06 Jun Reflections of a Wandering Samaritan
It’s an interesting juxtaposition going from New York to India to Nepal and back again in 5 weeks. I don’t know what I was expecting really, but I got so many things I didn’t even know to look for that as I transition back to my New York reality, details of my experience keep seeping in as my body physically rejects the diametrically opposite nature of New York City to the upper Himalayas.
After working from my Brooklyn home office for the last five months and talking endlessly in humanitarian theory and white boarding logistics, it was really great to get out in the field and test the concept…great, and absolutely terrifying!!
I’ve told everyone I knew about this new venture, solicited donations from friends, family, and coworkers, and hit the road to countless messages saying “Can’t wait to see what you come up with!!” and “Make it great so the company survives!!” What originated months ago as a “not-so-casual” hiking trip with friends to the Everest region, became the inaugural pilot trip for the organization. I had five days in India and a week in Kathmandu to find out if it would all work, or I would come home empty handed and demoralized. Thirty five hours later I was walking through a park in 99 degree weather in Bangalore wondering what I had gotten myself into.
Fast forwarding a bit (since this isn’t a dramatic work), The Wandering Samaritan does work. And it works really well! That said, I learned some important lessons about what it is that we are creating here. And in the continual process of refining our philosophy and approach to humanitarianism, I wanted to share some thoughts here.
The good news is there are so many opportunities to help, and there are virtually endless combinations of ways to make an impact. Whether working through existing infrastructure and local NGOs or truly wandering in the community, whether multi-day endeavors or on the spot miracles, whether working with kids or elders or families, travelers can create humanitarian experiences that resonate with them and are inspired by who they are and what they encounter. People around the world from all walks of life resonated with our mission – whether on the ground or at 18K feet in the air, people got the message.
In two short weeks I was able to to put together projects in multiple communities with relative ease. I was profoundly touched by the insatiable laughter of children in underfunded schools in India, the tenderness and trust of orphaned children in Nepal in the face of abandonment, the willingness of a family to welcome a stranger (me) into their home without doubt or fear in rural Bhaktapur coupled with the way they rallied around a sick elder in the home, and how people in the Himalayas endure insanely challenging and life threatening work to send money home to their loved ones, despite a daily wage equivalent to the cost of coffee with a friend in New York.
A major learning for me was that you just can’t rush a GOOD thing. Within hours of landing in India, I hit the streets “looking” for something to “do.” What I learned was that that felt inherently inauthentic. I didn’t want a fixed plan, and the trade off is a bit of time to let things happen organically. It’s critical that our miracles have the feeling of a genuine exchange, a true sharing between people. I don’t want to create a one sided relationship, where one is simply gifting to another and then vanishing. There’s a kind of magic in the unlikely pairings that occur through travel. Something special in the way differences melt away when we come together for a shared moment rooted in good.
The Wandering Samaritan sets the stage for experiences to happen, and then our travelers can direct the experience based on who and what they encounter. Our miracles are not acts done to another but rather a natural progression of a genuine interaction between people who might not ordinarily cross paths. And of course, after days of shedding my New York instinct to “make it happen now,” the most pure example of the process did indeed present itself, organically and almost by design, when I gave up on seeking it out and had nothing with me save for a bottle of water and my imagination (stay tuned for more details on these Miracles).
Truly, I started this organization with the intention of “helping those in need.” What I’m coming to learn as I get deeper into it is that our “Wandering Samaritans” have as much – if not more – to gain than those whom we help, albeit in different ways. It’s about people, sharing, and joy. It feels like we’re putting some of the human experience back into humanitarianism and it’s complementary, not competitive, with today’s approach. One that can operate within the current model. One that doesn’t require hiring scientists and engineers to make a difference. One where we can all participate in the solution.
Through this process, I’ve begun filling holes in my own life, gained insight into questions that I’ve been exploring for years, and deeply enriched my own experiences in travels. In fact, I can’t imagine why I didn’t travel this way every single time before. So for those wondering why they should donate their time, energy, and money during their hard earned vacations, you don’t even have to look beyond yourself for reasons. And of course, bettering the global community at large is all the more exciting! So as I ponder life’s questions and get back to my whiteboards, figuring out how to get hundreds of thousands of people out there, doing millions of good deeds all over the world, I finally start to sip on my own kool-aid with a mini sigh of relief, knowing that we can absolutely do this. Together.