Director and founding member Julien Bettler reflects on his ten years with Norlha

3797377275_59d9ae427a_mI first discovered the Himalayas as a student and I have to confess the attraction was instantaneous. I grew up reading Jonathan, Barjavel and also Hesse, among other works inspired by the culture and people living on the rooftop of the world. The joy of these people, who have barely enough to live on – yet who remain dignified, sincere and generous – always inspired immense respect in me.

I was lucky to be in at the start of an amazing project: which saw a fledgling organization develop into the solid body that Norlha has become today with ten projects ongoing in three countries and as many projects successfully completed.

Now, a decade later, the success of Norlha’s work, built consistently on the principle of sustainable development, can be examined with the benefit of hindsight. Has the organisation provided its beneficiaries with the means to help themselves?

In Sershul district in Tibet, China, rubbish collection groups born of our 2009 project continue to work with no outside help. A beautiful, natural landscape, once strewn with rubbish, has been transformed into a clean and healthy environment that the local population is proud to maintain alone. It has taken on a dynamic of its own and proved its sustainability.

More recently, after two earthquakes in Nepal, villagers in Dhading and Rasuwa have mobilised themselves when no aid could reach them. During the monsoon seeds, critical for a farmers’ daily survival, were shielded from the heavy rains by the greenhouses Norlha built. Furthermore, it was intensely satisfying to discover that many families had successfully planted and harvested amidst the rubble of their communities, even providing neighbours with food. These are the kind of things that inspire hope in adversity. We saw the benefits of years of carefully prepared work.

We may be ready to offer a helping hand but these communities are not dependent on us; our initiatives are born from their determination. The most meaningful successes are those that bring about the independence of the villagers who take part, who become masters of their own destiny.

A real impact, that grows like a snowball. The authorities in Dhading and Rasuwa districts gave fresh impetus to Norlha’s efforts when they decided to invest in our projects during the last two years. It is very rewarding too, that our presence and unwavering determination can provide fresh hope to people who may feel forgotten and inspire them to believe in the future of their region.

But how can we not feel moved by the enormous gap between our overabundant society and the life of simple agricultural communities lacking the barest necessities?

I think it is a sense of social justice that has been the driving force behind my involvement this past decade.

My wife’s Tibetan roots provide my children and myself with a strong personal tie with the region. I want them to be proud of these two sides of their cultural inheritance. The Himalayas offers an enormous cultural wealth.

The birth of my children made me even more aware of the difficulties born by families who live several days away from a hospital; of fathers who have to raise their children alone because of an appalling lack of basic medical facilities; or mothers who work in the fields until the moment they give birth, often alone, and return home cradling a baby in their arms with another small child on their back.

Our actions will continue to be shaped by the impact we have on the lives of these communities … our commitment is enduring and we are looking forward to the next ten years!

Julien Bettler