Give Your Used Clothing Directly To Those In Need

 

Separating clothing into equal piles for 17 families. © Liesl Clark

Separating clothing into equal piles for 17 families. © Liesl Clark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giving used clothing away to the poor here in North America is often a strangely disconnected experience. I’ve donated clothes for years to local charities, but it’s always, sadly, an anonymous gift. There’s so much joy in connecting directly with the people who need your clothing! Putting a human face on poverty and need should not be shameful. What’s troubling to me is that most charities in the US act as a buffer between you, your stuff, and the people who could use your stuff. If we could connect with those in need more easily, I believe we’d all give more freely. The more we can put a face on those who are in need, the less taboo the subjects of homelessness and poverty will become. A recent trip to Nepal compounded these revelations for me.

“Divide the clothing into 17 piles.” We had brought 4 duffel bags filled with socks, jackets, pants, hats, all the clothing necessary to keep a family warm. What we didn’t anticipate was that the clothing would have to be divided into 17 equal shares. This village has 17 households. To keep it fair amongst all families in the village, the decision was made that no matter whether a family had children or not, all the clothing would be divided evenly and the families could then trade amongst themselves for clothing based on need.

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We put 17 pairs of pants, shoes, socks, shirts, jackets and hats, even stuffed animals into discreet piles. A lottery was then devised where a name was pulled out of a hat and that family could pick up a pile of clothing. I saw no bartering or trading after each family received its pile, everyone received their share happily and a little shyly.

© Liesl Clark

What amazes me is that the clothing from my family and my daughter’s best friend’s family, plus some shoes from The North Face and socks donated from a shoe store could clothe an entire village, or keep them happy for a few months with some new things to keep family members warm. A few distributed toys, too, brought joy to all ages.

The women of Samdzong enjoying a kaleidoscope. © Liesl Clark

If you have worn clothing, please don’t throw it away. Your clothes could make a mother or child happy, help keep them warm or even provide material for new clothing that they’ll make from your old ones. I’ve seen my old pants cut up and used as patch material for a child’s pants here in Nepal, or a T-shirt worn by a lama as an under-layer of clothing for months.

© Liesl Clark

 

Socks, shoes, shirts, pants: It's all needed in the village of Samdzong. © Liesl Clark

As we walk away from villages here in Nepal, we take what we can from our personal duffel bags and hand them to those who could clearly use a better pair of shoes or a warm jacket. The more contact we have with those who are in need, the more we can help address all of our basic needs and ultimately share resources, re-allocating our excess clothing and food into the hands of the needy — rather than throwing it away.

Even the pencils our children’s school was throwing away made it into the hands of school children today who will use them until the pencils are mere stubs. If this is all that we do: turn people’s thrown away items into gifts for the poor, we will have done a small bit of good for children and families that have so very little here in the high Himalaya.

Are you looking for a way to donate your clothing so you know it gets to those in need? You could give it away in your local Buy Nothing group. Chances are, if you’re observing in your group, when you post your clothes, you’ll find plenty of families that could use a boost of free clothing, rather than having to buy it all new. These are your neighbors and it’s so easy to do person-to-person giving right in your own ‘hood.

 

Random Acts of Reuse In The Kingdom of Mustang

In Upper Mustang, Nepal, there is an ethic of reuse that has changed my ways. Few things are consumed and then simply thrown away, except for candy wrappers, plastic packaging like biscuit wrappers, ramen noodle packets, and plastic bags holding washing powder. These, sadly, are found underfoot in nearly every village.

Plastic Packaging Used for Irrigation:

But most plastics in Mustang are put to use in innovative ways. Take the plastic lining for water diversion in irrigation ditches. Rather than using jute sacks filled with sand, a readily available material is plastic packaging and bags layered with mud, unwanted clothing and textiles to create an impermeable dam for irrigation ditches. The plastics, unfortunately, often break free and are carried downstream into the Kali Gandaki River where all water flows.

Potato Sack Turned Horse Feed-Bucket:

One of the most innovative Mustang-style trash hacks is the method by which local horses are fed their grain. Potato sacks made of woven plastic are sewn into a configuration that fits easily around a horse’s muzzle, with long string handles that hang over the horses’ ears. Corn is measured out and put in the potato-sack-turned-feed-bag, the chaff blown by hand from the corn to prevent the horse from inhaling it in the bag, and the bag is hung from the horse’s ears: a muzzle feeder that’s a brilliant light-weight way to feed one’s horses while traveling. No need for heavy buckets. Whether on-the-go or at home, these muzzle feed bags are the preferred feeding bucket for Mustang equines.

When one becomes worn out and a hole develops, they’re quickly patched up, as this one was mended by a talented tailor friend in the village of Samdzong, utilizing his son’s worn out sweat pants.

I grew up with horses and we went through plenty of buckets, some made of PVC and plastic which when broken became yet another hefty item in the landfill. The potato/rice sacks turned into horse feed bags are one of the best reuses I’ve ever seen in a remote part of the world that could easily be adopted world-wide!

Planted Pots in Buckets, Paint Cans and Tins:

Anything that is a receptacle is used in Mustang until it can no longer hold anything, disintegrated by sun and wind to the point of uselessness. In the topmost photo of planters, below, you’ll see a plastic bucket that developed a crack and was then sewn back together with plastic twine. Potted flowering succulents are such a valuable addition of organic color to a household, taking the time to repair that heavy-duty plastic pot is clearly worth the effort. If we treated our own plastic pots and buckets the same way, there’d be a significant reduction in the production of these plastics in the first place, and a renewed ethic which the Lobas, the people of Upper Mustang, haven’t lost, of repairing everything again and again until its useful life is truly over. Now that’s reuse!

20 DIY Crafts Not Plastic

A Case For Exposing Your Children to Traditional Arts Using Natural Materials. Photo © Liesl Clark

When my children reached elementary school age and we enrolled them in programs that had art classes, we were amazed at how few natural materials were used for art supplies and just how much of it was plastic: glitter glue, colorful plastics for mosaics, acrylic-coated feathers, various items to be “recycled” through art like yogurt cups and plastic straws. The myriad cut-and-paste-style art projects they did were primarily made of art supply store plastics. All too often schools and art classes are cutting corners and can only afford cheaper plastic materials for art supplies.

Hand-crafted tiles or buttons, made by a young Nepali stone-carver. Photo © Liesl Clark

I would’ve preferred sticks, stones, leaves, sea glass, natural feathers and wood over the pre-fabricated plastic materials my son and daughter were exposed to. These plastics were simply mimicking what’s found readily in nature. I also believe the color palette children are exposed to in those early years, through day-glo style plastics, can affect their color choices later in life. Gone might be an appreciation for natural greens, browns, blues and purples found regularly in the environment. We started to opt out of the popular kinder art projects in preference to doing our own art, making an effort to learn from traditional artists who work with stone, wood, glass, wool, and ceramics. These experiences, for our children, were enriching as they learned quickly that they could create things of beauty from resources found in the natural world, as people have done for millennia.

A Young Nepali Artist Carving Prayers Onto a Mani Stone. Photo © Liesl Clark

A coupling of leaves, feathers, and flowers could become a miniature nest or fairy’s bed from a 7-year-old’s imagination.

A Fairy Bed, Made From Leaves, a Pod, Feathers and a Flower. Photo © Liesl Clark

Or a piece of wood might be whittled into a boat, a stone carved into a work of art. Exposing children to traditional folk art from around the world is a great way to teach them how natural materials that are readily available can be turned into works of beauty.

Azurite Is One of The Pigments Used in Traditional Himalayan Art. Photo © Liesl Clark

On a recent trip through South Korea while we were in transit, we took part in a program at the airport in Seoul that teaches traditional art forms. Every time we pass through this airport our children learn a new form of art made from a surprising material. They’ve worked with rice paper to make stone carving prints onto them, they’ve made paper lanterns, they’ve hand painted fans, and they made a tapestry necklace. This time, they learned the Na-Jeon art form, working with mother of pearl-colored shells and shellac from the lac tree.

Learning the Na-Jeon Art Form in Korea. Photo © Liesl Clark

This highly sophisticated ancient Korean craft utilizes iridescent abalone and conch shells in contrast to a lacquered black wood background, creating a sense of balance and harmony in this mariage of opposites.

A Hand Mirror Made in the Korean Na-Jeon Style © Liesl Clark

The children were given hand mirrors to decorate in the Na (which means “pearl”) Jeon (which means “decorate”) style. The focus and concentration the craft required was mesmerizing for us to watch. And the mirrors will be treasured for years to come in our family.

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If you’re looking for some ideas for arts and crafts less plastic, we came up with a list of 20 traditional crafts from natural materials found in and around your home that are easy to try. Copy this list or share the link with your art teacher at school. No need for spending money on cheap plastic art supplies when there are supplies we can contribute from our own homes and backyards: scrap fabric, acorns, sticks, scrap paper, wool sweaters, leaves and sea shells are just a few. Incorporate information about the cultures that started the folk art form you’ll practice so your children appreciate the history behind their craft and how interconnected we all are through our art forms:

1) Doll-Making: Fabric Scrap Dolls have been made for the children of many cultures for centuries.

DIY Tiny Dolls Wear Fabric Scraps in Style

2) Vegetable Stamps: My favorite veggie to use for stamps is okra. But you can also carve stamps from a potato with excellent results. And the celery rose stamp is absolutely beautiful.

3) Fabric Scrap Mosaic: Reusing fabrics is an art unto itself and certainly has been passed down for generations. Try making a pretty mosaic from your leftover scraps.

4) Embroidery: Try your hand at embroidery. You can even embellish a tired old lampshade to create color in a room.

5) Twig Basket: Collect some long green twigs and make a freeform basket out of them.

6) Origami Tea Bag Folding: Learn the traditional art of origami paper folding using the paper the covers tea bags! If families saved up their tea bag covers, a school art program would have plenty of paper to work with and couldn’t complain about budget constraints.

7) Scrap Paper Flowers: Art classes should save all scrap paper to make these beautiful flowers. Or toilet paper rolls are all you need to make these flowers.

 

Toilet Paper Roll Flowers. Photo © Kelly Munson

8) Fallen Leaf Art: There are many beautiful artistic creations you can craft from leaves.

9) Scrap Paper Tree: This pretty craft utilizes tiny pieces of your favorite scrap paper as well as sticks collected from outdoors.

10) Seashell Arts: We’ve made mobiles from sea shells and endless mosaics. These seashell koalas would make any child happy.

11) Tin Topiary: Use pie tins to make these beautiful tin flowers.

12) Knitting: With some saved-up chopsticks, you can teach anyone how to knit.

Knit with Old Chopsticks photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

13) Felting: Learn how to felt your wool sweaters.

14) Rubbings: Make rubbings for things natural or extraordinary.

15) Weaving: DIY weaving is easy and a great craft to do with scrap yarn and fabric strips. You can even make your own loom.

16) Phone Book Paper Painting Meditation: Teach the kids meditation by doing phone book paper art.

17) Sock Crafting: If you’re in need of a stuffed animal, try making one from a sock.

Sock + Rubber Bands + Bits & Bobs = Sock Hippo. Photo © Liesl Clark

18) Hand-Made Valentines: Valentines are an original folk art scrap hack.

Handmade Paper Valentines, An Original Folk Art. Photo © Liesl Clark

19) Stencils: You can make stencils from food boxes and use beets as your ink dye.

20) Driftwood Sculptures: If you collect enough of a variety, driftwood lends itself to creative art from their smooth appealing shapes.

What crafts from materials readily-available can you add? We love to make things from what’s abundant around us!

Secrets of the Sky Tombs

Years ago, my husband, Pete, and I made a promise to ourselves: We’d try to give our children the best real-world alternatives to video games and virtual reality we could find because reality itself is so much more fulfilling. To that end, our children have grown up on the trail. Daily lessons are often as blunt as the hard-won objective of simply reaching the next village without incident.

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Pete with 3-year-old Finn, on the trail up the Kali Ghandaki River to Jomsom. © Liesl Clark

Ancient castles, fortresses, and real-world kings are normal for kids who’ve played amongst crumbling fortress walls that intermingle with cold clouds, echoes of the past tickling us in the driving wind.

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The winter palace in Tsarang, Upper Mustang, crowned by the Annapurnas. © Liesl Clark

If our children stayed at home, those castles and forts would be grand designs crafted from code in video games they play on their devices. Yet today they can work and play amidst the real thing: Tombs of the ancient dead, haul bags filled with faunal and human bones to sort and clean, artifacts hewn from leather, silk, iron, copper, silver, and bronze, some dating as far back as 2800 years.

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10-year-old Cleo bagging two femurs, with Marion Poux overseeing her work. © Liesl Clark

Nothing in those video games can compare. As parents, we make our choices, whether we allow our children glimpses into our professional lives and our special passions. They, in turn, feel empowered to follow their own dreams, ask their own questions, and seek the truth.

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Finn, now 13, connects easily with his friends in Samdzong. He also flies all of our drone aerials. © Liesl Clark

This drive is what makes us human, what pushed the early pioneers to find shelter amongst the world’s most hostile and glorious mountains. These early settlers brought their children with them, because the alternative was unbearable.

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Leaving the kids at home, so we can do our work in the Himalayas, is unthinkable to us. © Pete Athans

On January 4th, 2017, our film, “Secrets of the Sky Tombs,” about our quest to find the first peoples of the Himalaya will air 9pm ET/8 Central on PBS’s NOVA. The film will also be broadcast in the upcoming months on France 5 in France and National Geographic Channel worldwide. It’s been a decade-long endeavor, and we’ll likely continue for another, as unknown caves, more ancient human DNA, and new questions need to be explored.

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Finn & Pete below Tsaile, headed back to Jomson, dreaming up the next filming expedition. © Liesl Clark

But if there are “secrets,” (as the film’s title suggests) to be uncovered, they’re the clues to success of a people who foraged for what they could off the land, who found meaning in the struggle, and who relied on their clan and their fellow villagers for the bare essentials to survive. Community and one’s lineage is the secret to strength in times of hardship, in the face of the extremes.

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Looking down on the village of Samar, Upper Mustang. © Liesl Clark

This lesson is not lost on us today.

In Praise of Dried Grass

Sometimes a thing you need is hiding right there in plain sight. For 8 years we’ve had chickens, 14 girls a-layin’ in a coop my resourceful husband, Pete, made of salvaged materials. For bedding, on the floor of the coop to absorb their droppings, we’ve used pine chips, sold in bales wrapped in plastic. It’s clean and dry and when the bedding becomes soiled with excessive chicken droppings, we shovel it out of the coop, into the compost pile and lay down new chips …  Until we discovered the shredded paper method.

Through our local Buy Nothing group, I now procure shredded paper for use as chicken bedding and it works beautifully in both the coop and the compost, breaking down even faster than the pine chips in the heat of the composter. It’s free, and we make sure we only get shredded paper. No plastic bits please.

The nest boxes require straw for soft egg-laying. Again, for years we’ve used straw sweepings we get for a few dollars at our local feed store. And then I saw what looked like straw laying on the side of our road. Two or 3 times a summer, our island road maintenance crew cuts the tall grass on the roadsides, leaving the “hay” to dry in the sun. It remains there until the next batch of grass is cut and laid on top of it. Last week, we took a basket down the road and filled it with the beautifully dried hay and brought it home for the chickens. Our guinea pig loves the hay, too!  Nothing better than freshly cut and dried nest box material right at the end of the driveway.

My dear friend, Yangin Sherpa, is my inspiration. She spends long summer days in her region of Nepal, Solu Khumbu, hiking up mountainsides in the jungle, searching for tall grasses to cut and then take home to dry in the sun. She later sells the grass to yak and dzopkyo owners for winter feed. She sells 40 kilos of hay (carried on her back) for about $60. Not a bad price for rural Nepal.

For Yangin, seeing the free cut dried grass here by the road, no one collecting it for their animals, is a waste of a great resource. It’s just a few hundred yards off our property, so we’ve collected 2 loads of hay for the coop that should last us through the winter.

We lay it out on our lawn to dry further in the sun and when it’s dry, Yangin separates the hay and knots it into easy-to-grab bundles. We hang it up in our carport in an old hammock (destined for the landfill because it had a hole in it) for easy retrieval.

Yangin knots them into easily transportable bundles. Once again, an age-old technique that has served cultures well for thousands of years, so simple and practical, brings us closer to the rhythms of the natural world around us. Yet we’ve somehow lost this connection and knowledge over the years, no longer utilizing the resources hiding in plain sight.

Low Impact Trekking

By Mr. Everest

A Journey Beneath Dhaulagiri. Photo © Liesl Clark

A Journey Beneath Dhaulagiri. Photo © Liesl Clark

In most parts of the world, the higher we journey, the more rarified the air and pristine the environment. But in Nepal, that truth is changing. Twenty thousand visitors per year travel to the Mount Everest region, and thousands climb the 20,000 foot trekking peaks to catch glimpses of the world’s highest mountains. It’s imperative that we strive to leave as little impact as possible, and take steps to reverse some of the impacts left behind by others.

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This summer, we’ll be on our 13th journey through Nepal with our children, and feel fortunate to be able to share our work in the Himalayas with them, continuing the friendships they’ve established after 12 consecutive years of coming to this rugged country every spring or summer.  Exploring the outdoors brings joy to my 10 and 13 year old daughter and son and is integral to who they are.

Our children go on expeditions with us in Nepal.

Our children go on expeditions with us in Nepal. © Liesl Clark

My wife, Liesl, and I strive to pass on to them the 7 principles of leave no trace, established by the Center for Outdoor Ethics. I’ve added my personal insights and recommendations to the basic principles that you might find useful in planning for your next trip into the wilderness, whether alone or with your family and friends. The less impact we have on the environment, indeed even in our own backyards, the more readily our unique ecosystems and all the flora and fauna therein can thrive.

1) Planning your trip ahead of time and preparing is the first step. Take extra care to gain cultural knowledge of the behavior and the accepted norms of the country you’re travelling in. Learn about the environment you’re going into, whether it’s a pristine alpine wilderness or a heavily used high desert. Memorize which habitats are the most at risk and stay clear of them. Knowing this can make a difference in the choices you make for camping and recreating. Establish contingencies and have a plan in place for all contingencies.

Spinning prayer wheels in Kagbeni. © Liesl Clark

Spinning prayer wheels in Kagbeni. © Liesl Clark

Here are a few steps you’ll need to take in the planning phase that will greatly reduce your impact:

a) Get rid of all excessive packing of items you’re bringing with you. Remove the packaging from batteries, for example so you don’t bring that unnecessary paper and plastic (called blister packs that are not recyclable) with you.

b) Procure the right medicines and medical supplies for your trip. Remove the unnecessary packaging.

c) Bring maps and navigation materials like a compass or GPS.

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d) Set up the necessary insurance you’ll need in the event of a medical evacuation or helicopter rescue.

e) Where will your water sources come from? Please avoid plastic bottled water and plan to bring your own reusable water bottle to be refilled. Bring a Steripen for ultraviolet water purification, a water filter, or iodine tablets to treat your water.

2) Travel and camp on durable surfaces. For most trekking, you don’t need big heavy boots. You can travel in lighter trail shoes which don’t impact the terrain as much, causing erosion. Avoid going over people’s stone walls or walking through gardens. If you open gates, close them behind you. The point here is that you’re leaving no trace that you passed by. This is one instance where you don’t want to leave a big impression behind.

Sometimes travelling by foot is more reliable than by jeep. This jeep lost its fuel tank en route up the Kali Gandaki River. © Liesl Clark

Sometimes travelling by foot is more reliable than by jeep. This jeep lost its fuel tank en route up the Kali Gandaki River. © Liesl Clark

3) Have a plan for dealing with your waste:

a) If you’re in a National Park, use blue bags or something similar to pack out your own human waste. If you’re trekking, use outhouses. Otherwise, carry a small trowel or shovel and dig catholes. Carry your own toilet paper and burn it.

b) Carry out all plastics from your bars and all packaging from your food. A compression sack can do the trick to keep the waste in one place in your pack and consolidated.

c) Carry out the batteries from cameras and other equipment. These should be disposed of responsibly. Either take them home with you if you’re travelling in a country that doesn’t recycle them, or research where your nearest recycling facility is at the end of your trip. We stockpile all our batteries on our expeditions and bring them home.

d) Water: This might be the single most important step you take. Bringing your own reusable bottle saves the environment from hundreds of plastic bottles potentially littering the landscape. If others see you using a Steripen, a filter, or water tablets, they’ll see how easy an option it is. You can always ask for boiled water, but this water requires fuel to boil contaminants. A Steripen or hand-filter will mean you can get water wherever you want and it’ll be cold. It will also be free! I use a Steripen that has a solar charger attached to it so I’m not reliant on power or batteries to use it. Learn where the potable water stations are so you can support these efforts to stop people from buying bottled water.

Using a Steripen means we can have fresh cold water anywhere. © Liesl Clark

Using a Steripen means we can have fresh cold water anywhere. © Liesl Clark

e) When you’re on your way out, pay it forward by removing any waste you see in the environment. Especially if you come across potentially toxic waste like batteries or CFL light bulbs. These shouldn’t be anywhere outside, helping to remove these things and disposing of them safely, helps zero-offset your impact.

Removing a battery from a village water source. © Liesl Clark

Removing a battery from a village water source. © Liesl Clark

4) If you’re cooking on your own, be sure that you know where you should and shouldn’t have fires. Use local fuel that you can find easily and use those in substitution of wood fires.

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a) If you’re trekking where there are villages nearby, eating locally is a great way to reduce waste. The more local produce and indigenous food products you can eat from nearby fields and kitchens the less imported foods are needed to support your journey. We eat in homes and tea shops wherever we can in Nepal, where you’ll always find dhal bhat a Nepali dish of rice and lentils along with side dishes of locally grown vegetables.

Local Fresh Goatsmilk Yogurt in Kolapani. © Liesl Clark

Local Fresh Goatsmilk Yogurt in Kolapani. © Liesl Clark

b) Save your organic waste rather than throwing it outdoors to decompose. In some environments like the desert, even eggshells take an inordinate amount of time to break down. If you’re passing through villages, local farmers will be happy to take your stockpiled organics to feed to their stock animals (chickens, cows, yaks) or put in their compost piles.

5) Leave the natural environment as it is. Refrain from picking flowers or taking mementos from the natural world. Take only photos, leave only footprints.

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6) Be respectful of wildlife and don’t disturb any birdlife, mammals or any animals you come across.

7) Be respectful of other travellers using the same environment. The same goes for locals. Try to learn some of their language so you can greet them and ask a question. For starters, learning how to say hello, goodbye (often the same word), thank you, good morning, and counting to three will get you far. And, as in step #1, be aware of cultural norms.

9-hour day in jeep will put any 7-year-old to sleep. © Liesl Clark

9-hour day in jeep will put any 7-year-old to sleep. © Liesl Clark

Most of all, be in the moment and enjoy the journey, and where it takes your mind and heart.

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How to Fix a Cracked Wheelbarrow

I bought a plastic wheelbarrow and regretted it 4 years later. So much for the “plastic lasts forever” theory. Yes, it lasts forever, but it cracks in the interim, into smaller and smaller pieces. That was the fate of our deep Ace Hardware wheelbarrow that was this homestead’s workhorse for some 4 years.

We’ve had to replace the wheel once already. You can do that at Ace, amazingly, as they have parts ready to purchase for their wheelbarrows, but I doubt they’d have a new tub for us to replace. I thought we’d have to trash the whole molded black plastic thing, and then our friend, Ang Temba Sherpa from Nepal came to the rescue. He stitched it!

Yep, the fix was a mend via wire stitching, using a thin drill bit to make small holes for threading the wire along the crack. It’s a beautiful work of art to behold, somewhat like the stitch-up of the plastic plant pot I spotted in Tsarang, Upper Mustang, Nepal on our last trip there.

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Why don’t we mend our plastics in this country like the people of Nepal do?

It’s now been another 4 years since Ang Temba repaired our wheelbarrow, and I’m proud to tell you that we’re still using it! The long cracks in the base are actually quite welcome, as they let rainwater drip out. We have an improved wheelbarrow as a result of this everlasting hand stitchery.

Thanks, Temba!

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It’s still in action!