I appreciated and learned a lot from my volunteering in Nepal. It didn’t change my life, but it did change others who volunteered which is incredible to witness. (To emphasize my point, 3 of our 8 volunteers got tatoos the day they returned to Kathmandu about their volunteering experience!) And it certainly provided me an experience of a lifetime and new perspectives. I’m very happy I did it and we did make a difference, despite my uncertainty almost right up to the end. And the feelings of frustration and joy, of doing inane tasks and sharing multitudes of belly laughs combined for a powerful experience. We were told to expect the unexpected; that the best laid plans can often go afoot. With that in mind, when India closed the border to Nepal and all fuel and commodities were halted into the country creating a national crisis, the unexpected went to a whole new level.
Through it all, the coming together of people whose aim is to help others, is a worthwhile reminder of the commonality in humanity. Despite political, cultural, and religious differences and despite a language barrier (although our Nepali colleagues,Pradeep and Balloram, were amazing as translators and cultural ambassadors) we, the volunteers, and the villagers we were helping, shared the same values of love, family and community. And to see the village kids’ unbridled joy when they played on the playground we built – the first one they had ever seen – was a heart tugging reminder that all kids love and deserve to play.
Being totally immersed in a culture is a powerful experience I can recommend to everyone. Everything, even the most mundane tasks, becomes a new learning experience and provides a new perspective on one’s own life. How to eat, what to eat, how to shower, how to go to the bathroom, redefining privacy, how many toys does a child need, how many clothes do I need, living the farm to table lifestyle vs just dining that way, building THINGS from the land.When a kitchen floor is cleaned with cow dung, what now seems dirty? Struggling to comprehend that while everything is reused, garbage is tossed everywhere and a bonfire of trash and toxic plastic happens in the school playground.
I will probably write more blogs about Nepal, but for the moment I will let the photos do the talking. But here are a few highlights:
*We were the first foreigners the people of this village had ever seen (our project was in Sikhral, Gelu. Our travel day to get there due to stops, fuel shortages and washed our roads was 12 hours. But it is only about 160 km east of Kathmandu).
*Our Nepali families opened their homes, but more amazingly they also offered their hearts to us during our 2 week stay. Many thanks to Chhatra Dai, Aama Devi, Manju, Gyanu, Mira, Sunita, Thrista, Pravin, Hari, Sundar, Sunita, Krishna, Nischal, Krishal, Sabina, Rabina, Binul, Amrit, Binda, Babu, Shankar, Durga, Indira, Rosina and others, for sharing their lives with me.
*Sounds of the village included crickets, water buffaloes mooing, school bells ringing, children laughing, roosters crowing, goats bleeting.
*Our food was farm to table the whole way; the only thing imported are cumin seeds from India. Rice, lentils, potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, squash, chili, tomatoes, buffalo milk, buffalo yoghurt, cardamon, guava and hosts of other fruits that are not in season yet.
*We manually made pebbles from rocks from a skree field. We broke them with hammers to be 2-3 cm wide. Seriously.
*We cut down bamboo from the forest, carried it on our shoulders up the mountain, cut it and tied it together with string to make the school’s first playground. Seriously.
*When doing manual labor in the hot sun, a spot of shade and a breeze is worth its weight in gold.
*Our supplies finally arrived at 1pm the day before we left. We were able to see the frame of the school go up, and it is expected to be completed by locals in the next few days. The irony of the best laid plans going awry, is that because we didn’t have the supplies to personally finish the classsroom, we made the supplies to build a playground. And trust me, kids shout for joy a lot louder when they see a playground, versus seeing a classroom. And that is the lesson of volunteering in a third world country. Lows becomes highs, and you do make a difference.