The Bärbel Schäfer interview with Stella
25 years of Back to Life, dear Stella. With what feelings do you look back?
It seems to me that all the emotions of the human scale were there, I think that’s enough for several lifetimes. Today I live in the here and now, I am happy with what I have achieved. Nevertheless, I would rather look ahead and make a difference with Back to Life for the people in Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world.
Success, change often comes with small steps – with which project in Nepal were you impatient and thought, we’ll never make it?
I don’t know that feeling. For 25 years, I have been striving to make the impossible possible. The easy, well-trodden path has never interested me because I know that neither I nor others really grow from it. I don’t see it as my job to put band-aids on wounds, but rather to find solutions so that it doesn’t bleed in the first place. I am aware that this is not easy and may take generations. But every real effort eventually leads us to the goal, I have experienced that myself over the years.
What surprised you about the people of Nepal?
With their strength of destiny! Since I have known Nepal, I have witnessed profound upheavals such as the civil war, the massacre of the royal family, and the change to a republic. Every year, people brave natural disasters such as floods and landslides. The small Himalayan country repeatedly went through bitter hardship – especially after the earthquakes and during the Corona crisis.
In addition to their strength to always get back up and rebuild, the people of Nepal are characterized by another important quality: never losing their inherent, heartfelt laughter.
This forms the fertile ground for our “help for self-help”, which always aims at people’s own responsibility and performance. I am positively surprised at how much has already grown out of it for thousands.
What did you surprise yourself with the most?
Actually having learned patience, because I’m actually more of an impulsive guy. In retrospect, perhaps also my perseverance to always continue on the path.
Setbacks due to natural disasters have accompanied you in your work, how do you always motivate yourself and your team to start anew?
I don’t have to. They are the ones who want change for their country and the people of Nepal. Immediately after the devastating earthquakes in 2015, I gave local Nepalese employees the choice of working or being with their families, who were all equally affected. No one pulled that card, but we took care of disaster relief from minute one and were able to accomplish a lot more than I thought we would.
Does it have to burn in oneself what one wants to ignite in others as enthusiasm? What are you burning for?
I burn to give dignity back to people, to make life better for everyone, not just me. In harmony with our nature and environment.
You are constantly surrounded by a team, you are distinctive in your approach to people and problems: Who are you when you are alone with yourself?
I try to be a good friend to myself, even though I am also my toughest critic. I like being alone very much because I need this time to gather strength. Then I dive into books, which I still lug around the world because I’d rather have a book in my hand than read digitally. When I travel, books make up the bulk of my luggage, many laugh at this in today’s times.
Do you sometimes feel like you’re running out of time, that you won’t be able to implement all the ideas you still have?
No, I see that rather realistically. I will do my best throughout my life to achieve the goals we set for ourselves. The world is always changing, each decade comes with different opportunities and focuses, with the resulting tasks I try to grow. All I can do otherwise is get people to help us with our vision – through donations, advice, and networking.
What can Germany learn from Nepal?
Serenity, humility and the joy of the little things that you can not buy or own.
What could a Nepali surprise you with?
With delicious German bread or even a bread meal.
What are you particularly proud of?
To my team in Nepal, who know no office hours, spare no effort, but give everything their heart, soul and mind can.
You have always believed in yourself and your idea, but who were the most important companions in the 25 years Back to Life?
First and foremost my beloved brother, who helped me so energetically in building up the association. My grandma, who taught me strength of heart and morals. My mother, my son, my uncle and my aunt are also by my side in hard times and strengthen me. I am very lucky, although I am mostly on the road, to still have my closest friends from childhood and adolescence, who mean a lot to me, and over the years, other global friendships have been added. With them, I can also let myself go once in a while and don’t always have to lead the way strongly.
Do you have a wish for the future?
Yes. We have now built 71 buildings and soon 20 water systems in Nepal, and more will be added. This must be maintained in the future as well. In order to preserve the successes and to secure Back to Life’s projects for the future (especially during times of crisis) and to put them on a firm foundation, I have set up a foundation. However, it is still in its baby shoes and I would like nothing more than to receive donations for the foundation on the occasion of our 25th anniversary.