I have never volunteered with VIN, nor even been to Nepal, so my experience is a little different. I saw the impact the experience in Nepal, volunteering with Volunteers Initiative Nepal and trekking, had on my young adult daughter.
This was her first time traveling overseas on her own, although not her first visit to a developing country. Whatever trepidations I may have had about this experience were quickly dispelled when she told me how welcoming and solicitous Bhupi and her homestay family were. She was able to take some of her theoretical knowledge and apply it in the real world. I feel she learned so much about herself and came home confident and ready to start her working career.
I was so impressed by the organization’s goals and grassroots holistic approach that I have continued to support them and stay in touch with Bhupi and their projects through social media and emails. It is so rewarding to really see the impact VIN has on the daily lives of the people as well as the opportunities it provides for their future.
My journey with Volunteers Initiative Nepal started with Dee in Hawaii back in 2011. Dee is a former VIN volunteer and the founder of Friends of VIN USA. Because of my connection to Nepal and my experience in the nonprofit sector, she asked me to join the board. Learning about the work of VIN in Nepal, I was delighted to join the volunteer board.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to journey far and wide alongside VIN staff, volunteers, and the people supported by VIN’s programs throughout all the geographic areas served. Having lived in Nepal for more than 4 years of my tenure, I have had the pleasure and honor of meeting hundreds of program beneficiaries and volunteers, witness dozens of projects in action, and get to know the ins and outs of the work on the ground.
Every month, the US board meets virtually to
Getting to be a part of the ongoing work and witness firsthand the positive impacts that VIN has in so many people’s lives has been an honor and pleasure.
Above all, I believe it is the human connection that keeps us each motivated and inspired. Choosing to volunteer with VIN in Nepal is one way of getting to connect more deeply with the people of Nepal, and with oneself, while giving back.
That being said, one of my favorite memories of all time with VIN has less to do with volunteering, and more to do with the human experience of connection and delight, while with Bhupi in his home village in Okhaldhunga.
Anyone who knows Bhupi knows that he is a stoic figure, working diligently day in and day out, ever-inspired by the vision of a more equitable society. But in this brief moment, I saw his inner-child come out. Expressions of uninhibited glee. You see, the first big rain of the year poured down onto the red earth of his ancestral place. And then? Why was he running around like a kid in a candy shop, you might ask? Because the winged insect, that only appears on this one auspicious night, crawled out and started buzzing around. And we ate them. Raw off the dirst floor. And fried and mixed with garlic and onion, cilantro and lime, chilli and salt. And we laughed. And sang and danced, as the electricity grid came on and off and on again. It was pure magic.
From Adventure to Achievement
4 years ago I thought that I really ought to start having adventures, after all I was not getting any younger and although I have lived a very satisfying life it has been risk free.
So at 63 a spent a week sailing in the English Channel on Challenger2, an Atlantic racing yacht. Despite a force 5 gale I could thoroughly recommend it as an experience.
It did give me a taste for adventure so the next year I set off to volunteer and travel in Nepal. I finally signed up with an organisation called Volunteers Initiative Nepal after countless hours on Google looking for reputable (and affordable) company.
Why Nepal? Well, there had recently been a devastating earthquake, women were very poor, ill-educated and seriously second-class citizens. I also had a connection in Nepal through Soroptimist International.
Arrival in Kathmandu.
Wow! it was Tihar: The festival of lights This festival lasts for five days and it was an assault on the senses, Kathmandu that most exotic sounding of capital cities, was awash with noise and colour. As a treat I stayed at the Kathmandu Guest House which has seen many famous individuals staying, not least the Beatles and JFK. This did not prepare me for my home stay…..
Volunteering induction, firstly I was quite put out to find there were 2 volunteers older than me, Daisy and George were 84 years old and had come from Canada to Nepal to support the training of teachers. The good news is that means I have at least another 20 years of adventures.
I find myself with around a dozen volunteers from all corners of the globe (why do we use that phrase, it’s not as if the world is square?) Young French men have come to build toilets, young Americans come to teach English in Buddhist monasteries, young Antipodeans to teach women’s empowerment classes, a young Japanese girl to work in a nursery and an English and South African couple come to Nepal via China to teach in local schools, these are just some of the wonderful people I meet. We learn basic Nepalese words, get loads of hygiene warnings and instructions not to ride on the top of buses. We also firm up on our intended activity and I had signed up for empowerment and women’s enterprise training. Next stop Tinpiple and Rama’s house.
After a very bumpy hours ride out of Kathmandu, heading north (I think) dropped off at what I would describe as a modest dwelling and are warmly welcomed by the family especially their 11-year-old son Navin (a keen CR7 fan!) who becomes chief translator.
A routine quickly becomes established, chocolate biscuit and black tea for breakfast and dal baht in a pack up and a walk down the mountain to work.
Most of my time is spent working with Tina, a young Austrian woman putting together a fundraising proposal for the Jitpurphedi Women’s Agricultural Cooperative. We work in the VIN office or in a small hut in a nearby hotel with fantastic views over the valley. We meet with the Cooperative’s President and meet with the architect from Kathmandu and we measure the land and photograph the land registry document. We write to past volunteers and get over £1200 in before we leave.
I promise to raise the money and the women invite us back for the opening of the building.
Back in the UK, the promise weighs heavily on me and I am determined to fulfil it. I set up a not for profit (which takes nearly a year) Friends of VIN UK both to use as a fundraising vehicle and to support VIN. I am very lucky when my local soroptimist club SI Leeds makes a donation of £50,000. which means the project will go ahead.
I get regular updates on progress and visit the site in December 2018 with my fellow soroptimist Anne. it is very exciting and the women are already using the building for classes even though it is only a shell and still a building site (so much for Health and Safety!)
Finally, on 28th November, just 3 years since arriving the building is complete and formally inaugurated in front of hundreds of women and a number of VIP’s including a Minister of State.
I feel slightly overwhelmed by it all and can hardly believe it. I take time to reflect, I don’t want to rest on my laurels and look forward to my next project in Nepal.
My Second Home
I first visited Nepal in 1995. I arrived by bus from India and when I first set foot on Nepalese ground, I strangely felt I had come home – this was slightly confusing as I hadn’t really met anybody or seen any of Nepal’s magnificent landscape – and moreover, I was born in Korea and grew up in Denmark with my adoptive parents since the age of 2 months! I had 6 fantastic weeks in Nepal and I knew I had to come back.
So, a couple of years later I returned – this time with my mom – and this is when I started to feel guilty about only ‘consuming’ what Nepal had to offer and I knew I had to come back to try and ‘give’ back. This plan was temporarily blocked by the awful civil war that raged in Nepal from 1996 – 2006, and it wouldn’t be until 2010 when I was talking with my husband-to-be about where to go honey-mooning that he suggested Nepal. He said he was curious to experience the country, I called my second home. We did the Mt. Everest Base Camp Trek together and he then returned home; I stayed for another 2 months to volunteer with Volunteers Initiative Nepal (VIN).
I remember I chose VIN because their website had a lot of information on there; they were very specific and detailed about their projects and programs and I liked that they had photos of past, current and future volunteers. (If they were illegitimate surely these people would protest their photos being used) Moreover, the organization was set up by Nepalese for Nepalese and their holistic approach was what attracted me. They have a variety of programs which all sound very exciting – but what can/should I choose and will I have the required skills? I finally sign up as an ECD (Early Childhood Development) teacher.
Together with other international volunteers we have a 3-day induction course at VIN’s office. We get a Nepali language crash course and prepare for our specific programs. There’s an air of nervousness and excitement in the air – what will it be like to live with a Nepalese family? How primitive will the conditions be? How will it go at the school I’m going to teach at?
I end up with Shiva dai’s family and I’m very confused at first as to how many members there are in the family – VIN told me that there were 1 mother and 4 children. The father lives with another wife in another household – in the same village! After the first day, I know that two of the girls which were first introduced as ‘sisters’ are actually what they in Nepal call ‘cousin sister’. They are cousins, but because brothers typically live next to each other, their children grow up close together and therefore become more like siblings rather than cousins.
My first day at Kalikasharan Lower Seconday School was exciting. It was just a 5 min walk to from my host family. There was a bachelor student; Sarita, teaching the ECD class and we agreed that I just watch and observe the first day and then we would discuss how to proceed. There were many older children in the class although ECD is normally for 3-5-year-olds, but due to the civil war some children hadn’t been able to ‘graduate’ to the next grade so they were ‘stuck’ with all the small children. The oldest was 12 years old! The day was going well until Sarita was called away to teach another class and asks if I’ll be ok with the class on my own. I don’t really have a choice, and I say ‘of course, no problem’. The second, THE SECOND, she closes the door, the room erupts like a pot of popcorn without the lid on! It’s mayhem – one of the oldest children LITERALLY runs UP the wall and does a backflip! The children are screaming, jumping on the tables and things are being thrown around in the room. I have NO control whatsoever and I don’t know I survive, but somehow, I manage.
The following weeks are nothing like this – the children don’t need to test the ‘new teacher’ anymore and I work with the oldest children while Sarita take care of the smallest bunch. I teach English and math and create my own curriculum. Although, I only work 10-3pm, I find it quite demanding and I definitely have a new-found respect for teachers. We also work 6 days a week like the rest of Nepal; only Saturday is weekend. But when that is said, I thoroughly enjoy seeing the children every day and experience them having fun in class. In addition to this experience, living with a host family is such an amazing experience; getting to live with a Nepalese family and observe and be part of everyday life is more fulfilling that I could ever have imagined.
Before I know it, my time as a volunteer is over. I have thoroughly enjoyed it – despite the first day of mayhem! VIN has been a fantastic organization, from the induction course, to support during the volunteer stay to the final exit interview.
I could finally ‘tick the box’ of ‘giving back to Nepal’, but I feel it cannot end there; it’s not enough. So, a couple of months after I have come back, I have registered the first Friends of VIN at the Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands. And so continues my journey with Nepal.