SYLVIA NEUPANE: 12 WOMEN (January 2018)
I was born in Poland. My first memory from childhood is holding the world atlas in my hands at age 4 and looking at the white region of the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau. I made my first journey there at the age of 19. “It changed everything for me - how viewed myself and what I wanted to do in life. Soon after, I was studying Buddhism and living in a monastery in the outskirts of Kathmandu. I started photographing then, too. Very quickly I understood that photography is a powerful medium for change.
I started photographing women and telling their stories through my lens. I felt that by sharing their stories, I could transform myself and others to become more aware and mindful of the decisions that we make in our daily lives, which affect Mother Earth. The stories of these women inspired me and made me feel more interconnected. I hope they do the same for you. These are the stories of twelve women I've met and know in the Manaslu Himalayan region of Nepal. Located north of Kathmandu by the border with Tibet, it is a non-tourist area. There is no infrastructure, no paved roads (paths), no electricity, no running water at home, schools are not an obligation and often we face far distances to reach medical or health posts. There are few or no post offices.
Nepal has 123 different ethnic groups and 92 different spoken languages, but Nepalese is a national language. Most of the country practices Hinduism and also Buddhism. The Manaslu region is known for its wilderness, beauty, mountains, traditions and many Shamanic practices. It is a restricted zone for tourists and one must obtain a permit to visit. People in the area live in small houses that are made by them from stones, mud, and trees from the forest. Water needs to be brought from the water resources that come from the Himalayan Mountains. Usually every village has one source, but sometimes you have to walk to another village to bring water. Sometimes the water resources evaporate or provide less water in the winter season.
In 2003, when I visited the region for the first time, I remember one specific encounter during my stay that began to shift my perspective. Early in the morning I went to the local spring in the village and l took out my shampoo, conditioner, soap, face-washing soap, and toothpaste. Soon, I saw many women coming and looking at my accessories. I didn't understand at first what they were all laughing and talking about. They had never seen such excess.
On April 25, 2015, while my family and I were living in Nepal, a terrible earthquake with a magnitude of 8.1 struck with the country. The earthquake killed nearly 9,000 people, injured 22,000, and left nearly 4 million people homeless. Entire villages completely vanished. The earthquake also caused many avalanches and landslides. Centuries-old buildings were destroyed at UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including some temples that were thousands of years old. Aftershocks continued, occurring throughout the country at intervals of 15–20 minutes (I noted them in my diary).
Soon after the earthquake, Nepal was in desperate need of drinking water, sanitation and protection from disease outbreak. Many countries responded quickly to Nepal's plea for help and aid was brought into the country. But there was so much to do. We collected funds among our friends abroad and were able to help 11 villages in the Manaslu Region, bringing each house the food necessary for survival (rice, lentils, tea, sugar, cooking oil, flour) for a month post-earthquake. We also were able to build 11 temporary shelters for the poorest families we met, as well as assist in the rebuilding of a school and one water resource. We became homeless ourselves after the earthquake and lived in a tent for two months. We were two families living together, with four small children and a 92-year-old grandfather (a total of 18 people). Access to water was very limited. Eventually, we were very fortunate to have enough resources to leave, and we have been living in Montclair since that time.
I believe that we all are interconnected. We have a responsibility for each other. What happens on one side of the planet has an effect on the other side of the planet. For me it's about finding the courage to do something, to help in any way that I can. In Nepal, people don't call each other by names. Out of respect for the other person and a deep understanding our interconnectedness, we call each other “brother” or “sister”. Even if you meet someone for the very first time, you call them “sister” (or “mother” or “grandmother” if the person is much older than you. Therefore you will notice most of the women are referred to here as Didi meaning “older sister” or Abboy, meaning “grandmother.”
For more information about our work and photographs of the area affected by the earthquake, go to www.hotelwnepalu.blogspot.com.
All images are framed and available for purchase at $48 (not including shipping, if applicable). Please click on an image to view in larger format.