On Tuesday morning I had no intention of unfolding the Washington Post.   I was up late the night before watching the events in Baltimore and Kathmandu with growing anguish.  Worlds apart, both were in the midst of their own suffering, and it was simply too difficult to be a spectator.  And the fact is, right now none of us can afford to be.

In nearby Baltimore, a city struggles with civil unrest and destruction sparked by the death of a young black man while in police custody but grounded in deeper social divisions.   And in Nepal, the Kathmandu Valley suffers the aftermath of a powerful earthquake that took thousands of lives, injured countless more, and destroyed sites of irreplaceable cultural significance.    Both hold their own importance for each of us, and for HI USA.

My own personal link to Baltimore is largely through HI USA.   Years ago a group of Baltimore residents decided to purchase a former brownstone mansion in the downtown area and make it a hostel.   As a DC resident, I came into the picture later as a volunteer when the building needed some improvements.   It was then that I cut my teeth on drywall installation and rediscovered that painting requires a form of patience I don’t naturally possess.

Over the years, I have made dozens of trips up 1-95 to Baltimore, seen the transformation of the hostel, and been part of numerous volunteer meetings and community programs.   Those experiences make the city’s current problems more my own.

My connection to Kathmandu goes back about 15 years to a visit there.  I spent one week exploring the bowl-shaped Kathmandu Valley, at the time under-appreciating that it sits on top of one of the most active geological faults on earth.   Tourism is the economic engine of Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world.

I came with an interest in Kathmandu’s history – the area has one of the world’s highest concentrations of UN World Heritage sites that celebrate cultural achievement – and left with an appreciation of its people.   The city is a melting pot of Buddhist and Hindu cultures, and residents seemed to express their diversity and open-mindedness through a special warmth towards visitors.   The whole experience left a deep impression on me.

HI USA is all about fostering a well-informed, engaged community of travelers who creatively apply the lessons gained through their travels to make the world a better place.   So Baltimore and Kathmandu, while far apart, are similarly relevant to our organizational mission and purpose.

Geographic distance seems to make the Kathmandu disaster more straightforward to address.  We are half a world away, and funds are desperately needed for humanitarian aid now.   I made my donation to Nepal relief yesterday through Tourism Cares, both because of the travel connection and because 100% of all donations go to humanitarian aid.

Having a close connection to Baltimore through our hostel naturally creates an opportunity – and a responsibility – to roll up our sleeves and engage personally.   Of course, that involves more than writing a check.

The underlying causes of civil unrest are complicated and often require a joint community effort to address.    Fortunately, as an organization focused on intercultural understanding, we won’t need to be a spectator; working with other community-minded organizations, HI USA education and engagement programs can be part of the answer.   I’ll update this blog post as we map our response; as always, involvement of our staff, volunteers and the wider travel community will help define our success.

Hostels and travel build personal bonds to people and communities.  And those bonds are strengthened during times like these. 

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