HANDS stands for Humanitarian Acts in Nepal Developing Schools
It began after I spent four months in Nepal volunteering. I was 20 and had taken time off from school to work, save money, and do some volunteer traveling. Nepal was quickly isolated as my choice place to go to, the Hindu and Buddhist cultures attracted me a lot as well as the exotic and very different way of life that I knew I would find. It took a while to adjust to the culture, but after about two months I really got into it and knew it was a place I would be returning to. The people I met while I was there were such a huge influence on me. I ended up living with a Tibetan family and learning to paint a traditional style of Tibetan painting called Thangka from the father. I became obsessed with Tibetan Buddhism, culture, language, everything and wanted to be with them as much as possible. I also had many Nepali friends and was always throwing around ideas to do something more with my volunteering.
When I went home I enrolled in Naropa University which was co-founded by a famous Tibetan teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and offered a class in Thangka painting which I was able to skip the pre-reqs and get right into. A year passed and I was doing everything I could to make another trip back to Nepal. This time my mom and I went to India first, explored around there for the first time, then went to Nepal and began to discuss more seriously with some friends the possibilities of doing a project.
To sum things up, after that second trip we came home and with my parents support I was able to file the papers for a 501(c)(3) and make definite plans to start an NGO with the goal of building a school in a village we had visited, and with land that was being given to us by our friends who were originally from that village. When we had visited we were shown the existing elementary school and realized that there was a true need to re-build. It was very small and the walls were crumbling, the furniture was all broken.
The third year I took a semester off and after lots of tedious planning and arrangements I went over alone to oversee the building of the school. It was a total learning experience for me. At Naropa University I had entered the Peace Studies program which is focused around international aid work so for me it felt like I was taking my education out of the classroom and seeing it work for me, and then vice versa I would return to school with this experiential first hand training and see how the text book theories related to it. It was really fun to do this. At the end of that third trip the school was basically up and running.
Our fourth year we had something to show for ourselves, we being the board of directors that we now had. The NGO was actually becoming real and we had some experience to go from. For the first time people we didn’t know were e-mailing and wanting to donate. One of these people turned out to be interested in us for a different reason. She started by asking what my story was, etc. Then she wanted to give a generous donation of $200 and asked how it would be used. We bombarded her with thanks and lengthy e-mails about how we operate. She wrote back a few months later saying she wanted to fund the building of a school by giving us $7,000. She had a Nepali friend and wanted us to build a school for him in his village. The Nepali man knew of us because his village was close to where we had worked. So that is how the second school came about. It was so rewarding to act as the go-between, to be given the money to go do something like that.