About 2 years ago, I woke up suddenly one morning…I had this idea, as clear as the bright blue sky, in my mind. What if we were to do a workshop for photographers that not only provided classes in business and beautiful shoots, but also encouraged photographers to use their businesses to make a difference in the world? Perhaps they could use their businesses to change lives for the better…perhaps they could even see their own lives changed for the better. And what if we hosted the workshop in Nepal?
Nepal is one of those places very few know about. If you are a fan of climbing mighty peaks, then perhaps you know that Mt. Everest is located in this tiny country. But more often than not, when I mention Nepal to any given Westerner, they usually respond with, “Now Nepal is close to…..” That’s it. They don’t know where it’s close to. They are often embarrassed that they don’t even have a clue of it’s proximity to any place on the map.
But once you’ve been to Nepal…Once you’ve breathed in the cool mountain air, and caught a glimpse of the highest peak in the world, and sipped a cup of milk tea with a local…you are forever changed. You no longer wonder where it sits on that spinning globe. It is forever sealed on your heart, and you cannot forget what your heart and mind soaked in while you were there.
Twelve years ago, I had this experience. For four months I lived in Kathmandu as I volunteered with an organization that works in some of the poorest areas of the world. Along with my two roommates, we lived life as close as we could to the Nepalis. We lived in a very Nepali neighborhood. We bought our groceries at the corner store, which was more like a room that opened to the street, with a few stands that held different spices, rice, and vegetables. We walked to town daily, played with kids in the streets, and arrived back to our apartment at the end of the day, feet covered in dust, and hearts full from the day’s activities and experiences. Eventually I became very good friends with a Nepali family. It was this lovely couple, with their 5 small children, that captured my heart, and forever sealed my love for this country. I was at their house almost daily, where I would sometimes help tutor one of their daughters, but more often than not, I simply would sit for hours upon end, talking with the husband about life and love and faith. His wife and I became like sisters. She spoke no English, and yet somehow, our hearts grew close to one another, and we understood our connection without even having to speak. Many days I would sit and eat dinner with them, drink many milk teas, and sit contently as the wife braided my hair. I was in love with this family that gave love and life freely, without expecting anything in return. They had so very little, but offered all they had. They are still some of my dearest friends, and having two long visits over the past year, our bond is stronger than ever.
At first, right after the idea of the Beyond Workshop was born, I was so excited. I started sharing my idea with my friends and some fellow photographers. I was met mostly with positive feedback, and I thought, “Maybe I should try and make this happen.” So I started to make plans. I made a last minute trip to Nepal to scout for the workshop. My friend, Amanda (one of my team members and roommates while I lived in Nepal) joined me, and we made our way to far-away Nepal. We spent all of our 10 days there with our dear Nepali family, and we scouted and dreamed about what the workshop would look like, and where it would take place.
When I returned home to the States, I started setting things in motion with my husband (the other half of Nina & Wes Photography). Together we started to gather a team of creatives to make this dream a reality. And once things started to become real, I started to become terrified. What if this workshop was an utter failure? What if I put myself out there, and nobody signed up? What if my name wasn’t big enough to draw people in? What if I didn’t have “important” people on my team? What if I was a failure?
Thank God I have people in my life that encourage me and tell me to stop being afraid. My dear friend, Rylee, also a fellow photographer, constantly reminded me that this workshop didn’t belong to me…that it wasn’t about me. I truly believed this workshop was a God-given idea, so this workshop belonged to God. I didn’t need anything but His blessing and a courageous spirit to make this workshop happen. Once I let go of all my fears, and truly realized that this workshop wasn’t about me, an insane amount of peace and calm came over me, and I moved forward. And the inaugural Beyond Workshop did, in fact, come to life.
Ten amazing individuals, along with four vendors/staff, Wes and myself, and our dear friend, Gautam, who was our guide and translator, all convened in the tiny, yet wonderful country of Nepal. We spent six amazing days together. The first half was spent in Nagarkot. Nagarkot is a tiny town not far from Kathmandu. It’s views are more than majestic. You can see the Himalayan mountains from the hotel, and if you study the range enough, you can even pick out Mt. Everest from the range. Watching our attendees take in the sunrise over the Himalayas for the first time, was so precious to me. Hardly anyone spoke a word. There are no words when watching something so incredibly beautiful unfold before you…something so much bigger than yourself. It’s awe-inspiring, and overwhelming. And it breaths life into your soul. And for three days we ate together, and took photos together, learned from one another, and laughed together. The Beyond Workshop also makes a point to talk about honesty and integrity in business. We’ve been surprised at how often this is not made a priority in business, and sometimes dishonesty is even encouraged, and we want to see that change in our industry. We truly believe that placing these values and people as our top priorities, we will see a fundamental shift in the way wedding industry vendors do business and work together.
The peacefulness of Nagarkot brought rest and refreshing to our souls. It was hard to leave, but the next three days were waiting for us in Kathmandu, where the attendees got the opportunity to volunteer with different organizations that work with the poor and marginalized in the city. It was a special time for all of us, and even though Nagarkot was picturesque and we got to shoot beautiful details and models, it was the second half of the workshop that truly spoke to everyone. Every single one of us felt the effect of time spent with the Nepali people.
In order to truly understand the life and breath of a country, you need to get to know its people. Once you are in Nepal, it is likely that at some point, you will be invited into someone’s home for tea, even if they don’t know you. This is what the people of Nepal are like. They are kind and warm. Their smiles are big and they give out of the little that they have, and they open their hearts and homes to you with the great amount of hospitality that they possess. You will also see things that will challenge your heart and thinking in many ways. You will see poverty at a degree that is most likely greater than anything you have ever witnessed before. You will see mother and child sleeping in the street, because they have no home. You will see piles of trash sitting right next to fruit and vegetable stands because trash receptacles are few and far between. You will see starving stray dogs fighting each other for scraps of meat, and you will see children begging for food. Most or all of these things will cause your heart to hurt, and you will ache to give a home and a meal to every child, mother and animal that you see. These are painful things, but they are not what define Nepal.
Nepal is defined by it’s beauty and the warmth of its people, and that is what you should walk away with when you leave this very special place. On April 25th, 2015 a magnitude 7.8 earthquake rattled the very bones of Nepal. The rest of the world took notice, as the number of lives lost rose day by day. Over 8,800 people lost their lives, and thousands more were injured and left without homes. Nepal was no longer a question mark on a map.
We ache for our brothers and sisters in Nepal, but our Nepali family has reminded us that the Nepali people are resilient, and they will rise out of the rubble that has been left in the wake of this natural disaster. They say that they are praying for hope and joy to be found in the midst of great tragedy and great fear. And little by little, Nepal has found its footing again. There is a long road of healing and restoration ahead, but that strength and warmth that so well defines the Nepali spirit, is paving the way. This country will rise again, and perhaps, if you are brave enough and have a sense of adventure, you will find your way to its borders, and see for yourself the wonder and beauty that is Nepal.
There are still seats available for the 2016 Beyond Workshop in Nepal, which takes place March 10th-22nd. None of the vendors that partake in this workshop take any pay, and 100% of the profits go back to the people of Nepal. Last year we were able to give $8,000 back to charities in Nepal. You can find more info at www.thebeyondworkshop.com This workshop will be a little longer than the last one, and we will spend more time focusing on volunteer work and street photography, and discussing how we can use our businesses to make a positive lasting impact on our hearts and the world. It’s going to be life changing!