Volunteering with the Himalayan Naari

This is a guest blog post written by Amanda Novotney, a HEF (Himalayan Education Foundation) volunteer who spent a year after college graduation working in the Himalayas with Naari, a women’s self-help group made up of knitters and weavers. Amanda kindly provided the photos that illustrate this post. I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and, as of June 2016, am a graduate of the University of Washington. After four years of mostly theoretical studies, I was more than ready to receive some hands-on experience. I wanted to spend the year following graduation working for an NGO to have some real “in-field” experience. When HEF’s previous volunteer reached out to me about Naari, I was immediately intrigued. Both she and I are UW alumni, and we share a great passion for global health and international development. Naari woman with tape measureThe project’s long-term commitment to the women in the village of Chaukori inspired me greatly, and I was desperately excited to participate in the artisans’ empowerment. Before our arrival in India, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I surely did not envision falling as much in love with the community as I did. It wasn’t long before I began to realize the true variety of personalities within Himalayan Naari and to learn just how incredible each individual woman is. Packing an orderThe people we had the pleasure to work with created an atmosphere of openheartedness and warmth, giving us the support we needed to help Naari continue to grow. Danielle (the other volunteer) and I slowly connected with the various components of the Chaukori community, but we shared the strongest bond with the artisan women. The workweeks in rural, northern India included some pretty intense rollercoaster rides. My emotions ran rampant, constantly swinging from frustration to inspiration, and yet one constant remained true; Danielle and I both looked forward to our Sunday meetings with the women of Naari. No amount of Internet troubles, massive spiders, homesickness, or monsoon leeches seemed to dampen our moods when we met late on Sunday afternoons. Naari plus American volunteersOur departure from India came sooner than expected, and it broke my heart to say such premature goodbyes. During our time in India, we had the honor of watching the women artisans grow more confident and seeing the influence of Himalayan Naari expand. The leaders we worked with and trained eventually took over most of our roles as volunteers, the quality of the knitted products improved tremendously, and we finally saw the women coming together as a community of artisans supporting each other in every aspect of life. These incredibly clever, inspiring women taught me to practice patience no matter the situation, find joy even in the smallest of things, and to always have courage. The people of Chaukori will forever remain in my heart, and I will remain thankful to have worked alongside the women of Naari. Click here to read more about the Himalayan Naari on the HEF (Himalayan Education Foundation) website.