It began in 2014 when Bojana Novakovic meet the Seven Summits Women Team to plan a trek, where she formed a bond with Maya Gurung and Shailee Basnet. Following the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal in 2015, the three women decided to devote their time and effort to rebuilding the infrastructure of Maya’s home village of Bhotenamlang in Sindhupalchok. Through ‘The B Project’ and an exhibition titled ‘White Girl in Nepal’, they aimed to raise fund to help the village thrive. Sharon Carvalho speaks to the woman behind the camera about her journey
How did the idea for this project come about?
It began 1994 when Maya Gurung was 14 years old and living in Bhotenamlang. Maya was supposed to be married, but on the eve of her wedding, she ran away from home. Two days later, police returned her to her family, but her father had disowned her and the rest of the village was told not to associate with her. Defying the odds, Maya became the first woman in her village to finish school and get an education. She moved to Kathmandu, managed a café and by 2008, she had found a passion for sports. She was a four-time national bowling champion. She then joined a group of Nepali women who made history by being the first female team to summit Mount Everest. They went on to become the first female team to summit the tallest mountain on every continent. What they achieved was thought impossible, and it changed lives and altered the way their communities thought about women. In May 2015, after the devastating earthquakes hit Nepal, Maya decided to return to her village and help them recover after the devastating destruction.
The project came about because Sindhupalchok had the greatest death toll after the earthquake. In Maya’s village, there was literally not a house standing. It was also the worst effected area for trafficking. Keeping children in school was the most effective way to ensure an end to this. Educating women in remote areas, as well as empowering them by creating choice, was the way to keep them safe and on track.
That was why Maya and Shailee, the coordinator of the team, and myself created The B Project. We teamed up with Real Medicine Foundation to rebuild, re-staff and rehabilitate eight schools in Maya’s home village of Bhotenamlang in the district of Sindhupalchok.
Maya defied the odds and customs of her upbringing in an effort to attain education, gender equality and freedom from child slavery. Now she has chosen to return to her community and help them rebuild and grow. We need to ensure that every child has the opportunity to be educated so that trafficking and child labour are no longer a reality. Children should be educated, not exploited.
As an actor, was it easy to transition from being on the screen to the person behind the camera?
I’ve been taking photographs for as long as I have been acting. My parents bought me a film camera for my 12th birthday and I was in the dark room at high school every day, developing pictures of friends or of myself under different lights. However, my mother didn’t like it. She told me photography was for people who couldn’t paint. Even though she regretted this a few years later, her words stuck and I never pursued it as a serious profession. However, my passion for taking photographs grew over time. I have never exhibited anything before this because I didn’t want anyone to scrutinize my work. This exhibit is different because it’s not about me. It’s about the work we are doing in Nepal and so it takes the pressure off me. It does not serve my ego and it becomes about something much bigger than myself.
What are you hoping to achieve with the project?
Our vision is to work with the community to facilitate growth of world-class education and slowly alter the lifestyle in these at-risk communities. The rebuilding efforts include:
• Creating proper administration and teacher support.
• Bringing running water and sanitary toilets.
• Education on trafficking prevention for children and adults.
• A feeding program to provide thousands of children with a nutritious daily meal in poverty stricken areas where this might be the only meal they get.
• Counseling initiatives for special needs and children with disabilities.
• Community initiatives, adult education and tailoring classes for women.
• The rebuilding of the only health post in the area.
Ultimately, we want to get the village on its feet and then leave. This is a long-term project to create education
and independence in an isolated area of Nepal.
What have you learned about yourself while working on the project?
1. I hate the cold. I always knew that, but it is 100% confirmed.
2. I love living with no electricity, no hot water and no Internet.
3. I can be much more patient than I thought.
4. I want a lot of children.
5. I am bossy, but it doesn’t always work.
6. The size of your ego needs to be directly disproportionate to the size of your vision. If you have a big vision, then you can only afford to have a tiny ego. If your vision, however, is small, then sure, your ego can be huge.
7. I like old village people and cannot wait to be one of them.
What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
This is an ongoing aspect of the project. From landslides, to monsoon, to bureaucratic red tape, to administrative upheavals, these challenges are never ending and we overcome them by walking through them and keeping our eye on the bigger picture of why we are here.
How have you used your position to further the cause?
I have done what I can from Los Angeles to raise the funds we need. Organizing fundraisers, exhibitions and raising awareness have been a powerful part of the project. One hundred percent of sales of my photographs go to The B Project in Nepal. I have also worked to build awareness and encourage friends to come to Nepal on holiday to boost tourism in these isolated areas.
Apart from this project, what else are you working on?
I’m doing a pilot right now for CBS. I’ve got a couple of projects in development, which I am writing. I am also learning to ride a motorbike so that next time I go to Nepal, I can ride all the way to Bhotenamlang.
Photography by- Kiren Photography