Packing bags of benevolence for orphans
March 26, 2010
While many students headed south in search of sun this past spring break, Steve Sclar ’11 decided to spend his weeks helping others. In order to better understand his perspective, I spoke with him about his experiences.
A marketing and environmental policy double major from Maryland, Sclar set up a workshop in his basement to hand make 120 drawstring sack-packs out of hemp for his nonprofit organization, SAKYA.
He said he plans on giving the proceeds made from these sack-packs to the girls at the Tibetan orphanage that he taught at last summer.
Each sack-pack takes 30 to 40 minutes to make. He worked from 10 a.m. until 2 a.m. each day during the break, with breaks for meals and family time, in order to meet his deadline. After the bags were made, he sent them to Peace Frogs, an apparel company based in Gloucester Va., to screenprint the SAKYA logo onto the bags.
Sclar focused his attention toward the Tibetan orphanage.
“They are the most inspiring little buddies, and the effort I’m putting into SAKYA is a simple labor of love,” he said.
During the summer of his sophomore year, Sclar traveled alone to Golok, Tibet. He said he chose Tibet because he perceived his personality to fit with the country, and he had a curiosity to confirm it. He admitted that he had always been drawn to mountains and snow and had an interest in Buddhism.
“Like most people in the Western world, I had this picture of Tibet in my mind of peace and enlightenment, fresh air, snow capped mountains, yaks, monks and prayer flags,” he said. “I knew this couldn’t be the whole picture, or the truest picture, and I wanted to see for myself.”
Sclar said it was also a matter of being in the right place during the right time in his life.
“I was looking for an opportunity to teach and be taught,” he said.
Through a friend’s non profit organization, Sclar found the e-mail address of a Tibetan man with an upstart orphanage, and asked him if he could help him. The reply was a short message that said, “Fly into this airport, and I’ll pick you up and take you to the home.” Sclar met the challenge, flew to Tibet, and began his venture in one of the most controversial and remote regions in the world.
“It was a thrill and a half,” Sclar said. “Outside of the U.S., I’d only been to Canada when I was little. But I just went and trusted it would be OK.”
His journey was much more than OK. Sclar said that he came back with a passion to continue supporting the Tibetan orphans he had met.
During his time in Tibet, Sclar immersed himself in the culture by eating, praying and living with the orphans and the director of the home. He became close with the director, and is still in contact with him.
To prepare himself for the trip, Sclar read everything he could about the region. He also familiarized himself with the language and the culture, teaching himself how to read and write. Because he knew he was going to spend the summer teaching, he brainstormed ways to teach the orphans by going to Michael’s and finding materials that were light enough to carry over to Tibet.
The orphanage Sclar lived in housed 55 Tibetan girls ranging in age from three to 14. He stayed with them for nine weeks forming close relationships.
“Outside of class, I was ahwo–brother” Sclar said.
He added that he made some very powerful memories.
“Some of my favorite memories were helping the girls feel better,” he said. “I was the official band-aid applicator. It was funny, because the girls used up 95 percent of my band-aid supply in the first few weeks. So, for the last few weeks, I had to be the band-aid judge and jury. Only the real bleeders got one. I was also the official eyedropper. At an elevation of 13,500 feet the dry air caused many dry eyes. Before bed, they would shuffle into my room for their nightly eye drops.”
He also realized some of the harsh realities of living in Tibet.
“When I was there, money was very tight,” he said. “We could hardly afford yak meat. Breakfast was white rice slurry and both lunch and dinner were cabbage and potato soup. The girls do well enough on this diet, but I’m sure they could use some more protein and vegetables. I, on the other hand, couldn’t do it — I lost 17 lbs.”
Through this eye-opening experience, Sclar said he was inspired to create SAKYA, a non profit project that sells his handmade hemp bags. SAKYA, which in Tibetan means “pale earth” is also the first part of the Supreme Buddha’s name Saykamuni in Buddhism.
With environmental and sustainability issues in mind, Sclar decided to make his sack-packs out of hemp instead of the more common and customary nylon used for most sack-packs.
“The thing about sack-packs is they’re all made out of nylon, which is in many ways a miracle invention of the 20th century, but it’s also a petroleum product that biodegrades very, very slowly,” Sclar said. “William and Mary gives away these nylon sack-packs to incoming freshman so they’re especially prevalent on campus. But they’re lousy. We’re all about budget cuts here—probably the tradition of giving away these bags could be trashed because that’s where the bags end up soon enough.”
As an environmental policy major and self-proclaimed industrial hemp advocate, Sclar has taken a stance to support the growth of hemp in the U.S. Currently, the country allows hemp to be imported but does not legalize the growth of the crop.
Although Sclar encourages students to buy his environmentally friendly sack-packs, he constantly brings the attention back to the orphanage it will be supporting.
“To me, the reason why I’m buying a SAKYA sack is because they’re 100 percent helping sustain a girl’s smile and schooling, a girl who would otherwise be struggling as a yak herder without a very bright future,” he said.
According to Sclar, It takes $600 to cover the costs of food, health, clothing and school expenses of one girl. The money from SAKYA will help support several girls. Sclar plans on returning to Tibet in the near future, and he hopes to pursue medicine after graduation.
“Medicine is the most humane, compassionate skill a person can possess,” he said. “Sack-making is a nice skill, but this world needs a lot more than sacks. I’m leaving the door open for SAKYA to grow into something bigger if enough people push me and help me.”