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This Brooklyn Entrepreneur Was Shaken to Her Core by Nepal’s Devastating Earthquake and Did One thing Unimaginable

How a jewellery designer poured her ardour into reviving devastated communities with new entrepreneurial tasks.

November
28, 2018

Eight min learn

On April 25, 2015, a devastating, 7.Eight-magnitude earthquake struck the central area of Nepal alongside the foothills of the Himalayas. Practically 9,000 folks had been killed and roughly 22,000 injured. Over 700,000 houses had been broken. Three-and-a-half million had been left homeless.

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And the destruction appeared to go on and on: A collection of aftershocks nearly as extreme because the preliminary earthquake continued to actually shake this impoverished nation to its core.

Seven thousand miles away, in Brooklyn, N.Y., entrepreneur Natasha Wozniak felt that shaking, too, at her emotional core .“I wished to do one thing,” Wozniak, a jewellery designer, stated lately recalling how the humanitarian disaster in Nepal affected her personally: “I had deep ties with the folks there.”

These ties dated again to Wozniak’s pupil days in 1995 when she spent a yr in Kathmandu Valley learning Nepali sculpture, then returned to these research for one more yr, in 1999, as a Fulbright scholar.

She spoke the Nepali language. She knew the tradition. She cherished the light, beneficiant folks of Nepal. She even integrated the native Gurung tradition into her jewellery designs.

That’s why, following the information of the earthquake, Wozniak acted quick: Inside ten days she’d raised $6,000 from family and friends and begun the philanthropic mission she’s continued, a mission which has: raised $250,000; rebuilt the Nepali village of Rainaskot; contributed to the economic system of a second village, Barbandi; and based the 501(c) (three) Sangsangai (which means “collectively”). In late September Rainaskot was even honored with the Nepali authorities’s “Tourism Vacation spot of the 12 months” designation.

In 2017, simply two years after the earthquake, Wozniak’s group was in a position to hand over a neighborhood middle and 14 rebuilt houses to Rainaskot’s villagers; and Sangsangai nonetheless stays lively within the area immediately. For instance, a visitor room was added to every dwelling, so the villagers might increase their subsistence farming revenue with tourism, an effort that is already drawn three,000 guests, in keeping with villagers’ visitor ledgers.

These guests come each from overseas and from Nepal’s cities like Pokhara and Besi Sahar, to stare upon Rainaskot’s hovering views of the Himalayas and to take pleasure in their native host households’ Nepali traditions of heat hospitality, and native delicacies like Sel roti.

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Picture Credit score: Sangsangai

The street to rebuilding a Nepali village

However getting Rainaskot thus far has been a protracted, troublesome street. “I began holding fund-raisers, the primary at a buddy’s condo,” Wozniak says of her tough begin. “And, I’m saying, ‘Okay, I’ve by no means performed this earlier than! However I’m going to rebuild this village!'”

But that is precisely what she did. She raised that first $6,000, then stored on fund-raising, in New York and in her hometown of Racine, Wis. She arrange a crowdfunding web page on the internet. She constructed on-the-ground help by renewing an previous friendship from her Nepal days: with Bibek Pandit, whom she’d first met whereas staying along with his household in 1995. She had been 19 on the time; he was four.

Right now, each are grown up. Wozniak is 43. Pandit, who’s in his 20s, heads up Sangsangai’s NGO in Nepal. Again within the U.S., Nepali-born businessman Sharda Thopa has lent essential help, beginning with the $31,000 he raised from a Nepali group in Jacksonville, Fla. One other Nepali ally, who heads an NGO there, urged the tourism concept. Many volunteers in each Nepal and this nation have additionally pitched in.

That does not imply that the early years weren’t crazy-stressful, as Wozniak continued to run her jewellery enterprise and her non-profit concurrently: “I might fill all my orders, get on a airplane to Nepal, spend a month there and are available again, restart the enterprise,” she says.  Nonetheless, she and Pandit managed to rent Nepal architects and building crews to construct again the Rainaskot villagers’ conventional crimson ochre stone and dust mortar homes — making them earthquake-proof this time and outfitted with porches for household gatherings.

It was vital to the 2 philanthropists to do all this with the villagers’ full participation, Wozniak explains. “The architects and engineers would deliver the plans, however the villagers needed to make the ultimate choices.” Common planning conferences had been held, and the native households, comprising about 60 residents, every despatched a consultant.

The challenges had been substantial: Life after the earthquake was laborious; the villagers had been compelled to sleep below plastic sheeting draped over a bamboo greenhouse. There was additionally, in fact, the monetary wrestle. And infrastructure repairs had been powerful: The tiny, muddy street as much as Rainaskot, at an elevation of 5,700 ft, needed to be widened and improved so trailers might haul in bricks and different constructing supplies. Tensions simmered, in the meantime, between Rainaskot’s residents and its jealous neighbors, dwelling within the village just under.

There was extra: Constructing permits from Nepal’s newly stabilized authorities had been exceedingly laborious to acquire. The border with neighboring India closed down for six months beginning in 2015, because of a political battle with Nepal; gas couldn’t get via.

As well as, there was a drought. And since the earthquake had shifted Rainaskot’s pure water supply, the villagers needed to negotiate water rights with neighboring communities. These communities and building accidents repeatedly reduce Rainaskot’s water line, which in flip floor cement-mixing to a halt.

Nonetheless, the deep collaboration Wozniak and Pandit had fostered with the villagers paid off: Their mission moved forward whereas others failed. But due to the troublesome allow course of, the 2 companions determined to forgo constructing homes in Barbandi, the second village they approached. These residents, in spite of everything, might rebuild, themselves, utilizing grants newly launched from the federal government.

That is why Wozniak and Pandit determined to construct a neighborhood middle, not homes, in Barbandi. “We’ll use it as an engine for giving coaching, and employment coaching,” Wozniak says they determined.

This second village’s residents opted to duplicate Rainaskot’s homestay mannequin. And, in a 3rd village, Bhirpani, a 3rd financial mannequin started to take form, with long-term financial implications.

“We’re in a mission shift,” Wozniak acknowledges of Sangsangai’s new route. “We began out as ‘the group constructing villages and personal houses.’ Now, we’re contemplating methods [in which to take] the financial growth mannequin in a approach [where] we don’t should construct a complete village, to make use of sources to create extra affect with much less funding.”

Accordingly, Sangsangai is finalizing an settlement with a Nepali felt-making firm referred to as Everest Fashions to start elevating funds subsequent yr to construct a workshop. No less than 50 folks can be employed, serving to to provide felt to the West Elm American dwelling decor firm.

Again in Rainaskot, one thing else is newly flourishing … chickens: Vacationers come from town for the weekend to not solely benefit from the mountain views and the native delicacies — but in addition to take dwelling a neighborhood free-range hen for later consumption, paying host households $15 to $25 for the privilege.

Picture Credit score: Samip Gurung

Classes realized

What’s forward, Wozniak says, are plans to create digital merchandise to assist the folks of Nepal with commerce and training. She’s additionally working to loosen the ties that bind her to the villagers she already is aware of, whose tradition emphasizes long-term relationships. Her objective, although, is to foster self-reliance.

What’s behind for Wozniak, in the meantime, are the experiences she’s had in Nepal which have taught this entrepreneur some vital classes whilst she has labored to foment entrepreneurial change:

Have group members on the bottom. “Typically I felt a little bit bit uncomfortable being in my place, being the ‘face’ of the group,” Wozniak says. That is why having group members on the bottom and assuring villagers they’d the proper to override all choices made a distinction. Particularly, this technique headed off two unhealthy outcomes: 1) villagers counting on her an excessive amount of; 2) unscrupulous locals making an attempt to take advantage of monied international help organizations.

Make sure that the folks you are serving to are investing their very own sources. This technique helps preserve locals’ dedication. “It doesn’t matter what the size, you must discover a way for the beneficiary to have some pores and skin within the sport,” Wozniak says. Given the villagers’ frustrations and temptation to go away in the course of the lengthy rebuilding course of, “In the event that they hadn’t dedicated their very own sources, perhaps they’d have stated, ‘Neglect it.'”

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Arrange peer-to-peer networks. “This can be a story that has but to unfold, however I believe the villagers of Rainaskot are going to be referred to as upon by different villagers and different folks in Nepal,” Wozniak says. “As soon as they’re working their enterprise and are profitable, I might actually wish to make it peer to see.

“If I present up within the village, folks will say ‘You are able to do it since you’re educated and you’ve got sources.’ But when considered one of my villagers from Rainsakot goes and says, ‘Oh, we did that and we had been in a position to try this,’ that has energy.”

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