When you start creating for and in honor of those who have made a difference to you, your work changes. — Seth Godin
I returned from Nepal last February with nearly a thousand images in the camera. Kathmandu street scenes, village life, tidy gardens, terraced hillsides, school girls in blue uniforms, a faithful taxi driver, a devoted sherpa, a white-haired visionary and a little girl about to turn three.
Her name is Karuna but everyone calls her Sani—Nepali for “little one.” This little one is precocious, inquisitive, smart and undeniably beautiful. In the four weeks we spent with her family, I never succeeded in coaxing her onto my lap or talking to me in English, but she couldn’t stop me from watching. And what I watched, I photographed.
During our stay in Nepal, the little one’s parents, Som and Sajani—and their dear friend and colleague Olga Murray—graciously provided housing, food, good company and, in all ways, made our stay rich and productive. I came home wanting to repay their kindness. Scrolling through the photos, it hit me. A book. I’ll make a photo book about Sani. A keepsake for the family and for Olga Mommy.
I’ve yet to organize photos of a trek in Peru three years ago or the village work trip in 2010, but this felt different. More joy than task. A giving back to gracious people. Sani and her parents were scheduled to visit Denver in May. I had a month. I headed to Blurb.com and watched the instructional video. I chose a template, cropped and edited photos, wrote the story, watched the video again, did more cropping, revising and tweaking until I made even myself crazy, and hit the publish button.
The books arrived two days ahead of Sani and her parents. The girl with the captivating smile and luminous dark eyes looked as beautiful on paper as she does in person. Her parents were thrilled, all those hours were worth it. Sani’s World was a hit. End of story.
Well, not exactly. More like the beginning.
Som, Sani’s father, is the Executive Director of a nonprofit called the Nepal Youth Foundation, started 25 years ago by Olga Murray, a white-haired powerhouse from Sausalito who celebrated her 87th birthday this past May. Under their leadership, NYF has grown from Olga paying for the education of a handful of village girls into an organization making significant inroads against societal giants like ignorance, child abandonment, malnourishment and indentured servitude. Visit them online. The stories are remarkable. And we’re not talking a handful of lucky kids. We’re talking thousands, over the course of nearly three decades. Kids who have been educated, nourished back to health, rescued from bondage, given a home.
“We need a book like Sani’s about NYF,” announces Sajani over dinner during their May weekend in Denver. We’re eating Nepali food on Lynn and Steve’s patio.
“Rebecca,” and she turns to me, “Rebecca needs to do a book like this for NYF.”
“The reason Sajani can get people to do things,” Som told me in Kathmandu last February, “is that she never asks for herself. She only asks for other people. That is her secret.”
A week passes.
“Was that wine talking?” I ask Lynn after yoga, then remember Sajani doesn’t drink. “I can’t get that book out of my mind.”
“No, they really want a book. If you’re interested, you should call Som. They’re in California for another week and then it’s back to Nepal.”
A Sunday afternoon in late May. I’m pulling weeds in Ali’s garden. The phone rings. Som and I talk for an hour. He asks for a proposal. Sani’s World sprouts its first shoot.
What began as a gesture of gratitude has morphed into plans for a book of stories and photographs to preserve the legacy of a most remarkable organization. Alison Wright, world-class photographer, is on board. The two of us will collect stories and make photographs in Nepal later this year, and prepare for a Kickstarter campaign in 2013.
This morning the man who runs the black lab on the campus in our neighborhood remarked on the light changing. “Kinda feels like fall,” he said, and I agreed. I unhooked Molly’s leash and smiled to myself as she tried to divert the lab from his game of fetch, to no avail. I watched her run the green in the first light of day, athletic and strong, and felt thankful for my own health, for the opportunity to create, to partner with Alison, to serve an organization doing important, life-changing work in this messy world we inhabit, and for my family, who continues to say yes. Life doesn’t get any better.