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Patti Shales Lefkos about the difference you can make

Jun 09, 2021

Patti Shales Lefkos and I met in the Self Publishing School and I’m so thrilled to talk to her in this episode. Hearing Patti talk about her life, the travels that she has done – starting at the age of 65! - and the difference she was able to make and still makes to this day for schools, villages and people in remote areas of Nepal is so inspiring and truly heartwarming. It’s difficult to do this conversation justice in the shownotes and I highly recommend listening to the episode to hear Patti tell you about all the experiences through her own words. There is so much joy in Patti’s talking.

Patti is a journalist, an author and an adventure traveller. For 37 years she was also a teacher, a consultant and a school principal. First in Toronto and then in Vancouver. Today, Patti lives in the mountains, close to Vernon, British Columbia, Canada with her husband, Barry Hodgins.

Patti says that her outdoor beginning was growing up during summers on a little island where she had to go everywhere by canoe or rowboat. Reading «Lost Horizon» by James Hilton was another keystone in Patti’s life. «The book really resonated with me», she says.

At age 10, when her grandfather died, he left all grandchildren 100$. That’s when Patti bought a typewriter and declared that she would be a writer.

Another life experience that «cemented my love for the mountains», as Patti happily explains, was a school year abroad in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, where she lived overlooking the mountains.

«In high school I read Lost Horizon by James Hilton, visited the Swiss Alps and later learned the wisdom of the Dalai Lama. Meeting with teachers and monks in Nepal made them all come together», Patti

At the age of 60, Patti went to journalism school for a year. Most of the people in the class were 23, Patti remembers laughing, but they were very supportive and helped her with the technical part: «I had a secretary when I was a principal, so I didn’t know a lot about technology».

At the last school where Patti was a principal, there were 600 children and 45 language groups. «I learned a great deal», Patti says.

After retirement, Patti and her husband moved to a house in a ski resort, but at the same time they started to travel internationally. I ask Patti who «we» is and Patti answers smiling: «Somewhere along the way I found a lovely husband, a mountain guide and fellow teacher.».

Their first trip abroad was backpacking in the UK, the next trip – quite a big step, as Patti reclaims – was to Tibet. They hiked Mount Kailash and took the «Roof of the World Train» from Lhasa back to Beijing. They were in Tibet for three and a half weeks. During the next trip, at 65, they went to Nepal for three months. They trekked the Annapurna Circuit, Annapurna Base Camp Sanctuary, Upper Mustang and Everest Base Camp.

Patti says that she does a lot of skiing in winter and swimming, rowing and hiking in summer to stay fit.

At the end of their time on the Everest Base Camp trek, Patti’s husband – it was his birthday – had a slight heart attack. He had to be taken away by helicopter and that’s when they met an amazing doctor from India. Thankfully her husband recovered, but three years later, shortly before their return trip to Nepal to volunteer at their guide’s village her husband had an accident with their grandson, so he couldn’t go. Patti found herself in a tight spot, not knowing if she should go alone or not. «I gathered my courage and went by myself, at almost 68 years», Patti says. Wow!

«If I wait too long, I might never go», Patti

Patti worked as a teacher for a few weeks. The schools were mostly cement bunkers, as Patti remembers: «The infrastructure was very primitive compared to what I was used to as a teacher in Canada, but the kids were fabulous, and the people so welcoming».

During a tour to deliver school supplies, Patti visited a village, where she was the first foreigner to ever visited their village. They showed her the school which was falling apart and asked her to help rebuilding it. Patti didn’t know at that time what she could possibly do. While Patti was trekking the Upper Mustang for a month, she did a lot of interviews, for travel articles, another meaningful relationship started to form. That’s when she met Buddhist monks, that worked as teachers. One of them was living in Singapore for five months each year to teach Buddhism and make money to help the people in his home country. «It was like talking to another principal», Patti recalls and adds: «He encouraged me that I could make a difference».

Patti, her husband and a friend founded a nonprofit called «NEPAL ONE DAY AT A TIME » and Patti joined a large Rotary club close to where she lives.

A year to the day after the people in the remote village had asked for help to rebuild their school, the earthquake hit Nepal.

Patti and her companions started collecting donations and they were able to rebuild the school. At the age of 70 in 2017 they went back to visit the new school and last year Patti published her book called «NEPAL ONE DAY AT A TIME ».

«While you’re trekking, while you’re ski touring, while you’re fundraising, you just do every day as much as you can», Patti

There are three parts to the book. One is Patti facing her fears when she made the decision to travel alone. Another part is about teaching and what Patti learned through teaching in Nepal and the third part is about going to the remote village and finding out that they wanted her help and how Patti’s focus changed over her month-long trekking from just writing travel articles to actually doing something to help others.

«It’s my goal to inspire people to do this kind of thing», Patti

After having heard Patti’s amazing life story, we talk about my favorite question:

What brings you joy?

«Living outdoors», Patti says. «We’re very lucky to have access to the ski resort just behind the house». She adds: «I have a husband that wants to do these things, he’s the one that gets me out doing it». Patti says that they live in a wonderful community, where they do a lot of fundraising too. Patti also does local volunteering and all the profits from her book go to education in Nepal.

«The biggest thing in my career as a teacher and now helping in Nepal is the joy of being of service and knowing that I’m making a difference», Patti

«Every day I’m doing at least one thing to get the word out about how others can help in Nepal», Patti

«It brings me a lot of joy to be able to make a difference», Patti

Patti says that we live in such a world of privilege as Westerners. «I learned from my work as a principal that there are wonderful people that may not have much money, but they are still incredible people with brilliant children who deserve a chance for a great education». Patti adds: «The white privilege of being born in a country like Canada is huge».

«Kids like these deserve a chance for a great education», Patti

Patti says laughing that while she didn’t want to stay in education, she actually ended up in education, but in a different way.

«When visiting villages in NepaI I learned to listen and NOT to say “This is what I think you guys need, but instead to say, “ What do YOU think you need», Patti

I ask Patti how she makes sure that the donations have a long-lasting effect in the areas where she is able to help.

Patti answers that it’s about building a long-term relationship with the people and the village and to get to know the children. They are the ones that one day will be grown up and hopefully can contribute to making life better in their village.

«Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d write a book and now I’ve got two more planned», Patti

Patti is currently working on her memoirs. She writes about growing up on the summer island, what life was like before electricity and all the skills they’ve learned. The second book that Patti plans is about the story of the school they were able to build, continued and about trekking at seventy-five plus. That book will be called «NEPAL IT’S NEVER TOO LATE ». Regarding trekking at a higher age, Patti says happily: «You can still go trekking at altitude if you take it carefully. We’ve got a few treks still planned».

«I’ve always developed a good morning routine», Patti

We talk about creating joy in the everyday life. Patti says that she created her own miracle morning routine after reading «The Miracle Morning» by Hal Elrod. Patti writes in her journal, does some morning exercises, a bit of meditation and some reading «usually about the craft of writing». Patti adds: «And have coffee of course, too».

«There is something that brings me joy: Nepalese coffee», Patti

Patti says that she always over plans and then gets sad, because she hasn’t done all the things she wanted to. «I’m really working on trying to reflect on how much I have accomplished since the book was published and how all the money that comes in is for the project and all the other things I’ve been able to learn and accomplish. I’m trying to spend a little more time thinking about that instead of thinking about what’s wrong or what I can’t do. Trying to think, “Yeah. Lots has happened in a year, and it’ll keep happening. I’m absolutely amazed by the support of others. When I tell them these stories about the village in Nepal, it’s wonderful how they open their hearts and their wallets».

Patti says that several people from her Rotary club have visited the village themselves.

«It’s such a good feeling to be connected internationally and be supported», Ronja

Patti’s answer to my question, if she is honoring her accomplishments enough is: «I’m learning to do so. I have a wording that I learned from a workshop that says, «Until further notice, celebrate everything». That’s what I’m trying to do».

«Celebration and gratitude for everything, I think that’s such a good feeling», Ronja

Patti adds, that part of her journal every morning is gratitude. «I write one full page usually every morning, I find that this really helps me sort through my goals every day but also what I’ve accomplished and how I’m feeling».

We talk about finding the courage to write a book and actually publish it.

«It’s really an inner process to believe that you have something to say and that anybody will be interested», Ronja

When Patti gave her first book to an editor, she thought that if she says it’s no good, she’ll just give it up. Thankfully the editor said that it’s highly publishable. Patti says that something that helped her along the process of writing was that she went to a lot of conferences about writing.

«You have to find your people, like minded people who enjoy the same things and embrace the same values and goals», Patti

Patti ponders that everybody is afraid: «Even when you read the very best authors, they think “I’m only as good as my last book” and they’re afraid of starting the next book».

«That’s the big magic, when you don’t stop even when you’re doubting yourself», Ronja

«I have a sign on my desk, “Proceed as if success is inevitable”», Patti

Patti’s message to the world:

«Step out of your comfort zone. Get out there and do stuff. The trekking and travelling I do, yes, it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes I don’t get a shower for a week or two, but the rewards of meeting people and being able to be of some kind of service and to learn from them are endless. I was particularly impressed with my young friend Bailey, a girl from our local high school Rotary Interact club. Her take away? When she visited the village where we built the school, she realized how much she learned from the villagers, how impressed she was that they were subsistence farmers at the end of a long, very bumpy, very dusty, sometimes muddy road and how well they managed and how happy they were. Wonderful. To see that in other people, you have to step out of your comfort zone. Yes, You’re going to be in a crowd of people who speak a different language. So what? You’re just not that important. Listen, make friends, reach out to others».

«There is so much that can be learned from relationships with people from all over the globe, and from reaching out further than you originally thought you could», Patti

«Never doubt, that one person can make a difference. You can make a difference. Other people will come along with you, you just have to be open to all the opportunities», Patti

What a great, truly inspiring and encouraging story. It’s never too late to fulfill your dreams and to make a difference!

This is where you can find Patti:


Find Patti’s book NEPAL ONE DAY AT A TIME on

Books we talked about:

«Lost Horizon», James Hilton
«The Miracle Morning», Hal Elrod

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