Nepal Will Rise Again: Photo Fundraiser to Support Quake Recovery
Just after the magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal on April 25, Susal Stebbins Collins found a small sign reading "Vegetable Stand - Jyamire, Nepal" in the earth at the edge of her garden in Dummerston. "It was a label from one of my Nepal photo exhibits, years ago -- I have no idea how it got there," she explains. But it was the beginning of her decision to launch Nepal Will Rise Again, a photo fundraising project to support earthquake recovery in the land she still calls her heart's home.
As the aftershocks continued and heartbreaking details about the devastation of the earthquakes poured in day after day -- 8,500 people dead, 200,000 injured, 80% of Kathmandu homes uninhabitable, many sacred and world heritage sites damaged, 8.1 million people affected -- the steps for action came together. Susal's Nepali friends shared information about local organizations doing effective earthquake work, getting into remote areas and meeting people's needs: for tents, medical help, water, food, preventing landslides and building collapse, etc. Susal organized her exhibit photos and photo cards, and arranged to set up a table at SIT Graduate Institute, where she works as Adjunct Instructor, to exchange photos for donations. "In the past, the point of doing exhibits in the U.S. was to show the beauty and truth of Nepal beyond the headlines about the civil war; now people need to be aware and connect to the magnificence of this place to inspire hope and support." When her SIT colleague Steve Iams, a former Nepal Peace Corps worker, learned of the project, he contributed additional photos by professional photographer Tommy Schultz. This first venture raised $600 in a few hours.
Now Nepal Will Rise Agai comes to Gallery Walk and the Strolling of the Heifers Street Fair -- at a table in front of The River Garden. The connection between Nepal and Strolling of the Heifers is unexpected, but natural. As Susal notes, "Cows are sacred in Nepal, so they always roam the streets -- and they are garlanded for many festivals." This sacred and affectionate relationship between cows and humans in Nepal is depicted in several photos in the collection. Overall, the photos in Nepal Will Rise Again show many aspects of ordinary and sacred life in Nepal in the three regions of the country: the Himalayas, the middle hills (where Kathmandu is), and the jungle plain of the Terai. Most of the sites of the photos have been damaged in the earthquakes and continue to be under threat from aftershocks, landslides, and floods in the monsoon, which begins this month.
Susal studied photography with eminent Nepali photographer Mani Lama while she lived in Kathmandu from 2001 to 2003, when photography was blossoming as an art form in Nepal. "Photography was really new to most people, so it was very fresh; there were always photographers and other artists hanging out in Mani's studio, sharing their work or just having a cup of chiya (Nepali chai)." Susal's first photo exhibit, a requirement for her studies at the University of Wisconsin, was held in Kathmandu in January 2002. The title of the exhibit was "Life of Boudha Stupa," reflecting the sacred practices and everyday life on and around this 2,500-year-old Buddhist pilgrimage and trading site. (Several photos in Nepal Will Rise Again, including "Dance of Gold," were in that show.)
Susal remembers, "I was astonished at the response. Neighborhood residents, journalists, and other Nepali people told me, 'No one has ever done anything like this before' and 'Thank you for showing me my country.' They found meaning and poetry in the photos beyond what I had seen. I had been kind of mesmerized by working with these large-format images myself, but then I realized they really meant something to other people. I felt I had to continue sharing these photos."
And continue she did. Susal has held over a dozen exhibits of her photos of Nepal and Tibet in Kathmandu, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Brattleboro -- at Gallery Walk in 2011. In addition, some of her photos have been published in ECS Magazine (the expatriate magazine of Nepal, where she worked as columnist and editor), Science Digest, and Cultural Survival Quarterly.
There have been some remarkable connections made through these photos, not only to aspects of Nepal but also between the people who see them. Susal gives an example: "When I wanted to thank my friend Chris for the help he had given me with my exhibits, I asked him which photo he wanted. He told me to pick one for him. I chose 'Mountain Light' -- somehow it fit him. When his girlfriend saw the photo in his apartment, she felt drawn to it. They talked about what they each felt about the photo and opened up further to each other than they ever had. Chris says that opening led to their engagement."
The majority of Susal's photos were printed from 35mm film negatives produced by her Minolta and Nikon cameras. A number of these prints were made in Kathmandu. Susal moved to digital photography after leaving Nepal in 2004, and used that medium on subsequent trips, the last in December 2010, when she worked for the South Asia CONTACT -- Conflict Transformation Across Cultures -- program.
Suggested minimum donations for the Nepal Will Rise Again prints range from $2 for a single photo card to $55 for a 12x18 matted photograph.
One hundred percent of the project's proceeds are going to local organizations in Nepal doing effective earthquake relief. These include the Gorkha Foundation, based in the district which was the epicenter of the earthquake, and Karuna Shechen, based in Boudhanath and directed by Matthieu Ricard. Karuna Shechen is mentioned in a feature article about "scientist, monk, best-selling author" Matthieu Ricard in the current (marked July) issue of Shambala Sun Magazine. A complete list of supported organizations will be at each Nepal Will Rise Again event.
Since the need in Nepal is enormous (relief and rebuilding are estimated to cost over $10 billion and will continue for years), Susal is continuing the Nepal Will Rise Again project at various venues. Photo cards are available at Everyone's Books (25 Elliot Street, Brattleboro), and the full project will be in front of Zephyr Designs (129 Main Street) for the July Gallery Walk. "I hope to return to Nepal when I find the right role to assist with earthquake recovery," says Susal. "Flights are so expensive that I want to make sure it is the best use of funds."
For further information on the Nepal Will Rise Again project, please contact Susal Stebbins Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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