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.
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:
“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.”
“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.
As an adjunct, wholeheartedly agree with these https://www.vsointernational.org/news/blog/20-ways-volunteering-overseas-will-change-you
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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