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When a Silk Worm Dies

An interview with Haziq Rashid

co-founder of The Project Nomad

How did Nomad start?

The idea of Nomad was conceived when I went on a long backpacking trip throughout rural India. I realized that despite their poverty, most of the people living in these areas were genuinely happy and content with their lives. I could see how they were discriminated against, and how they suffer compared to people living in bigger cities I've been to. Often, the rural villagers only eat one meal a day, and even then their food is not particularly nutritious.

However, these rural communities are skilled in creating valuable handicrafts, and their craftsman knowledge is passed down from generation to generation. So, the next time I went back to India with Nas (Nasrul, Haziq’s cousin and co-founder of The Project Nomad), we decided to do something which could change their lives tangibly. We noticed that despite their poverty, they were really good at handicrafts, so this was an opportunity for us to help them improve their livelihoods.

How did you come up with the name ‘Nomad’?

When we were on a really long train ride, we were thinking of names that could represent the rural community. We actually thought of the name ‘Nomad’ because that was what we were doing; travelling from place to place, seeing different communities, this and that. Essentially the word ‘nomad’ means someone who travels from place to place trying to find a home. Nomad in our own terms referred to people who went from place to place, building homes for the underprivileged communities they encountered. And that’s what we envisioned Nomad to be.

What was one of the saddest moments during your trip?

One of the saddest moments I remember was when I reached India and took the general seating, which is the lowest-level seating - so if you’re a tourist and you want to do something different, then yeah, you should do that - and I saw this really small kid wearing nothing but underwear, dusty from head to toe. You could see the dirt all over his hair and he was crawling underneath the seats. This kid was sweeping the floor with his bare hands. He was crawling around, not saying a word. That really shook me - I had never seen anything like that in my life. But I didn’t dare to approach him or do anything else to help.

On the other hand, there were instances which really warmed my heart. Although some people had little, they offered me everything they had. I saw this when I was in Dharamsala during winter, so it was pretty cold. As I was walking down a hill, I saw this homeless man who was sitting beside an open fire to ward off the chill. When he saw me, he called me and told me to sit, to not worry and just focus on staying warm. Even though there was a language barrier since I don’t speak Hindi, he just wanted some company, and we mostly communicated through laughter. He had literally nothing on him but he still offered me chai, which was such a generous gesture to me. It just shows how selfless these people are

What was a major turning point for you?

One major point for me was when I went to the United Nations to pitch an idea and I met this lady called ‘Tikhala’. She was the one who really inspired me. Back then, I told her about a rough idea I had which involved working with the artisan communities to improve their livelihoods. After I told her that, she gave me this quote that really punched right though my heart. She said,

When a silk worm dies, it leaves behind silk for people to use. But when you die,

what do you leave for the people around you?"

Something about this quote just touched me. It’s a saying which has embedded itself deeply within me, and become a source of motivation for me to continue doing what I do. Because I know this rural community - I’ve lived with them, and I also know that coming from Singapore, I have the resources that will help me pull this off. At the very least, I should try because if I don't try, it means that I’ve seen a blatant problem in this community and turned my back on them.

Another prominent moment that shaped me was one of the first times I ever went to India. It was around six in the morning and I was going out to get some food. It was pretty chilly in the Rajasthan area, and I was going down a hill when I saw a girl. She was very young, probably about six years old? I remember she wery small and timid. She had a torn and dusty sari draped over her shoulders, and it was too long for her so it ended up dragging all over the ground. I saw that she was carrying something that looked like a tingkat (tiffin carriers for food storage). She had one tingkat in each hand and was having a lot of difficulty climbing the hill.

As I walked past her, I didn’t give her much thought besides, "Wow, this kid is really hardworking". At the bottom of the hill, I realized I had made a wrong turn so I walked all the way back up, and when I reached the top, I saw something that sent a chill down my spine. I saw that same girl from earlier who had put down both her tingkats and was standing next to an even younger girl - she was probably four or five years old - whom I assumed was her sister. She was wearing a white school uniform that had faded to grey and torn shoes with her toes sticking out. The older girl picked up this younger girl, then brushed her hair and kissed her forehead. She took out a few pennies and placed it in the younger girl’s hands. The coins were just five or six rupees, which isn't even worth a cent in Singapore. This moved me so much because imagine, the burden of responsibility she was carrying at that age…she's only six years old, but she's already taking care of another child. This made me think: how much have I done for the people around me? Have I done enough? It’s all these small moments that add up to the final realization that I really needed to start doing something.

To be continued in Part II.

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