Natasha Wozniak: Rebuilding An Entire Village

“It all started with $100, Western Union, and some text messages. Now I find myself co-leading an effort to rebuild an entire village in Nepal – one of the first permanent rebuilding projects in the country since the major earthquake of April, 2015.

My connection to the country goes back to the 90’s, when I lived there as a student and then as a Fulbright scholar, living and working with Nepali families. On the morning that I woke to discover that the earthquake had happened, my heart dropped. I immediately began trying to contact the people I knew but, with communications down in Nepal, the only person I reached that day was someone from my family in a district called Lamjung. His name was Bibek Kumar Pandit and, at the time, he was in India – also trying to reach people in Nepal. I asked him where I should send money and, when he mentioned that he was going to deliver relief supplies himself, I decided to send him donations directly.

What began as a modest effort to deliver things, such as tarps and medicines, turned into an audacious and life-changing plan on May 7th when he was in the village of Rainaskot, a mountaintop village in Lamjung. The villagers were distressed about their damaged homes, and asked him for help in rebuilding them. I had been up all night scanning for news about the earthquake, so saw his texts at nearly 3AM New York time explaining the situation – along with some thoughts he’d had about how it could be done. We didn’t stop to draw up a plan, or to think about what it would take to get it done, we just began the conversation and committed to the task. We quickly put together a proposal, found a team of engineers, planned fundraisers, and announced our intentions to the world.

At the time, I was fully focused on my handmade jewelry business. But I was seeking something in my life that would lead me to more interpersonal connection, partnership, and teamwork. A year and a half later, and after innumerable challenges, we are now two-thirds of the way through the project. As a first-time fundraiser, I have managed to raise over $105,000 and there are now families actually living in the homes that we built for them. There have been so many times when it felt like we might not be able to continue our efforts but, at the last minute, situations have resolved themselves and we’ve found ourselves back on track. Every time a villager tears down the shelter they’re using, our commitment grows. We simply cannot leave them to fend for themselves.

After this village is complete, we’ve already selected two more villages to rebuild. Meanwhile, the paperwork for my non-profit filing is almost complete and, while I still make jewelry as my primary income source, I plan to shift to rebuilding Nepal as my primary focus, as I continue to support the country’s economic development.

The growth that I’ve experienced in the last year has been glorious and difficult and unexpected all at once. But the greatest adventure began when I unfolded the wings I’d always had and decided to fly.”

Natasha Wozniak, Founder of Sangsangai US/ Fund for Lamjung

(New York, USA)

 

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