This is a love story, a story some of you have heard in parts, but like all true love stories, it just keeps growing.
For Valentine’s Day, I am making a song list of favorite love songs for Mike’s iPod, (top among them: “Love Is In The Air”, haven’t heard it in a long time? Give a click, it will remind you of love in the 70’s!). As I listen to One Love, also a 70’s song written by Bob Marley, I’m reminded of where that song led me a few years ago. What brought the song front and center to my attention was the awarding winning documentary: “Playing For Change: Peace Through Music”. We have the DVD and every time I watch it, One Love makes my spirits soar. A song about unity and love (and anti-oppression), sung by musicians ’round the world, from cultures as diverse as South Africa, Italy, Israel, India, France, and The Congo, magically ‘spliced’ together to become a unified whole of musical talent and upliftment, is a song that instills hope. The tune moves the body, but the voices, deep with feeling, singing in many languages and dialects, stir the heart.
So one day I went to the Playing For Change web site and read the bios on the musicians included in the song. One story was that of William Aura, a white guy from California, who in the video is playing an electric guitar on a roof top in Katmandu, Nepal. What’s with that?, I thought. Turns out Aura, as friends call him, is a jazz musician with a life long love of Himalayan culture (something we share), who, after his own experience sponsoring a Tibetan boy through a sponsorship program, goes to Nepal and meets another young man wanting to bring education to his village. The two hit it off, and Aura starts a sponsorship program to bring education to the remote Nepalese village of Tintale. Tintale takes a bit of trekking to get to, through a raging river, after driving challenging roads to their end.
The day I called Aura he had made that trek from the end of the road quite a few times. He sounded suspicious on the phone – who was I and how did I find out about his program? I had my own hesitations, who was he, and was it a legit sponsorship program? He seemed to be discouraging me “if you want letters from your sponsored child and regular updates, there are bigger programs you can contact.” He kept reiterating he was just ‘one guy’ doing this, I shouldn’t have expectations of a big organization. This from the man who, hand over his heart, beams with love at the end of the One Love video. :o) We are all so complex!
So started my friendship with Aura. Like so many relationships in this computer-age world, we have never met in person, but have exchanged emails, talked a few times, and shared a bit of our personal stories, (including his story of how he came to meet his lovely wife, who is from Thailand – but that’s another love story!).
So where is this love story going? After a few email exchanges about different village girls, (I wanted us to sponsor an older girl, having a passionate rage about sex trafficking, which naïve village girls in Asia countries are very vulnerable to), I asked about a young girl whose serious, but calm, delicate face drew me in. It was the face of a girl who looked like she had already experienced the harder side of life. And that’s how Aspara came into our lives. Mike took one look and was immediately smitten. We’ve since seen Aspara’s lighter side in videos Aura has filmed of village children at play, and have pictures of her beautiful smile. She does remain, in most pictures, on the serious, thoughtful side. Will we ever see her smile in ‘real’ life? Not likely, but we are in love just the same.
It has been just over three years since we began sponsoring. In those years we’ve watched, thanks to Aura’s excellent skills as a photojournalist, as The Aura Import Sponsorship program, with more sponsors and donors, built a school, built toilet facilities for the school, carried desks through the river for the school, carried harmoniums and guitars to the village, (from the Playing For Change Foundation, which supports music programs for dis-advantaged children throughout Asia and Africa), and have watched Aspara grow from a shy girl to a young teen-ager. This month Aura made a rare winter visit to Tintale at the request of two Brazilian film makers wanting to include the story of Tintale’s school in a documentary. On this visit the first computers were taken to Tintale. We’ve also ‘met’, thanks to facebook, the remarkable young Nepalese volunteers who go with Aura on his annual trips to Tintale. They all have busy lives, but are dedicated to the village ‘kids’ and to helping Aura. And they have expressed concern and sent prayers for me during this cancer challenge time.
I am in love with them all – the village, the crew, and of course Aspara. I’ve made her three photo books of life in this far away place called Washington, USA, and Aura has posted videos of this magical paradise in Nepal, where subsistence living can be harsh and on the edge, but also joyous and loving. The videos, which bring both smiles and tears to Mike and I, connect us to a place we will never go, but which feels like part of our ‘home’ on this planet. We’ve watched as Sujan, one of the volunteers, read my books to Aspara. Mostly full of pictures, he translates the English words she will someday be able to read herself. Sujan, who has sent me personal messages through facebook, is kind and patient with the village kids, a ‘big brother’. Did I mention I was in love with him too?
There have always been long-distance friendships forged, many of us had ‘pen-pals’ growing up, or connected with relatives in some other part of the country or world. The visual opportunities of the internet and email add a timeliness and richness to this long practiced human trait of reaching out across the miles. When such connections are made with open hearts, whether via the internet, ‘snail mail’, or dedicated trekkers, there is a mutual exchange of giving and receiving, there is truly hope, there is indeed One Love. (if you have not clicked and listened by now – do so and it will lift your spirits!)
Our little love story is one of millions, people connecting and helping across political and cultural barriers, through sponsorship programs, churches, non-profit organizations. It is, to me, what this thing called love is about – reaching out and touching another person’s life, near or far, making a commitment of support, making a difference. Uh oh! There’s another song: Reach Out And Touch Somebody’s Hand!
♥ Happy Valentine’s Day! ♥
PS If you would like a Nature themed Valentine’s read, check out my post from last Valentine’s Day, Nature’s Heart, about the heart shape in nature.
PPS You can view pictures, videos and learn more about the Aura Sponsorship Program through the facebook page for the program. There are actually more postings on Aura’s facebook page – he is, after all, ‘just one guy’ and sometimes can only keep up one facebook page at a time!
If you have a sponsorship story to tell, please feel free to share it in the comments section. We would all enjoy hearing such stories of love across the miles.