribe MayaFire
You can also expect delicious food donated by T.O restaurants Mt. Everest and The Roastery. The rest of the food will be generously supplied by our loyal “Chefs de la Maison Extraordinaire” Mike and Max. Guests will also be able to, for first time in our benefit’s history, purchase myriad boozy beverages from the establishment’s cash bar.

This year, our much-anticipated silent auction will showcase jewellery created by Nepali and Canadian designers, Nepali and Canadian art, restaurant gift cards, hockey tickets, cameras, authentic Nepali crafts and more.

Stay tuned to our website and Facebook and Twitter pages for more info on musical performers! 
Last year's silent auction

If you plan on coming to the benefit (and we sincerely hope you do!), you can RSVP to David Walton by email or by calling (416) 603-4399. If you sign up for our mailing list (which you can also do by emailing David at the email address above), you can donate by clicking the “donate” link in our latest newsletter and be automatically added to our guest list (our suggested minimum donation is $40). You will also be automatically added to our guest list if you donate on our website (please leave your name to be added). You can also pay by cash or cheque at the door the night of the event (sorry, no debit or credit!).

It’s also not too late to contact David if you have any silent auction items you wish to donate!
The women we work with have come so far, and we couldn’t have helped them if we didn’t have all of you generously supporting our cause. So come out this fall and give a little bit to a woman in need — and have a great time doing it!

We hope to see you all there!



Monday, 2 September 2013


You may remember hearing about Sharmila in our previous newsletter. She even has a page dedicated to her on our website, but we want to talk about her here, too. We can also show you more pictures of her and her incredible work for her community and WELNepal!

Several years ago, Sharmila came to our organization and asked us to fund literacy classes in her district of Pithuwa.  She asked us to sponsor many classes, and we were able to fund three. When I (David) returned the following year, I was informed that those three groups were doing very well. In fact, they were the top performers among all our classes.  Why? Because Sharmila made a point of regularly visiting “her” classes to ensure that they were being run properly.  She even took it upon herself to fire an under-performing teacher.
Sharmila teaching
With commitment like that from a woman with such leadership skills, we did not hesitate to give Sharmila all the literacy classes she could handle. We have now sponsored 12 classes in Pithuwa, and under Sharmila’s supervision, they are all fully involved in our Advanced and Remedial classes.
But sponsoring literacy classes was not enough for Sharmila. She wanted ALL of WELNepal’s other projects to be made available to ALL the women’s groups in her area. She also refused to wait for all the women’s groups to finish their two-year literacy classes before tackling other projects. Sharmila wanted even more opportunities for her groups and she wanted them NOW.

And now, in Pithuwa, the women have a library. Most of the women’s groups have been involved in our three-day health training. Women’s groups are growing and selling mushrooms. All of these projects operate under the watchful eye of Sharmila. And all projects in Pithuwa are incredibly successful.

Sharmila taught me an important lesson — projects run by driven, passionate alpha female leaders are the projects with the highest success rates. Now, WELNepal works with other dedicated women such as Ahilia, who lives in Majuwa, Binita, who inspires the women in her group in Kathar, Tan Kumari, who ensures successful projects in her village of Badahara and Samjhana in Lothar, who oversees and motivates a number of women’s groups.

Sharmila has been an exceptional addition to the on-the-ground WELNepal team for several reasons. Firstly, she works efficiently and effectively to ensure “her” groups are benefiting from our classes. Secondly, she models the qualities we hope to instill in the women we work with. She’s ambitious and she’s not afraid to advocate for herself and her community. She shows everyone that rural women from the lowlands of Nepal have the potential to be great leaders who value education, community and personal growth. For anyone looking for a success story to link to female literacy in the developing world, look no further then Sharmila.