The Founding Story of Sangsangai
The story of Sangsangai started in 1995 in a village in Lamjung, where 19-year-old Natasha Wozniak met Bibek Pandit, age 4. Natasha was a study abroad student, and Bibek was visiting his grandparents for the major Nepali holiday called Dashain. Even though Bibek only remembered Natasha through photos and the stories his family told, he connected with her many years later via the internet and they became reacquainted as adults.
On the day of the 2015 earthquake, they connected and starting with $100 send by Western Union, the idea to rebuild in Nepal gradually formed. That is the spark behind what we now know as Sangsangai.
Pictures of Natasha's first visit to Bibek's Lamjung in 1995. Bibek is in yellow in the pictures on the right and left.
I was at a hostel in India when first I received news about the earthquake-- 7.8 magnitude, near where my parents lived. As the days wore on, the death toll kept on rising.
I decided I had to take action.
Together with Natasha, we started funding. We brought in basic relief supplies to the hard hitting areas of Lamjung and Gorkha. Everywhere we went, people kept on asking for more-- more food, more tents. And then people began to ask us: would we be able to help rebuild their villages?
Initially, I was worried. I had never built a village before, but the idea struck a chord. When I returned home from delivering supplies, I would dream of rebuilding homes for people. I made plans to collect more funds. I looked up the cost of building homes. I wrote my friends from morning to midnight. Natasha agreed to be part of my mission. We got to work.
Every day I am motivated to work on our project. The organization we started has made a real impact on people’s lives. I’m really lucky to work with a group of villagers who are really open-minded, who let me know what their needs were, and the best ways that we could help them.
Our funders have motivated me to continue our project as well. I have no words to express my appreciation. I feel like everyday, we see stories of horror-- the wars, the refugee crises, the loss of lives. Yet every time we receive donations, I see the beautiful parts of humanity as well. I believe people truly want to help, that our donors share my passion of helping others in need.
My connection with Nepal began when I was 19 when I spent a year studying there in college. I was truly moved by the kindness of the people, their love, and their hospitality.
Although it took me 16 years to return, this doesn’t at all reflect the importance that Nepal has had in my life. The thought of returning has always been on my mind, but for many years, I was occupied with learning how to get my jewelry business off the ground. I had a long held dream of creating an artistic exchange with the artisans I know in the Kathmandu valley and artisans here in the US. Once the earthquake happened, however, the call became immediate, and the focus became offering my assistance in any way possible.
When I imagined going back to Nepal, I felt that there will be tears, but also plenty of laughter, and that was true. Even in difficult times, the spirit of joy among the Nepali people cannot be buried. I went knocking on doors in Kathmandu looking for support for our work, and I’ve climbed up and down the mountain paths in flip flops, meeting the villagers. My intention was to pick up where I left off, reconnecting with the place that has been deep in my heart for the last 22 years.
Many ask me why I have sacrificed so much for Nepal. In the lessons that Nepali have people have taught me and the way they have shaped me as a person, I continue to receive far more from Nepal than I give.