Perspectives from Ghyangfedi
There are times when Domonique Rivas feels her daughter doesn’t know just how lucky she is. Five-year-old Solaé has lots of toys, is driven to school every day and has a family that loves her.
“Kids in Bermuda are spoilt,” she said. “We have everything we need. We are able to educate our children and are able to work and make decent wages. We are able to get the things we need.”
It’s one of the reasons she signed up to go to Nepal, a country where 25 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line.
She wasn’t able to take Solaé with her but she called regularly and sent photos, particularly of the children she met.
“Solaé said, ‘Wow, Mummy, these children look just like me,’” Ms Rivas said.
The lawyer was offered the trip through Aspen Bermuda Limited. A handful of employees from the company’s regional offices are selected each year to go to Uganda or Nepal where Adara, a charity founded here in 1998, runs schools, clinics and outreach programmes to help the poor.
“Aspen has been a partner of Adara for the last ten years,” Ms Rivas said. “They want us to witness first-hand what Adara is doing.”
The idea is to get Aspen staff excited about the work being done and raise funds for it once they return home.
To properly document her experiences, Ms Rivas bought a camera in advance of the trip. She also took along a GoPro given to her by her mother.
“I’d always wanted one but never really needed to have a professional camera before,” the 32-year-old said. “My iPhone takes really good pictures.”
By the time she got to Nepal she was juggling the two devices like a pro. She found she had a knack for photography and has decided to sell the photos in aid of Adara.
“I wanted to really capture the essence of the trip,” she said. “It’s not really temples and stuff like that but our drive from Kathmandu to Ghyangfedi and back, and maybe one or two pictures in Kathmandu. I was trying to capture the essence of the country itself.”
Ms Rivas, the only Bermuda staff member on the trip, was joined by six people from Aspen’s offices around the world.
The group spent two days in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, then travelled six hours west, on a van to the remote village of Ghyangfedi.
While there, they lived with Nepalese families.
“The homestay was very basic,” Ms Rivas said. “The toilets were outside. We had to brush our teeth in the garden. The children didn’t have anything. There were no toys in sight.
“Their central area where they washed their pots and pans was the same place they would bathe. It was definitely an eye opener for all of us, not just myself.”
She also spent a day at Shree Ghyangfedi School. One of the few free schools in the area, it was started by Adara in July 2017 with 35 students. There are now 350.
Students make an effort to attend, some walking four hours uphill, through mud and over rocks. Many side roads haven’t been properly cleared since two earthquakes struck the country in 2015.
“In Bermuda we complain about potholes in Hamilton,” Ms Rivas said. “In Nepal they had potholes as big as our van.”
She recalled talking with a teenager, who told her that if he could visit any country it would be Japan.
“He said they experience earthquakes as well, but their death rate is way less than Nepal,” she said.
“He wanted to go there to learn how they built earthquake-proof buildings so he could come back to his country and share that knowledge with them. I thought that was an amazing answer.”
She took a photo of the boy holding the Bermuda flag.
“We were told to ask permission to take photos of people there,” she said. “Some people didn’t like it, but most of the children loved having their photo taken.”
Ms Rivas recalled seeing a group of children blow air into a plastic bag, tie it up and kick it around like a football.
“They were perfectly happy just being together,” she said.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of the trip for her was learning how extreme poverty causes many families to sell their daughters into prostitution.
“Some of these girls are not much older than Solaé,” she said. “That was unreal. We don’t know that life in Bermuda, but that is in the forefront of their minds every day. Ghyangfedi is the epicentre of girl trafficking.
“Apparently, since the school opened the rate of girl trafficking in Ghyangfedi has really dropped, I don’t know by how much though.”
On another occasion the Aspen group walked four hours — from Ghyangfedi to the next village — across mountainous terrain.
“I’ll tell you I was tired when we arrived,” Ms Rivas said. “The children walked four hours from their village to ours, walked with us to their village, walked back with us at the end of the day, then walked back to their village again. They must have done 12 hours of walking. And there was no complaining, just smiles all around.”
Overall, Ms Rivas said she was humbled by the experience.
“Coming back through the airport it was stressful, but I said, okay, just go with the flow. This is nothing. ‘Hey, you need to search me? No problem!’”
• Domonique Rivas will sell her photographs of Nepal to raise money for the charity Adara on November 30 at Touché Boutique on Reid Street. To RSVP, call 295-4585
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