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Storyteller—Life is an opportunity—don’t waste it

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Longfellow, 21st Space Wing

“Hey, your mom drank poison, and they are taking her to the hospital.” 

Those were the words Staff Sgt. Gopal Pudasaini, 21st Medical Operations Squadron family health clinic patient advocate, heard as he was in the middle of a school exam in a small village near Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal.

Pudasaini started running. Sharp gravel stabbed into his bare feet, but his panic, fear and anger fueled him to run through the pain.

Pudasaini’s parents were both farmers who grew up in poverty. His father went to India looking for jobs and would be gone for a year or two at a time, sending money to his wife and children every six months.

When Pudasaini was around 9 years old, he noticed his mother started acting strange.

“I didn’t understand it back then,” Pudasaini said. “But now I clearly see her actions as a cry for help.”

The poison killed his mother. She was cremated before Pudasaini and his three sisters had a chance to say goodbye. 

Pudasaini’s father returned home to Nepal seven days after the death of his wife. He was devastated with grief and drank to cope with the anguish. Returning to India meant leaving the children alone. The family was struggling for food, and the children couldn’t attend school because there was no money to pay the tuition.

“I started to envy my mother,” Pudasaini said. “If she was able to escape all of this and life went on after her, then life would go on after me too.” 

After a quarrel with his sister, he attempted suicide. 

“I tied one end of the rope to my neck and the other to a tree limb,” Pudasaini said. “Then I jumped.”

His sister witnessed Pudasaini jump and alerted a neighbor who cut the rope.

“God works in mysterious ways,” he continues. “After I attempted to kill myself I remember thinking ‘what if I was paralyzed? What kind of life would I live then?’ My situation was bad, but I had not done everything in my power to get out of it. I chose to explore my options instead.”

After recovery, he looked for a job to help his family, and for the next three years, he worked as house help and went to school.

“My parents’ biggest wish was to see me graduate high school,” Pudasaini said. “My mother had already missed it, and my father was going to miss it due to throat cancer. He passed away just a few months before my graduation.”

Pudasaini saved up enough money to travel to America where he enlisted in the Air Force after a few short years.

In 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal killing over 9,000 people. All communication was down for days.

“Luckily, I was in a job where the culture of wingmen was profound,” he said. “My first sergeant was able to provide me with support and gave me hope. Eventually, I was able to establish communication with my sisters and their families.”

Pudasaini gathered his Air Force family together and was able to raise money to send back to Nepal for immediate relief. He continued to send his family the majority of his paychecks to build his sisters’ families a new home. The Air Force provided him an opportunity to support his family while maintaining his language skills. In 2017, Pudasaini was accepted into the Air Force Culture and Language Center’s Language Enabled Airman Program (LEAP). Through LEAP, he has been able to maintain his Hindi capabilities.

“I have had the opportunity to sit in a virtual class room and practice Hindi language with my fellow LEAP scholars. I will eagerly wait for the future opportunities to further enhance my language skills and hopefully someday be able to use those learned skills to good use for the Air Force. LEAP has encouraged me to maintain my language and helped me embrace the diversity,” he said.

We all have challenges and obstacles we face in life. Some have pushed through while others may still be struggling. These stories of victories, successes and challenges overcome need to be shared and cherished.

“Adversity builds character, and with every challenge you face and overcome, you will be enriched with a tool to deal with it in the future,” Pudasaini said. “No one is immune to this. You may encounter many defeats, but you must not feel defeated. There are options out there. Life is an opportunity. Please do not waste it.”

Editor’s note: (The Air Force Culture and Language Center’s Outreach Team made one edit and contributed to this article)

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