Hands on and Hands Down the Best Chicken Curry
An article by Aliki Whitfield.
In a tightly packed suburb of Banepa Nepal, the construction of a new purpose built Christian school was on the go. One morning, the hefty property gate rolled open for a rattlely old truck to crawl in and unload a mountain of heavy besser bricks. But they were not on a palate with a forklift at the ready. This wasn’t Australia I remembered. Out of the cab jumped two small Nepali women who started unloading the bricks by hand, one at a time. I jumped into the scene to help, but started to fade less than halfway through the load. These waif like women on the other hand, were in it for the long haul and returned later in the day with yet another truck full!
The entire worksite was literally ‘hands on’. The Nepali labourers had dug the footings and trenches by hand, bent the Rio frames by hand, mixed the cement by hand and did the formwork also by ... you get the picture. As a volunteer labourer for TtN Australia, we pitched in wherever we could, coming alongside our Nepali counterparts - all for the love of those who would attend that school.
They are children, mostly girls at risk of human trafficking in the outlying villages where they lived with their families. In between days on the construction site, we visited them in the nearby TtN hostel where life is now safe and Jesus is at the centre of their hope. They sang us songs of faith and proudly presented their bible memory verses before we joined them for dinner. I had seen photographs of several girls, before they moved to the hostel. They were dressed in dusty rags and lived in the despair of a low caste village. They helped their parents earn a few cents, breaking rocks by hand, which is used for road base. There was no light in their eyes. So, the contrast before me in the dining room was wondrous and undeniably the handiwork of heaven’s love and many faithful servants.
The other memory I have of that dining room is the superb Nepali Chicken Curry and Dal Bhat. Nepali food is gloriously savoury and fragrant. And their hospitality is rich in honour.
Through Christian education these children will enter new cultural territory. Why? It’s because low caste people in Nepal are not seen as having any value. No value to educate or possess opportunity beyond their caste status. This is the cultural mindset that allows thousands to be trafficked across nearby borders. So the children that I met are not only being saved ‘from something’, but being educated into a future full of promise. Much to my delight, the approved principal of this school has come from a similar background as the children she will be guiding. (How good is irony?) She is a beautiful woman of God who has walked in their shoes, blossomed in a TtN hostel and educated to University level through TtN sponsors in Australia. Isn’t it a glorious case of the first shall be last and the last shall be first?
This is how nations are transformed.
So how did I end up in Nepal wrapped in dust, iron filings and paint by day; and the hugs of thankful little hearts at night? Well, I heard their story through Geoff and Gloria Parry. Based in S.E. Queensland, they travel Australia as voices for the voiceless; the story tellers of an ugly reality but also of rescue, rehabilitation and hope. In 2019 I went to Nepal with the Parry’s on an Awareness Tour to see and experience firsthand both the source of the problem (at the villages) and the multi-pronged approach to address human trafficking.
It was humbling to walk into a low caste ‘Badi’ village and greet the people and children. They are living not simply in abject poverty, but with a culturally engrained belief that they are ‘under the soles of everyone’s feet.’ The stench, lack of dignified living and desperation was great, but the way they smiled and received us into their reality was greater. They touched my heart as those ‘living at the ends of the earth’, the ends of themselves.
The Awareness Tour highlighted for me a sense of global community as I met the local ministries who partner with TtN towards the same goals. These included: border crossing interceptions, pastors, recovery hostels for rescued women, training/vocational facilities and schools. At every level it was deeply impacting. I was able to share a message of hope (with the aid of a translator) to a small group of newly rescued women. They were clearly broken in spirit and it is impossible to comprehend their pain, and yet the meeting ended with us (the women from Australia) holding them gently in our arms. Yes, there were many tears.
The provision of education and training play key roles in releasing those affected into a future of hope. The Bamboo Cafe at Dhulikhel is a prime example of this. It’s a TtN training facility (and working cafe) for baking, barristering and food service. It’s where we ate most of our delicious meals and tanked up on smooth Nepali coffee!
In the same building is a training beauty and hairdressing salon. I remember watching Gloria have her eyebrows ‘threaded’ by a nervous trainee, but I think Gloria was more nervous.
Those two weeks late in 2019 were challenging and richly fulfilling. Going back this March (2023), to help build a TtN Christian school was an easy decision and I also volunteered the services of my lovely chippy husband! We got dirty and enjoyed every minute of giving our hands in service to others.
Isaiah 35 talks about strengthening the feeble hands of those who have lost hope; and the hands of the oppressed in Nepal are certainly tired and hopeless. This scripture encourages us to strengthen tired hands by telling them this good news: That God is able and willing to turn His hand to the desert and seemingly impossible, to make hope blossom. That His divine plan is to save, rescue and redeem the hopeless and the oppressed.
My experiences in Nepal are of these promises being fulfilled. I can see in those children and women everlasting joy to crown their heads and gladness overtaking them (verse 10). Sorrow and sighing is fleeing away and the name of Jesus is becoming a stream to the thirsty (verse 7).
What are we in the west turning our hands to in partnership with our visionary and gracious God?
Above: Aliki helping to unload one of many truck loads of blocks.
Above are images from site as described by Aliki, hand dug holes, lots of back filling - by hand, her husband priming roof trusses that were fabricated on site. Aliki and Gloria also priming.
A Nepali village child and a shot of how the river rock is broken down in a Badi village.
The Bamboo Cafe is the place for a meal and an amazing coffee.
Meet Aliki, author, artist, communicator and singer. Oh, and an amazing team member on not one but two trips to Nepal now!