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.