In celebration of Adara’s 25th anniversary, our Founder and Chair, Audette Exel, has returned to Humla to where our story began all those years ago. As she treks throughout Humla, she is sharing her reflections – this time about the power of leadership.
By Audette Exel, Founder and Chair
Like the Pied Piper, everywhere we go we attract a small coterie of new friends – young and old – who rarely see people from countries far away. Some stop to have a chat, and some are too shy to talk. They just quietly connect and join us for a while.
At every turn, our incredible Nepal Country Director, Pralhad Dhakal, sees this as an opportunity.
“Say no to early marriage,” I hear him saying to a group of young girls standing nearby. “You are clever. I have two daughters and a son in the United States now. They are highly educated and working as a political scientist, an applied computer scientist and a medical technician. You can do it too!”
He pulls out his phone to show them his children’s photos. They are agog at these Nepali people who look just like them – yet who have achieved the seemingly unachievable.
A little boy and his friend come to see our group as we hike the trails. “Chocolate?” They ask with a sweet smile. Pralhad stops, a proud Nepali man, who knows too well what poverty and dependency can do to self-respect and drive. “Dont ask for something when you see someone!” he intones – stern for a moment. “Ask how you can help them! Ask the foreigner ‘Do you need water?’”
I wander past a school room full of kids in classes 9 and 10. I hear his voice.
“Think outside of the box!” The children are transfixed. This senior Nepali man who stands before them tells them that anything is possible in their lives. They are not just citizens of this remote hamlet, so far from a road, they are citizens of the world!
“Study hard! Everything is possible!” This is a revolutionary message – delivered with kindness, with respect, and with the certainty that makes you believe.
A small, cheeky youngster appears at our temporary kitchen door. In her hands is a cabbage, larger than her head. She tagged along with Pralhad as he went to inspect a couple of greenhouses – not suspecting she might get a lesson in growing food and the benefits of green vegetables as part of the deal.
Yesterday, we had a day of celebration to mark 25 years of partnership with the peoples of Chauganfaya. We lit butter lamps. There was dancing. There was singing. And from Pralhad, in his respectful speech to all gathered, there were a few quick takeaways: girls matter as much as boys, every woman deserves a safe place to give birth, and early marriage is not OK. Finished off with a joke that cracks the entire place up.
In my life both in business and in the not-for-profit world, I have watched and learnt from many leaders. I cannot think of one that sees immediate and constant opportunity to make change the way Pralhad does. And who gives such important messages with such passion, such knowledge and such humour.
On this journey back in time – retracing steps taken when Adara began – I am filled with many conflicting emotions and much self-reflection. Today I realise I am also still learning about leadership.
I am reminded of Mother Theresa’s message: “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” Pralhad is teaching us all to do that – and if you throw in a bit of information about the importance of child protection, education, equality or greenhouses, you hit the jackpot.