We’ve been working with Kids of Kathmandu since 2015, around the time the devastating earthquake struck Nepal. They’ve since rebuilt 9 of the 50 proposed schools in the most affected areas, all outfitted with a Luci light for every student. We sat down with Co-founder Andrew Raible for a candid conversation about everything from travel advice to the latest progress to yes, cows. They come up surprisingly often.
Do you have any pro tips for navigating the Kathmandu airport?
Yeah. Sit at the front of the plane, have your Visa ready, have American dollars (20 to 40 is fine), get downstairs and get a car as fast as you can, because there are a limited amount. Odds are you’re gonna be confronted by someone at some point, and it’s such a different and chaotic experience than you might be used to. PLAN PLAN PLAN. You can’t improvise here.
Tell us about your latest trip!
My main guy (Bhushan Dahal) who has been with us for seven years got married, and I love him, we’re very close. It was an arranged marriage. His family had given him a choice of three to five women and he met them on social media and narrowed it down. Being there for the wedding and having a role in it as sort of an uncle type, it was the first time I felt really part of the culture as opposed to an observer, and it was fascinating. At the same time, we had a new school starting in September that we were finalizing plans for (another group - Acts of Kindness Collective) so it was a particularly wonderful trip.
Any kind of music you always listen to when traveling?
(Laughs) There is a class of individuals, mostly men who have made a great deal of money and travel the world now doing varying degrees of good. It seems like at Burning Man and similar festivals where they meet every year and go to lectures together, they ALL listen to techno house. I gotta tell you, I started listening too, though on my own, more techno house than I ever have before. Alex Cruz and that genre.
What’s one thing you absolutely always travel with?
Spare batteries of all kinds for things like your smartphone and my Luci light, because you never quite know when you’ll need it. There are so many power outages in Nepal, and they can last for stretches of 18 hours or more. You learn to charge when you can.
What’s it like to divide your time between NY and Nepal?
Originally it was a bit trying, but then as personal circumstances changed it became good that I had that outlet. Now that I’m engaged and about to have a child, being away has become harder. The days and hours are also longer and harder over there, since I have to pack so much in during a relatively short period of time. I anticipate things will change again when we have the child too.
What do you miss most when you’re in Kathmandu?
Clean air, honestly.
What does a typical day look like working in Nepal?
It can go one of two ways. Option one is meetings in the office all day. Option 2 is more complicated, it entails getting up super early, getting in a landrover for 4 or 5 hours on ungodly roads up to a site to meet up with contractors, teachers and kids, and then trying to get off the mountain before it gets too dark. Those are hard days, I can do two, but not three in a row. The roads are nothing like here.
What’s the oddest problem you’ve had to solve in Kathmandu?
Having to stop from almost hitting a cow on my scooter in the middle of the street! But that’s not an ongoing problem. There’s the occasional theft, but really…it all does come back to cows.
In the years since you’ve been doing KoK, what’s changed in Nepal?
Nepal is changing drastically. It was already changing, but post-2015 there have been a lot of institutional changes (both good and bad), and a lot of it has to do with the billions of dollars that came in. In the eight years we’ve been there, all the kids are now on Facebook, and they all want computers above anything else in their schools. That makes sense, a 21st century school needs computers. It can help farmers know what the commodity prices are and cut out the middleman. You can teach kids basic spreadsheet skills, etc. For some reason, people (mostly foreigners with good intentions) want to keep these communities as museums, but it’s also 2017 in Nepal right now. We’re all modern people and we want the same things.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give people who want to get involved in giving back?
Here’s the thing about volunteer tourism - you have to be careful about acting too self-righteous. Just having good intentions doesn’t automatically mean you’re always in the right. Just doing the numbers, let’s say it’s a $1,500 airfare, and a minimum $2,200 overall cost for you to come over to help build. We could build a whole classroom with that. I could hire a skilled laborer who could then support his family with the money earned and help build the school with the same amount. So there’s a part of it you have to acknowledge, and that’s that you’re in part being selfish. To some degree we all are, and we all make mistakes, it’s just important that you work at them towards karma neutral. I don’t want to kill enthusiasm, but being held accountable matters. By me saying that, I’m being self-righteous too. There’s really no way around it, that’s the constant battle.