Religion is a cornerstone of life in Nepal. Hinduism is the official religion, and government statistics indicate that about 80% of Nepalis are Hindu, and about 10% Buddhist. But most independent research suggests that Buddhists in the country represent about 20% of the total population.
Those statistics don't matter much in Nepal. While religion rips apart nations elsewhere, Nepal peaceably blends its two major religions. The Nepali love of festivals may partly explain this harmony. Hey, why not celebrate both Hindu and Buddhist festivals?)
James and the Bodhnath Beggars
It was particularly crowded on Thursday, when James and I visited, since a major Buddhist festival (timed with the full moon) was underway. Good deeds performed that day are rewarded by a multiplier of hundreds of thousands in karma.
A major tenet of Buddhism is a desire to free all beings from suffering. Early in his studies at Bodhnath (or Boudha), James asked how he could put that concept into practice. His question lead to the birth of Quilts for Kids Nepal.
A five-minute walk from Boudha is a field where hundreds of homeless Indian beggars live in tents. James isn't quite sure why they came here. Most are from the Indian state of Rajasthan, where the summers are brutally hot James says perhaps they chose Kathmandu for the climate.
The beggars live here in a traditional Hindu way, with two or three generations together. Mostly uneducated, the women typically marry by 18, start a family, and begin taking care of in-laws, too.
When James first began visiting the camp, he saw that the men and children went out onto the streets of Kathmandu to beg during the day, while the women stayed home sewing quilts from scraps of cloth. Some of those quilts looked attractive, James thought.
Quilts for Kids Nepal
James' project -- Quilts for Kids Nepal -- gives the women an invaluable sense of pride, especially since their work is now responsible for securing an education for their children.
Join Me on My Tour
Every place we go, smiling kids surround us:
As we left the camp, James was greeted by Bimala, a good friend who had been a leader in the project until she started a family. Her second child is on the way.