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What it’s like to volunteer in Nepal and why I keep coming back


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Anupa Nardi – Australian Volunteer, 2015

So this is my third time in Nepal. The first was for one week as part of a tour with a tour group. We visited other countries but there was something about Nepal that I loved straight away. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the people. The yak wool shawls, the men selling tiger balm, the felt shops, the small dusty, bustling streets of Thamel district in Kathmandu, the wide open eagle-floating spaces of the mountains, and of course, the Himalayas. When did I first love Nepal? The first moment. And so I promised myself that I would do everything I could to come back – but the next time I did not want to come back as a tourist. I wanted to immerse myself in the culture, to really live here amongst the people. I wanted to do good, I wanted to make a difference and I wanted to repay Nepal for being so nice to me. I wanted to volunteer in Nepal.

 

So, back in Australia the first thing I did was hit the Internet to search for a way that I could volunteer in Nepal. To give something back to the country that would host me for my journey. This is how I found Volunteers Initiative Nepal (VIN). When did I first respect and love VIN? The first moment. A non-government, non-religious, non-profit organization that was set up by Nepali, and for, Nepali people. They believe passionately about women and children’s rights. They believe in human rights. They believe in equality. Bhupi, the founder and director lives and breathes VIN. He is personally invested in the communities where VIN is making change. VIN makes change slowly but surely for the better – whilst continuing to remain respectful of Nepali culture. They are not here to change people: but to change people’s level of access. There are so many volunteering opportunities in Nepal through VIN. There is no better way to really experience this kind of work and this kind of immersion in Nepali culture. I decided to come for six weeks; it was all of the holiday leave that I had saved up with my work. To say that decision was life changing would be an understatement.

 

Being back in Thamel, Kathmandu was wonderful: the tiny streets filled with cars, rickshaws, motorbikes all beeping their existence and the air filled with the sweet smell of incense, wandering past small temples and a mixture of local Nepali people and other travelers. I was so happy to be back. The VIN induction was three days: including health tips (do not drink the tap water and how to know when it’s okay to eat vegetables or fruit), some Nepali language classes (How are you, my name is, I have diarrhea), information about my specific choice of volunteer project (VIN have so many volunteer projects to choose from) and also some sightseeing around Kathmandu. After this I was placed in my volunteer project: Living in a Buddhist Monastery for six weeks teaching English to the children that lived there. The cliché of being prepared to be unprepared rang true: there is no way to prepare for something like this. Only people who have experienced it will know. I fell in love with each and every one of those tiny little monks. Planning lessons was challenging and rewarding. Working in a developing country is also challenging: the monastery didn’t have any school equipment – only a whiteboard and chairs in each room. I was handed lumps of chalk on my first day. Facing these challenges and was an intense and immense experience. The children were beautiful and honest, the culture was so different from where I had come from but I loved it. I loved eating dhal baht (cooked rice and lentil soup) with curry every day. I loved the children yelling “NAMASTE” as I walked into the classroom. I loved that they would all high-five me as they walked out of the classroom. I loved watching them chant their puja (Tibetan Prayers) in the morning and then again in the evening. I loved putting medicine on their sores and telling them to sleep well. I loved having to separate them when they would use their prayer beads on each other like nun chucks weaponry. I loved watching them in their red robes skittle across the courtyard and play games. When I had weekends I would make the short trip by local bus back into the Thamel district and meet up with some of the other volunteers. It was the perfect opportunity for me to be able to debrief with other volunteers and to also get ideas on what other people were doing in their projects. Meeting other like-minded people from around the globe, all sharing the same vision of giving something back to the world, who also love Nepal and love humans is a doorway into something very special and creates long-lasting friendships. I have made new friends for life. As have they. This happens with volunteers at VIN. Every time. We get inducted together and we train together and we go through it all together. I would sit around a table in Thamel, sitting on the floor on cushions, eating momos (Nepali dumplings that are pretty much one of the best foods there is) and listen to volunteers from talk about how it was to dig holes for toilets in far away villages of Nepal. VIN has brought sanitation and hygiene to hundreds upon hundreds of people in Nepal – it’s truly phenomenal. I would listen to volunteers from countries such as France, Sweden, Italy, Australia, Switzerland, Denmark, England and Hong Kong talk about their volunteer experiences in Nepal. Some of them work in Female empowerment. VIN has empowered women, given women in isolated and disadvantaged villages the confidence to take on work, to learn how to say no to abuse, to understand that they have rights. How could any gift in this world be more valuable that this? I am thankful every day to know my rights and I swell up thinking about the work that VIN does.

 

All of these magnificent thoughts and feelings and the intensity of travel accumulated in my heart and the day that I found myself once again back in Sydney Australia was a difficult day indeed. People said that I had “post holiday blues”, to leave it for a month and I’ll settle back in. Well after one month I was still missing and pining for Nepal. After two months I was still looking at my Nepal post cards and fridge magnets and missing Nepal. After three months I felt like I wasn’t doing enough good in this world and I missed VIN. After four months I still felt the need for volunteers in Nepal and the momentous amount of work still to be done and I continued to have the urge to be back in Nepal. After five months I was still the same. But after six months, I reached a point of ‘enough’ and I booked my flights back to Nepal, I borrowed some money from the bank and I asked my work to hold my job for me. Which – with the most appreciative gratitude possible – they did.

 

And here I am, back in Nepal. Back in Thamel. Back at VIN. Nepal is disadvantaged but VIN has made so many incredible achievements! They’ve set up over 30 early childhood centres (without funding!) and have trained village women in how to teach these young children. Creating employment, creating purpose . . . creating change, creating equality and creating opportunity. Each person on this planet has a right to learn, to have education, to be independent, to know their rights, to eat, to have clean drinking water and to have shelter when they sleep. Many of us have this, many of us don’t. And VIN is working on this, with passion and with uninterrupted determination. We are all part of the bigger picture.

 

I will go in the world where my skills can be used. And VIN can use them. And VIN can use yours too. Whether you are good with documents, IT, digging holes, disaster management, teaching, praying, yoga, dancing, crafts, smiling, loving. If you have any of these, then they can be used for good. There are volunteering opportunities in Nepal for everyone. Please know now that you can make a difference. And you can love the world around you. And I will continue to love it. And my dear VIN and Nepal, I will return . . . again and again.

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2 responses to “What it’s like to volunteer in Nepal and why I keep coming back”

  1. Milano Revives says:

    Namaste Anupa Nardi,

    You are great; truly a motivator! I look forward to join you someday in Nepal. May Lord keep you safe!

    Milan from Singapore :)

  2. Nitin Sharma says:

    Wonderful payback to community development. Loved the read. Volunteer in Nepal.

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