March 4, 2016; Rani Pani, Nepal
I had arrived to Nepal a little less than a month before to serve with an organization I had been working with in Ahmadabad, Gujarat called Manav Sadhna. After the April/May 2015 earthquake, they had sent a team to help with relief efforts. The coordinator and a dear friend, Bhaaratbhai (bhai means brother in Gujarati), put me in touch with Dineshdai (dai means brother in Nepali) who is, quite frankly a jack of all trades- a lawyer and engineer by profession. I quickly learned that Dineshdai’s story lies way beyond his numerous professions.
I could immediately tell he was a unique human being. During our few brief conversations (which I had stumbled through with the little Nepali and Hindi I knew at the time), his blunt, booming voice always rung through the phone.
I had come to Kathmandu for a couple of days, so on my way back to Rani Pani, the village I was serving in, we took a bus together. During the one and a half hour ride, Dineshdai told me his story starting from 25 years back to present day. Although I couldn’t understand all of his Hindi, what I could understand was much more powerful. His spirit, the energy he had for his work was enough to say it all.
I’m going to try to summarize Dineshdai’s work into a couple of paragraphs. However, summarizing his work would be like writing a short story about the entire Harry Potter Series and doing it justice. Impossible.
Dineshdai Chaudhary’s life changed when he received recognition for his past service work from the past prime minister of Nepal, Babhuram Bhattarai. After, he put all of his time and technical skills into working in Bakultar, a village next to Rani Pani. He had stumbled upon this small village almost 25 years prior and has continued his work there ever since. From teaching the villagers different farming techniques to building shallow wells, Dineshdai has done everything. Using his background as an engineer, he wrote books on how to properly build an earthquake proof home and how to work with laws within the Nepali government. The various work he has done with the village has brought him to one conclusion: the change begins with the children.
Each Saturday, he takes a bus from Kathmandu to the village to teach them meditation and values. He tells the kids, “You are Buddh, you are Lord Rama, and so is everyone else”.
Formal, quantitative education is not the answer, he believes. It does not teach one how to live a happier life, nor has it helped the village change. Yes, the community can go to other countries to work, but how does that help create a supportive, integrated community? Only when the community learns to live with one another can they get up, work, and maximize the resources that they already have.
“Nobody is poor”, he told me repeatedly. “We all have hands, we all have feet, we can all work with the land we have”.
He continued to tell me that money is not the problem and will never be the problem. That is a secondary matter. The first is education. We often forget about the seeds that we already have in our communities. The children, the seeds, are our most powerful form of capital, he told me. If we plant the seeds properly, the community can transform in just one generation.
In the past years he has used an abandoned building from the local public school to create his space of learning for the children. There, he has blankets, a hot plate for cooking, and some food in case he needs to spend the night there.
His past two and a half decades in the village have been a satisfying battle. Although his family does not fully support his work and commitment to Bakultar, he told me he feels a sense of duty to be with the people in the village. His relationship with them has shifted as he has continued his work. During one particular event, he had felt it was time to build a space to work with the children. Prior to using the abandoned building from the local public school, he built a home out of mud and bricks. For days, he worked to build his home with in his own hands. After some time, the community members also helped him. However, he came back after a few days and saw everything torn to pieces. Although he didn’t explain the situation in detail, he told me, ‘They can break my house, they can break my office, but they will never break my work.” At times he felt resistance from the community, but he has continued on.
The day I interviewed him, he was holding an event for the children. Under one of the large Banyan trees, the children from Bakultar village started to gather. After two hours of playing tag/hide and go seek, the children started to clean the area. One by one, they started to collect plastic, clear the leaves from the base of the tree, and put their shoes in a straight line. After, we made a circle around the tree. Dineshdai and the older youth which he works closely with, brought 13 candles and lit them on the cement at the base of the tree.
I don’t think I’ve seen anything more beautiful in my life. Two to three children huddled around each candle. With the stars lighting up the sky and the candles lighting up the base of this tree, I watched as the kids closed their eyes and started chanting. After, some of the kids climbed up to the base of the tree and started to do various performances. One of the boys rapped while some of the girls danced.
After this experience, I truly understood the essence of Dineshdai’s work. I was taken through his journey by seeing fragments of his work throughout the village (the shallow wells, meeting the villagers he had worked with through the years, etc.).
We all view the world differently and from this perspective, we decide how we want to position ourselves to make it a better place. Dineshdai opened my eyes and showed me another side of service. Each day, I am reminded of what he repeatedly told me: They can break my house, they can break my office, but they will never break my work.
He is a man who has worked towards something that so many people have tried to stop. He continues and has continued for 25 years towards his passion, towards his truth.