Friday, May 1, 2015


Sangita is one of the original Shree Mangal Dvip After School Artists. She was about thirteen when we first met, intensely staring at me with huge eyes from the back corner of a tiny, dark classroom. You could have heard a pin drop in the silence of the room, though it was full of kids. Over the years, she has grown out of her shyness into a bold, intelligent, and confident young woman with a fantastic sense of humour. I would never describe her as quiet now— hers is a voice that is always heard, a voice of support and kindness, a voice that stands up for the people who need it most.

Sketch of Boudhanath Stupa, by Sangita

When Sangita completed her 10th and final year at SMD, she was awarded a full scholarship to complete high school at International School of Asia, Karuizawa (ISAK), in Japan. I was so proud, so impressed with the little girl with the ponytail, who became my model of perseverance. Being a person who needs to get things done, she and the other Nepali students at ISAK, Karma and Himanshu, banded together and began a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the rural areas of Nepal devastated by the earthquake. With the students and staff of ISAK rallying behind them, and the help of Sherab Dolma Sherpa in Canada, these clever and compassionate students have created ISAK's ProjectNEPAL, where you can easily donate money to help. Please visit ISAK's ProjectNepal's GoFundMe page for more information.

an update, and a way to help

The week has been frustrating, with dropped calls and connections so bad that Tsewang's voice was chopped into nonsensical sounds. Nevertheless, we have managed to talk nearly every day since the earthquake, and this is what I know:

The 240 kids and staff at Shree Mangal Dvip School (SMD) are safe, though still sleeping outside under tarps. They have food and water so far, and they have opened the school grounds to others for shelter. Many of the children's villages are gone, and some still do not know if their families are alive and safe. Tsewang's family is safe, though their homes are gone. Most of his village in Nubri, which is in the hardest-hit district of Ghorka, has been destroyed. Like many of the remote villages in Nepal devastated by the earthquake, they are in desperate need of water, food, and shelter. I cannot imagine the stress and fear that the kids must be feeling— not knowing the status of their loved ones back home, and not knowing how to help them. The news from Nepal is that the government is not sending villages any help and support, and that most of the aid is being focused on the Kathmandu area. Survivors are essentially starving on the hillsides and mountains.

As for my dear artists, the original group whom I've been teaching for the past five years, news has been trickling in. Most are safe, though emotionally exhausted and fearful of more aftershocks. They are doing their best to support the littler ones, and to help out in any capacity they can (you can see Kiran, Tsewang, Nyima, and Tsering D. above). As several of the original group graduated (SMD only goes up to 10th grade), many of them are no longer at school. One of my boys, Tsering L., was hospitalised after a wall fell on him, and no one seems to know exactly where he is or how badly he is injured. No one has any news from Phurbu N., or the two Pembas. Last I knew, they were in their villages.

I have had a difficult time sleeping and focusing, not knowing if they are safe, not knowing if the families of all the kids are safe, and knowing that they are afraid. I do not know yet how to get help to the villages, but I do know how to help the school.

The Himalayan Children's Fund (HCF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit based in the United States, dedicated to supporting SMD, along with the Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and abbey founded by Thrangu Rinpoche. I fully trust HCF, as I have donated funds through them in the past, and know that they money does indeed reach the school. I also sponsor one of SMD's fine young artists through HCF.

One of the easiest ways to donate is through Network For Good. Follow this link to the HCF page:

To support Shree Mangal Dvip School, please type "Earthquake relief for SMD" in the designation box when you are making your donation. Your donation however, can be designated or undesignated— if it is undesignated, the money will be distributed where it is needed between SMD, SMD's clinic, the monasteries, and the abbey. For more information, please read the latest HCF newsletter.

I thank you for all the kind words of support that I have received, and hope that you will keep my dear ones and the people of Nepal in your hearts and thoughts.

All photos are from Shirley Blair and Tsering D.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


I am left without words, with a terrible pain in my chest. Yesterday morning as I was walking through Taksim Square, I saw a plane with its right engine on fire streak across the sky, a ring of debris floating to the ground. I was filled with dread, and thought of the terror the passengers and crew must be feeling, and spent the day hoping for their safety. When I returned home, I learned that TK1878 had landed safely, no one was injured, and I breathed.

Then I heard about Nepal.

As I clicked through news story after news story, and the emails in my inbox— panic. I tried calling my loved ones in Kathmandu, and the phone just kept ringing. I couldn't breathe.

Finally, I got a hold of Tsewang, one of my students. He assured me that everyone was safe, though his home in his village had collapsed. His aunties in Swayambhunath are safe. It was the middle of the night for him, so I told him to try and get some rest, and that Pedro and I love him.

Today I managed to contact Tsewang again, who told me that he was trying to help manage the situation. Everyone slept outside, they had some tents. Everyone was still safe. Many villages were destroyed. He then passed me to Shirley, the director of Shree Mangal Dvip. The school was substantially damaged; it is now unusable, and they are in desperate need of water. There was another aftershock that registered 6.7.

As soon as I can find a way to help them, I will let you know. Until then, please keep my kids and the people of Nepal in your hearts and thoughts.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

from under the prayer flags

wind and wings

indigo thread

I have watched Tsewang grow from a quiet boy who liked to draw, into a confident, skilled artist. He is a member of the original group I started teaching five years ago, a person Pedro and I are lucky to have in our lives, so we were honoured when Tsewang invited us to his auntie's house for tea.

She was an impressive woman with eyes that carried strength, and beautifully wrinkled hands that deftly flicked prayer beads in a never-ending cycle, mantras escaping with each movement of her lips. She welcomed us into the living room, motioning to vividly patterned cushions for us to sit upon. While we were treated to endless cups of delicious butter tea and homemade khapse, a rhythmic clacking made its way from the courtyard into the pale blue room.

One of her sisters was weaving cloth on a handmade loom that was bought all the way from their village in the mountains.

As she smoothly slid the shuttle of indigo thread back and forth, I wondered about all the series of events that had to take place in order to bring each of us here to this courtyard, and how this moment would pass so quickly and insignificantly in the grand scheme of things, yet become a treasure of mine to revisit in memory.

Monday, March 16, 2015

now, sit real still

I was sketching the gate at Shechen Monastery while Pedro was chasing warblers in the nearby trees, when a group of young monks heaving cases of soda paused to watch me draw. Most peeked, smiled bashfully, and carried on with lugging the soda, but I was eventually left with two boys who decided to sit with me.

After some silence and more smiles, the boys began to whisper at each other fiercely. Suddenly, one of them cheekily blurted out: "He wants you to draw him!"

This earned him a little punch in the arm from his blushing friend. I abandoned my lousy sketch for a fresh white page, selected a suitable pencil and told the blusher to sit real still. His name was Jamyang Tashi, and he was from Mustang.

Jamyang sat with such dignity for a young lad, though there was mischief in his sideways glance as he peered at the lines that were adding up to become his face. An older monk passed by and gave his approval— a grin, and a "same same". The boys were pleased with this, and Jamyang lit up when I showed him his finished portrait. I told him I would photocopy the drawing and bring it back to him, but I wasn't sure if he fully understood what I meant. The next day I returned with the copy and tracked him down to the classrooms at the back of the monastery. He appeared in the window of a very dark room— I could barely see him, except for a set of gleaming white teeth behind the window grate. I passed him the photocopy, which he received with both hands, thanked me, and skipped off.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

a wall in thamel

the moments that change your life

It was in this dark little room that my life changed, five years ago. I remember that first art class as though it were yesterday— the room full of shy kids eager to draw, who scarcely uttered a word for the first few days. We had copier paper and pencils, the erasers were cut into four pieces so everyone could have their own, and we drew whatever was around— ink bottles, keys, each other.

It's funny how you never know what moment will change your life until time has settled in. I never knew that the kids in front of me would become so dear to me that they would be my family, and that I would return to Nepal year after year.

Our group grew larger, and we moved to the cafeteria balcony. Some students got scholarships to study abroad, some returned to their villages to do service, some went to college, and some got jobs. Pedro and I got married. It's amazing, all the things that can happen in five years.

It's amazing how kids turn into young adults when you're not looking!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

those familiar eyes

fly away

And so I bring this blog closer to the present day, to the last week of February to be exact, when I flew away to a place that is dear to my heart.

end fgm

"The END FGM Mural is dedicated to Aissato Djalo and to all women, especially to those survivors of Female Genital Mutilation. An APF project- Associaçao para o Planeamento da Família (Family Planning Association) with the support of the city hall of Lisbon and GAU (Urban Art Gallery)."

This beautiful work of art was painted by Fidel Évora and Tamara Alves in association with APF, to help raise awareness in protest of Female Genital Mutilation. I caught it in passing while Pedro and I were walking through Largo Intendente in Lisbon, and feel that my photos do not do it justice. Stick2Target, a website dedicated to documenting urban art in Portugal, has much better images of the mural here.