It takes courage to help others

Rinpoche wrote this piece for the Huffington Post, where he is chronicling the relief efforts in Nepal. Please visit that site to read the original. 


Sometimes it seems like when you are trying to do the most good, you face the most difficulties.

One of the monks of the Trungram Monastery brings aid to a Nepalese woman.

One of the monks of the Trungram Monastery brings aid to a Nepalese woman.

Last Friday, Nepal had a third earthquake. This one registered 5.7 magnitude. After the first 7.8 mw earthquake, our volunteers, including monks and nuns from my monastery just outside Kathmandu, visited remote villages, bringing medical aid, food and comfort to the newly homeless. They were preparing to go out again when the second big earthquake came. It destroyed many more roads and houses; it also triggered avalanches that wiped Langtang Village off the face of the earth. That scared a lot of volunteers and aid workers, for good reason, and slowed down their efforts. Now the third earthquake has made matters even worse. It renewed fears of real danger. And it has made transportation even harder. Think of the rugged topography and the complete lack of road system; delivering supplies to the more remote (and ignored) areas requires porting everything on your back. People find these natural obstacles discouraging.

Entire Nepalese villages are in ruins

Entire Nepalese villages are in ruins

We are also facing practical human obstacles. We put a lot of effort into giving aid directly to the people who need it. We look at maps to see where the major relief organizations are working, and go to the smaller, more remote locations that they miss. But sometimes we need help in order to give help. And sometimes the people who help us might ask a favor in return. If we ignore them, not only will they not help us, they can become an obstacle. Yet, if we give in to their request, it can skew our entire purpose.

In fact, many people who have just been saved from the disaster are already thinking about it as a great business opportunity. There is nothing wrong with making money, but for me it is hard to imagine shifting from a mindset of helping disaster victims to a mindset of profiting from the situation. I wish more people were thinking about the relief of others. I wish they would stay focused on the goal.

Finally, we face the issue of attention. The world we live in has a short attention span. Even though Nepal has suffered such great loss and devastation, there are other things happening in the news. Media attention shifts quickly. People move on. It seems like a lot of people have to die to get the attention of the world. That’s heartbreaking. They need people to speak for them; otherwise it is very easy to be neglected by international communities—and therefore also by local governments.

With all these obstacles, sometimes even the volunteers get discouraged. They say “Let’s just give things to some local organization or contact person, and let them handle it.” But if we do that, then we don’t know how much aid actually gets to the people who need help the most.

I understand this is not an easy job. It requires courage, persistence and stubbornness—in a good way. The kind of stubbornness that keeps you from getting discouraged. You also have to be flexible, to adapt your plans as the situation changes. This balance is critical—and you can’t maintain it without courage. Above all, you need compassion. It is not a question of east or west. You can be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or a non-believer—it doesn’t matter. We should know that humanity is beyond religion and without political borders; it is the place where everyone meets.