The plight of the people of Nepal in the aftermath of a major earthquake this spring has mobilized the local community, thanks in part to several good-will ambassadors who live in this area. Some 75 Woodbridge residents, braving their own challenges with Mother Nature that evening, unrolled their yoga mats in the Center gym on June 23 and participated in a benefit yoga class, proceeds of which were donated to the Jeremy Saxe Foundation.
Daisies from Troop 60164 and Cub Scouts of Troop 902 of Orange also contributed to the fund raiser with a bake sale. The event followed an earlier fundraising effort at Mary L Tracy School in Orange, where the Saxe Family lives, and a Student Council fundraiser at Beecher Road School.
Nepal was hit by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake on April 25, a natural disaster which caused thousands of deaths and left many houses in shambles. “My relatives are okay,” said Orange resident Sunita Dhungana, who grew up in Nepal, and attended the yoga event. “But my parents are still living in a tent.” Her parents live in Katmandu, the capital, and their house sustained cracks in the earthquake, she said. However, since the initial quake, the area has experienced more than 3,000 aftershocks, some of which caused more destruction than the original blow, and has left people hesitant to re-enter their homes.
By now the rainy season has started, and tent-living has become a real challenge, Dhugana said. She is planning to visit her folks this fall.
Lea Silvert, an Amity graduate who is a student at the University of Toronto, was moved by the destruction she saw in the news. “Lea said we MUST do something,” said her mother, Andrea Weinstein. Together with Lea’s brother Eli, they came up with the idea of a yoga benefit. Woodbridge Rec yoga teacher Bill Banick agreed to donate his time to the cause. Unfortunately, the event had to be moved to the Center Building gym due to the intense rain that evening.
“We can put hope into action” (Lea Silvert)
Lea Silvert said they researched aide organizations, when they came across the Jeremy Saxe Foundation, which many local families are already familiar with. Founded after the untimely death of Amity graduate Jeremy Saxe, the foundation works to further educational options in Nepal, a relatively small, poor and very mountainous country wedged between India and Tibet/China. Jeremy had spent a transforming semester abroad in Nepal, where he “fell in love with the spirituality of the culture, and the warmth and generosity of the Nepali people,” his mother said. When he died of an undiagnosed heart condition in September 2008, his parents, Heidi and Tracy Saxe, continued the legacy of channeling all donations directly to Nepal. They have built a daycare center, named after Heidi’s late mother, Clara Sokoloff. The next goal is to extend the center to a full-fledged K-thorugh-12 school. But then the earthquake presented a setback.
That’s why the foundation has set up a separate disaster relief fund, to which the Beecher Road School Student Council donated $400. Heidi Saxe thanked the students for their work. She said the village where the foundation is planning to build a school is 90% destroyed. She asked the students whether they’d like their donation to go toward food, school supplies or to rebuild a home. Student Council members — consisting of fifth and sixth graders — voted to split the donation between food and rebuilding a home.
It is this closeness to the recipient that drew Lea and her family to donate to the Saxe Foundation. “We often get lost in our individual problems,” she said. “I encourage people to see the bigger picture. We can put hope into action.”
Following a Nepalese tradition, Heidi Saxe draped long shawls called “khatas” around Andrea and Lea to recognize their “acts of kindness, inspiration and light”. Following the yoga, Heidi, Tracy, Andrea and Lea lit little “butter lamps,” symbolizing light and wisdom, and turned to those around them until everyone had a burning candle.
Gaurishwor Sharma, the president of the Society of Nepalese in America, thanked the group for their support. “Your support will give us more life and courage to survive,” he said.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent