Author Archives: Daphne

About Daphne

I’m Daphne, I’m blogging to keep track of my volunteering adventure with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).

Arrival in Dar es Salaam


So it finally happened.  One of the main reasons that I signed up to volunteering with VSO (almost four years ago), thinking I would be matched with a placement to Tanzania, the country of my birth.  After many a hiccup, even at the end with several delays to my actual my departure date, I finally flew to Dar es Salaam, a week ago to be placed as a volunteer for a year, based in Lindi, working on a Youth Employability and Entrepreneurship project.  Those of you who know me, a topic that is so very close to my heart.  Thank you especially Bex at VSO and all my family and friends for supporting my dream to get here.

As I mentioned the last time, and especially given the limited internet facilities where I will be based, I am hoping to update you on all on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  I do hope you can follow me there but for now, some of my observations and thoughts about what I suspect will be another adventure of a lifetime.

Arrival into Dar es Salaam

Flying in with my first view of the city and collecting our luggage (to the amusement of many, note the clever Nepali style ‘Winnie the Pooh laundry bags that I used to transport some of my luggage).
Jhumbe the VSO driver, pointing out my list of landmarks on our way to our hotel.

Induction week

Promise it was not all about food and sundowners but a full on packed week meeting the friendly staff, learning about the VSO Tanzania country strategy, security policies, system and procedures to meeting my project manager and of course the Language immersion.
Our patient and obliging hotel waiter/barman/concierge…you name it, Godfrey will help.


I felt very blessed to be here in time to celebrate my 50th birthday, which kicked off with all my greetings from around the world, drinks with the volunteers, then a surprise laid on by mum in cahoots with the wonderful Delphine who was relentless in convincing me to meet her that evening and I am so so glad that I did. we went to the Dar es Salaam Institute (DI), the Goan club, my dad’s drinking haunt and a venue where I recalled so very many social events.
The DI seemed exactly the same, more than 40 years on, kudos to the Goans in Dar for maintaining the place and from the bricks in a prized real estate location to the vibrant atmosphere where all community, no matter what age were enjoying themselves. Despite having three hours of Language classes whilst a little worse wear, fun was to be had from carrying cake for the class on the bus to practising new words.  The day ended perfectly with sunset beach bar views and dinner with my sister’s friend John who has been so kind with endless advice, tips and connections in preparation for Lindi.


Tanzanians appear a friendly and helpful group of people.  Greeting start with a cheery “Mambo” from all, to which we reply “Poa”, meaning I am cool, now that is indeed such a ‘cool’ kick off to any conversation!
Kiswahili, I learnt spoken in Tanzania, especially Dar is one of the purest forms now spoken across many countries in Africa, with its roots in Bantu, Arabic and British. Thankfully to me easier to learn, almost 80% of the words are English and pronounced with extended e at the end, bus is “busee, “officee”, “shirtee”, “socksee”….you get the gist?
The City centre combines the old architecture and skyscrapers that would not look out of place in London or NY.


Some of the cleverest I have come across.
From the buses painted with a strip around the entire bus to indicate the location route it will be travelling.
Upcycling car tyres from Masai footwear, seating to covering holes in the road.
Mpesa, mobile based money transfer.  Being able to walk around cash free and pay for almost anything from your utility to restaurants to small vendor bills via your phone. Genius!
I think I am going to love it here!

No more in Nepal


I’ve been back in the UK for three months and the time has allowed me to reflect a bit on my 3 years in Nepal.

I am very grateful to VSO for the opportunity to volunteer in Nepal.  I had the most amazing time there.  Undoubtedly, like countless of other VSO volunteers, I am not sure what impact I had at the Ministry of Education, especially in terms of uplifting girls education. However, working in the Foreign Coordination Section there, we did, despite the earthquake aftermath delays, implement a seven year School Sector Development Plan (SSDP), attempting innovations like performance-based donor remuneration.


VSO is about sharing skills, yet it was me who learnt far more.  From cross cultural working with limited resources to riding a bicycle and attempting to speak Nepali.

The Social Enterprise extracurricular works were a constant source of joy and energy to me, reveling in the creativity and energy of the enterprising youth in Nepal.



Frequently asked why I liked Nepal, here are some quotes from my parents who kindly visited me in October 2016:

From mum:

“Our daughter was a VSO volunteer for the last three years in Kathmandu and spending a month with her last October was a most delightful and interesting experience.

She took time off from her work to became our personal tour guide, having created a complete jam-packed itinerary prior to our arrival. From meeting her VSO colleagues and local friends to visiting temples and monasteries with overnight stays at resorts which involved driving on, at times, quite treacherous winding so-called roads to reach our destinations, only to be amazed at the sight of nature on arrival. The highlight and thrills of catching a glimpse of  the snow-capped peaks of the magnificent Himalayan Mountains is a sight never to be forgotten.

The chaos of traffic and pollution in Kathmandu is overcome by the beauty around you and the beauty of its people.  There is so much to see.  A walk around Patan Durbar Square, my favorite square, is a way of capturing life in Kathmandu with its ancient temples, its chai kiosks, its traditions and religious rites.

I expected life in Nepal to be rather tough after its recent disastrous earthquake, but we were truly astonished to find the way the people of Nepal have pulled together to rebuild the damage created by the earthquake and are ever ready to welcome tourists.

We can now understand why our daughter was reluctant to return home.  Nepal has something unique that makes you just love the country and its people.”

From dad:

“We visited Kathmandu in Nepal last October. A very interesting city and the most populated in Nepal.

This city is the economic hub and has a thriving international community and is also popular amongst tourists for its rich culture and the unique architecture of the many temples and stupas erected in the valley.

Despite the 2015 earthquake we found the people so resilient and full of community spirit and this is demonstrated in the friendliness of the Nepalese who make you feel welcomed.”


I have also recently been asked by friends in the tourist industry, to submit a review of their beautiful country.

“I cannot recommend a visit to Nepal highly enough to all.  Everyone I have known, who has visited, truly does fall in love with Nepal, both the place and the people  The country seems to put some sort of magic spell on us all.

Nepal caters for the luxury and budget traveller.  Scenery in abundance.  There are mountains (8 out of the 10 of the world’s highest mountains belong to Nepal) and there are treks galore. Nepal is one of the richest countries in the world, in terms of biodiversity; birds, flowers and Tilicho Lake, the highest lake in the world.

In terms of culture, there is a vibrant arts and music scene in Kathmandu, such as the annual Photokathmandu, Jazzmandu and Himalayan Outdoor Festival. 

Nepal is plentiful in UNESCO heritage sights, temples and religious festivals, practically every fortnight.  It is also the only country to have a living goddess.

A great variety of sumptuous foods can be found, given that the over 80 ethnic groups and 123 Languages spoken in Nepal. Nepalis are some of the most generous, homely and accepting that I have encountered in SE Asia.”


I could not begin to list here, the wonderful friendships that I made and hope to keep forever. You know who you are, saathihos!!

Thank you for following me and your comments.  Thank you VSO, my friends and especially my family for all their support.

Here’s to my next dream adventure in the country of my birth, placed with VSO, on a youth entrepreneurship project in Lindi, Southern Tanzania.

Please do continue to follow me, my blog name will soon change. Time and internet capabilities permitting, I hope to post more on my social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram & Twitter), I would welcome your friendships there too. Namaste.


Patan Durbar Square joy.

As an adjunct, wholeheartedly agree with these

First Trek in Nepal

First Trek in Nepal

It only took 2.5 years in this beautiful country, to finally do my first trek …..wait for it……no laughing please, because it took about 5 hours (took my friends only 3).  However proud to claim, that the trek took place in the Everest region of the Solukhumbu district, so first trek done in style.

Solukhumbu is a district, located in the Eastern of Nepal, about 132km from Kathmandu. Sherpa culture is predominant in the district, the birthplace of Tenzing Norgay.

Our friend Pemba, who grew up in the area, kindly made all the arrangements and was brave enough to go on a four day road trip with us six girls.  That Sherpa courage!


And we are off

Here’s some of the breathtaking scenery that we drove through

A twelve hour beautiful but sometimes scary journey – where the road suddenly ends, which meant driving though rivers and landslide remnants. Still lots of fun, with playlists galore and the requisite stops for not to my liking “chiya” milky sweet tea but with food a plenty, which kept me happy.

On our early evening arrival at Phalpu, the main airport town, we headed straight to Pemba’s uncle’s beautiful home and had a delicious chicken daal bhat cooked by the housekeeper.

Benefits of being an early riser, I got to see this unveiled.


Those who know me well, know I can rarely contain my excitement quietly, so managed to wake my room mates and we then ventured through the small town that led to the famous  airport and smallest air strip I have ever seen.


Phalpu Airport Runway

The group then commenced our long awaited trek to Junbesi.  Ok here’s where I get to understand the appeal of trekking.  One gets to walk through sheer wilderness – forests; streams; small villages; rarely meeting people; perhaps a few villagers and monks and sometimes a gigantic, momo pan contraption carrier.

Five hours later and very muddy, we arrived at Junbesi, the Sherpa village. Here we stayed with another one of Pemba’s family.  His hospitable great aunt, told us how lucky we were to have such clear weather, the previous days were rainy.  We were fed a banquet and even taught how to make the tasty Nasturtium pickle.


The experienced trekkers went on after lunch to a monastery higher up the mountains but Shally and I stayed in the village, visited the local monastery and played with the children.

The reality of living in such beautiful surroundings hit home, when we saw a group carrying somebody in a stretcher through the village, they were taking the injured person to the nearest hospital, back toPhalpu, the long treacherous journey being made in the dark.

The next morning we were served apple pancakes with local honey and given an interesting family history lesson.  The family bid us farewell with hugs and khada (ceremonial scarves) for each of us as we headed back to Phalpu.

This time the slow coaches were sent ahead and we were lucky enough to get a further adventure, with a hair raising ride on a local tractor on the last bit of the journey at the last.  Sadly no pictures, far too traumatising a ride to remember to snap the experience.

A final night’s supper.  After momos, feasting on wine and the famous Solukhumbu cheese, whilst watching the stars and full moon and an early wake up to head to a view point on the drive home to see Everest and boy how lucky were we!


And many thanks to Shally for compiling this great film of our epic road trip.


Girls Education Challenge – Sisters for Sisters’ project visit to Surkhet

Girls Education Challenge – Sisters for Sisters’ project visit to Surkhet



To recompense for the apathy on my blog and for all of you who have asked about it, prepare for an onslaught of posts.

To kick off here’s a post about my work visit to Surkhet, one of Nepal’s seventy-five districts of Nepal located about 600 km west of Kathmandu.

The visit with some of my Ministry of Education colleagues, was arranged to get an understanding about the Girls Education Challenge – Sisters for Sisters’ project (the project that actually funds my volunteer placement). This project has been running for over two years, in four districts of Nepal and targets out-of-school and at risk of dropping out girls to access education, in order to complete a full cycle of education to grade 8 (lower secondary) and to demonstrate improved learning outcomes.  The project is designed to develop a culture among girls and their communities to recognise and support the value and right of all girls to a quality education.


We visited schools, met students, teachers, parents, and the didis and bahanis – big sisters and little sisters involved with the project.


Pomp and ceremony at our school arrival


My colleague Laxman explaining Ministry of Education plans


With some of the little sisters


Aananda U. Ma Vi School


Meeting staff at the District Education Office and their chief is a lady – woo hoo!


Project mid term evaluation presentation to Headteachers, DEO staff and the community


We also popped into the wonderful Kopila Valley School funded by US Bllink Now…unfortunately the CNN Hero award winner Maggie was away.


The great Kopila Valley tailors shop that provides skills training and income generation.


Shree Nepal Rasta U. Ma Vi School


Selfie with my new didi friends.

Some of the useful discussions held were:

  • The challenges of identifying marginalised students and having to turn away some beneficiaries because of budget constraints
  • Maintaining motivations amongst all the stakeholders – concerns were raised about the number of Government Policy changes and how the schools can implement them in a timely manner.
  • Mainstreaming the mentoring scheme – suggestions whether this could be explored further by Government and implemented on a national policy level.
  • Toilet maintenance especially girls toilets is a prevailing issue in schools.
  • Opportunities to use land for agricultural activities and income generation for the schools such a those implemented in Koplia Valley.
  • Incorporation of new technologies
  • Sustainability of the project beyond project period
  • Big sisters and students alike talked about their ambitions to be teachers, police, which was unlikely before

The good news is that so far:

  • 320 trained big sisters have mentored 1,282 little sisters
  • 152 teachers are trained on child-friendly and gender sensitive teaching methods benefiting 9,404 girls from grades 1 to 8.

Road Trip during Maghe Sankranti

Road Trip during Maghe Sankranti

Maghe Sankranti is a Nepalese festival observed on the first of Maghin the Bikram Samwat Nepali calendar (about 14 January). On this day, the sun is believed to leave its southernmost position and begin its northward journey, similar to summer solstice. The best bit of this festival, like so many other Nepalese festivals are the wonderful foods. This time sesame laddo, chaku (a very Goan type tasting jaggery halwa), sweet potatoes and yams. During Maghe Sankranti, the mother of each household wishes good health to all family members.


laddo, yam, sweet potato and chaku

laddo, yam, sweet potato and chaku










Mina, my work colleague is very accustomed to my penchant for sweets and invited me to her home to celebrate Maghe Sankranti with her family and the bonus (as if it could get any better), was a road trip to Daman, in the Makwanpur district, which is a noted tourist attraction with splendid view of the Himalayas and snow if we were lucky.

So the day kicked off with me cycling, the furthermost distance that I have ventured to, Mina’s house in the North side of the city. I was met with warm greetings from her family including Prajna, her 2 and a half year old daughter. Chores in the household were still underway and Mina jokingly pointed out how gender inclusive her home is, as her husband Pradeep was hand washing clothes on the roof terrace. Whilst I got to bask in the sunshine, play with Prajna and feast on the festival sweets. This was followed by daal bhat, with a delicious mutton dish.



Selfie with Prajna

Selfie with Prajna

Terrace and Washing














Mina’s sister and husband then arrived and following a quick pack, we set off on the 77Km journey to Daman. An eventful three hour journey through windy roads caused lots of travel sickness from the children….that’s where those plastic bags do come in handy. In and out, no sooner had Prajwan vomited, she scoffed on Pringles and oranges, then threw up again and so it continued.


me, Sudeep, Prajna, Pragyesh, Bhawana, Mina and Pradeep

me, Sudeep, Prajna, Pragyesh, Bhawana, Mina and Pradeep












We finally arrived at the Everest Panorama Resort, just in time for splendid sunset views from their viewing tower.   Over 400km of Himalayan range, encompassing 8 of the world’s 10 highest mountains, from Dhaulagiri in the West to Everest in the East  (excuse the sniffing/snorting on the link)

More eating, drinking and mad dancing in between courses, to the children’s (and my – those who know how much I like dancing) great delight. For the first time, I dragged people away from the dance floor by 10pm, as I wanted to make sure we got up for sunrise views, We finally retired to our chalet rooms and the best electric blanket heated bed that I have experienced.









I was the only one in our group to wake up at 5:45am to wondrous views and my first ever of Everest (I think).


Everest Sunrise (especially for Tom & Jacob)


We were not lucky enough to have snow but the hotel staff told us that there were the clearest views in days, indeed blue skies and picture postcard views.










Breakfast, lots of posing for out of this world background photographs, playing in childrens play ground, table tennis and then a brisk walk to the Mandhir (local temple set at a high peak). Where I have discovered that I am definitely not a trekker and give up half way, nevertheless enjoying the views (especially) at the strategically located resting stations.







Lunch, check out and set off home. Thankfully Sudeep, a doctor dropped by at the local pharmacy and the family were supplied with travel sickness tablets which made the journey a lot easier with less out into the now depleted plastic bags. We played I spy; sang and slept through the journey home…oh all the conversation (yippee my Nepali Language is getting better) was just like my family conversation about food and eating. I’m home!!!.

The adventure continued with my dusk cycle ride home from Mina’s house.

A great trip and my 2016 resolution of seeing more of this beautiful country is underway.



“Founded on the values of solidarity and mutual trust, volunteerism transcends all cultural, linguistic and geographic boundaries. By giving their time and skills without expectation of material reward, volunteers themselves are uplifted by a singular sense of purpose.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, for the International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development 5 December 2012.

Volunteering has given me so so much in return.  In celebration of International Volunteer Day and in honour of the amazing volunteers that I have come across both in the UK and here in Nepal. Aside from the VSO volunteers, especially the ones in Nepal, living in remote areas and those helping with the earthquake disaster work, still living in tents, I wanted to write about just a small few of the many inspiring people I have met here in Kathmandu who also volunteer.

Purusottam Dangol.  My quite, unassuming landlord was alone in our house when the first earthquake struck.  As a talented architect and author of a book on Nepal Temples, despite like many of us feeling scared and worrying about the aftershocks, he immediately volunteered with the Department of Archaeology for initial disaster  assessment of various monuments of Kathmandu valley.  Aside from his busy work schedule he is volunteering to I recall a welcome distraction during the earthquake aftershock, delving through our photographs to find images of a treasured temple in Bungamati before it was destroyed.   and is helping to rebuild .

Bungamati Temple


Purusottam at Pooja time

 Michael Rosenkrantz.   I met Mike at VSO Nepal when I first arrived in Kathmandu.  He was a volunteer in Nepal since 2012, at the time working in the Livelihoods area at the time.  Mike aside from championing the plight of the Nepalis, in his many writings in the local press, also coached an Army wheelchair basketball team and still mentors young Nepalis in teaching them to coach other wheelchair basketball teams in the Kathmandu Valley.
Mike and coaches

Mike and coaches


Can you spot Mike?

Katja Vauhkonen.  As a UN Volunteer working on gender and social inclusion, Katya never ceases to amaze me with her love of animals.  Whenever a group of us are eating out she reminds us to give her our leftovers which she collects for the stray dogs.  One wonders if an endless task with all the strays here but her persistence prevails.
Katja's dogs

Katja’s dogs



Diya Dangol.  Fifteen year old Diya is my neighbour and determined daughter of my friend Sudha.  She volunteers at many community events and was one of the first to lead the local children in activities whilst we camped outside during the earthquake.  She is intelligent, confident and has many plans for her life and the betterment of her beloved country.  We have many political debates and I call her a PM, as I am confident she will grow up to be the next Prime Minister.
Diya and Sudha

Diya with her mum Sudha

Diya at work

Diya at work

Debbie Manandhar .  I met Debbie at an outdoor festival. She and her friends who had performed really well in the cycle race, that took place during the day, asked if they could share my tent that evening. Coincidentally, Mina, my colleague at the Ministry, who used to be a teacher, recognised Debbie as I chuckled at one of Debbies’ amusing facebook militant posts. Debbie was as one of Mina’s students and recalled her having lots of potential. So apart from working for the National Blood Service here, Debbie volunteers with a youth organisation that helped deliver relief goods during last year’s floods and this year’s earthquake and still continues to do amazing work. She is also a pedal power champion, getting especially girls and even me to get on our bike. I promise I will attend a Kathmandu Critical Mass Debbie!

Debbie at the festival cycle race

Critical mass

Credit: Critical Mass Kathmandu


Post Earthquake


I have struggled with my blog following the earthquakes here, but now as I contemplate my holiday, in a few weeks time back home to the UK, I have decided to get back into it.

So much has already been written about what it feels like to be in an earthquake. What I find more challenging is the frustration and despair, living through the now, over 400 aftershocks that have taken place on a daily basis.

VSO Team at the Futsal tournament - 16mins before the first quake struck

VSO Team at the Futsal tournament – 16mins before the first quake struck.

Inaccessible routes back home

Inaccessible routes back  to damaged homes.

Our shelter for 4 days being erected.

Our shelter for 4 days being erected.

Fun with Granny and Babu.

Camping fun with Granny and Babu.

I have resided to categorising these aftershocks into those that feel like the earth has had a big fart, or those that feel like a bubbling cauldron, those feeling like an almighty shake of a cocktail flask and so on.  It seems that just when you feel the aftershocks are dwindling, a big one comes along to reassure you that you cannot let your guard down.

Only damage in my flat, embarassingly alcohol bottles.

Only damage in my flat, embarrassingly broken alcohol bottles.

 Landlord's garden office shelter for our neighbours.

Landlord’s garden office shelter for our neighbours.

Nothing stops Pramila cooking and feeds us all delicious Newari food.

Nothing stops Pramila cooking and feeds us all delicious Newari food.

Local festivities unaffected.

Local festivities unaffected.

I am thankful that I have been able to adjust, I am not so scared anymore and wonder what it would be like to be on stable ground back in the UK.  But many of my Nepali friends do not have the luxury to take a break from all this, especially now that the monsoon season is upon us, with the threats of landslides, particularly in those areas that have already suffered so much devastation.

Which brings me write about how inspired I have been by particularly, the Nepali youth here in Kathmandu.  They were the first to take action with the relief work.  They are a magnification of the resourcefulness and kind hearted qualities that I already witnessed with the majority of the Nepalis. In addition, my previous ‘showing my age’, sceptism about social media has been overturned.   Facebook has made it easier for people to connect and coordinate activity.  At this point I want to commend the efforts of the countless collectives such as, to name a couple, the Yellow House collective and Believers.  Led by inspiring, unassuming individuals, these groups are not even formal Non Government Organisations, charities or any such entity,  just phenomenally altruistic people, creatively collaborating together for a common cause.  My Utopia.  These volunteers self financed and were able to distribute aid to some of the most remote areas that the machination of government and the donor community appeared to ignore.   Thankfully these collectives are exiting relief work, as the disaster rebuild phase kicks in and government and donors get working.

Yellow House volunteer co-ordination

Yellow House volunteer co-ordination

Sunset at Yellow House

Sunset at Yellow House

Clearing rubble in Sankhu (one of the heavily affected districts).

Clearing rubble in Sankhu (one of the heavily affected districts).

More Sankhu rubble clear out.

More Sankhu rubble clear out.

The earthquake final damage and loss count has currently been estimated as follows:

  • 8,844 confirmed deaths

  • 8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance

  • 14 most-affected districts

  • 598,401 houses destroyed and 283,585 damaged

  • Assessments indicate that over 35,000 classrooms have been destroyed directly affecting more than 1 million children

The Nepali people appear resilient and determined to bounce back. New homes and schools should eventually be built, fulfilling the actual community requirements, but in the meantime, people have to manage, despite the hardship and inconvenience, in their temporary shelters and classrooms.

In Kathmandu, life has pretty much returned to normal.  Even my landlords have joined me back into our home after weeks of them camping out in the garden office, along with the neighbours and only me in the house.  My office at the Ministry of Education got back to business as usual, almost straight away.  Although the adjacent Prime Minister’s office has been badly damaged.

Opportunity for a clear out at the Ministry of Education.

Opportunity for a clear out at the Ministry of Education.

More post earthquake office clear out.

More post earthquake office clear out.

Prime Minister's Office

Prime Minister’s Office

Damaged Prime Minister's Office

Damaged Prime Minister’s Office

I am hopeful that the amazing volunteerism, community spirit and social consciousness can be harnessed for the power of good in the country’s future political leadership.

Finally, to my family and friends, who were planning to visit, please do still come.  Thankfully the UK has relaxed its Nepal travel restrictions and below is a great infographic putting the damage into perspective in a country so heavily reliant on the income from tourism now more than ever.  After all, who would not want to experience a bit of shaking in the their lives, in a beautiful surrounding.

Nepal open to tourists.

Nepal open to tourists.