Tragedy at the Top of the World

Nepali Artisans’ Lives Crumble

My son Owen and I have been involved in Nepal and with Lhakpa Sherpa since the late 1990s. Our partnership began with two papermakers and four weavers. By 2010, Everest Art Paper had over one thousand cottage industry artisans and 200 full-time employees in five workshops in and around Kathmandu. Eleven languages are spoken at the factory, including sign language. We have a half a dozen high-end interior design product brands that purchase and globally market handmade wall coverings and “interlayers” for architectural laminates. Our business leapt beyond just the making of stuff and applied its resources to organic farming, tourism, vocational training, educational and cultural programs and micro-community development. Indeed, Nepal has become our second home.

Ten days ago I was in Scotland giving a talk at the New Lanark World Heritage site about our textile and philanthropic work in Nepal. Audience enthusiasm for our mission and for the beautiful things we produce was high. The talk ran late, people fell in love with the whole concept of mixing business, philanthropy and adventure in exotic places through cutting edge design, and were bowled over by the physical beauty of our Shangri-La in the Himalayas as well as the creativity and energy of the talented people we work with. The following morning, Saturday, April 25th, New Lanark Director, Lorna Davidson, approached me looking white as a ghost. She took me gently by the arm and said, “I’m so sorry. I suppose you’ve heard.” I immediately got one of those spine-tingling chills and a flash that perhaps one of my adult children had been in a fatal car accident. It was only a split second, but I knew something terrible had happened. “Nepal has just had a 7.8 earthquake. It’s very bad.”

The beautiful spell of the night before had just been broken. Then the news started coming in: houses destroyed, people injured, whole villages wiped away. I was miraculously able to reach Lhakpa via SKYPE, even though he was standing outside his house in the cold rain describing the many aftershocks as we spoke. We still do not have word from many in our artisan network. Gratefully, our core staff is safe though all their homes have sustained damage. The weavers and spinners in Bhaktapur, Khokana, Patan, Kopasi and Bungamati were not so lucky. They are facing destruction on a colossal scale. Working with our buyers, a network of friends, supporters, and two volunteer structural engineers from UC Berkeley, we have mounted an appeal to assist artisans in rebuilding their homes and lives.

Unfortunately, this is not my first encounter with artisans and earthquakes. In 1990, my weaving studio in Baguio, Philippines was shut down by an 8.6 earthquake. In 2010, the HandEye Fund, whose Grants Committee I chair, stepped in to help artisans in Haiti rebuild their homes and workshops. The difference between being able to respond to an earthquake in the Philippines in 1990 and to one in Nepal in 2015 is that we have the amazing ability, thanks to networking and the power of the Internet, to find out needs quickly and to activate support immediately. Please visit Vital Edge Aid (http://www.vitaledgeaid.org/) to donate.

For any questions concerning Vital Edge Aid, please contact Docey at doceyDLD@aol.com.

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