Updated: Feb 28, 2019
When my children were in secondary school, they were lucky enough to have volunteer travel opportunities with Projects Abroad, and I have always been just a little bit jealous of their experiences.
When my youngest child left for university, I decided that my time was now and became determined to do something exciting, like volunteer in an exotic and far-flung location. Being nervous about volunteering for the first time, I focused on the Senior Specials and was comforting knowing that I would be with people who were a similar age to me.
The location choice of Nepal was easy for me as Kathmandu is both exotic and far-flung. Also, as a first-time travel-volunteer, I wanted fully engaging with the community, and there was no better way to do that than to do support work with a local school.
My lovely group of volunteers, comprised of people from age 50 upwards from six different countries, painted classrooms and interacted with the children of the Guira Shankar Primary School; which was a short, and exceedingly bumpy bus ride from the central area of Thamel, where the group was staying.
Our mornings were blessed with a delicious buffet and warm smiles from the staff at the Little Nepal Inn. The Inn was clean, responsive and appealing in that our rooms were individual and en suite, a real bonus with travel volunteerism!
The Little Nepal Inn is also perfectly located just outside the hectic streets of Thamel, and also a five-minute walk in the opposite direction to Durbar Square, an ancient and large temple compound. Most of the temples of Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, suffered horrendous damage in the 2015 earthquake and it was interesting to see the reconstruction taking place.
From our collection in the mornings, through our days of work at the school, to the evening’s entertainment, we were well looked after by local Projects Abroad staff members who treated us with the patience, generosity, and the kindness one can expect from the people of Nepal.
Our group was quick to practice the Nepalese that our handler attempted to edify, though I can honestly say that most of us never advanced beyond ‘namaste’ (the perfect catch-all word for graciousness and manners when traveling), and the Nepalese words for ‘brother’ and ‘boss’, which I confess was quickly forgotten by me. One in our group, however, was a frequent traveller to Nepal, and a more accomplished linguist than the rest of us. She was able to order ‘cappuccino very hot’ from the local café.
After our week of painting and playing with the students of Guira Shankar, we enjoyed a weekend break by touring the many temples and stupas local to Kathmandu. We also took a breath-taking flight to view the peaks of the Himalaya mountain range and, at last, Everest.
We next visited Edu Farm, a passion project of a Projects Abroad Nepal staff member. Once again, we organised arts & crafts and games for the local children and were privileged to see first-hand what Edu Farm is doing to bolster the community with education, organic farming, services and jobs.
My most enjoyable experiences of the trip occurred here when a group of the older girls, not interested in playing games, and I had a long conversation about their lives and customs. All the kids were very eager to speak with all of us, and I found their openness to communicate very rewarding.
The dates of our two-week special luckily coincided with the five-day Nepalese festival of Tihar, which is very similar to Diwali in India. On our return to the Guira Shankar Primary School, we organised a dental hygiene demonstration, practiced arts & crafts and played playground games with the younger children.
The older children were also keen to participate with what we had planned for them and they treated us with absolute respect. I must confess to having found my match on the table tennis court, and spent the day happily being ping-pong-pummelled by the students!
We were then favoured with the school’s Tihar celebrations and performances. It was great fun to watch all of these very happy children, dressed in traditional clothing, dance, sing and play. That afternoon, however, things may have taken a dark turn when the children insisted we join them in the dancing!
After completing our work at the school, our group left Kathmandu for a few days in Pokhara. Nepal is a wild and wonderful place, but road maintenance is not high on the government’s list for investment. Seven hours in a mini-bus was a trial overcome only by the group’s interesting conversation, the beautiful countryside of Nepal, and the sacrifice of one specific volunteer who quite happily settled herself on the last and most jarring seat on the bus.
Pokhara is a buzzy little city; home of Nepal’s second largest population, including a large number of Tibetan refugees, and many temples, stupas and gumbas, including the Tal Barahi, which sits in the middle of Phewa Lake, and a true showstopper, the World Peace Pagoda on Anada Hill.
Nagarkot is another a magical little village of Nepal. Nestled on a mountainside at 1600 feet altitude, this is the place to come to view a spectacular sunrise or sunset. Fighting crowds at five a.m. might seem a bit unpleasant, but when the sun’s rays graze the snow-capped heights of the Himalayas, you quickly realise that the early wakeup call and then battling the selfie-sticks battalions for a view clear of other people’s faces are sacrifices much worth making.
My two weeks volunteering in Nepal with Projects Abroad exposed me to so many experiences that I may never have had, had if I had simply travelled there as a tourist.
I returned home with gratitude for the friends that I made and for the good times we shared as a group. My kids are now a little jealous of me!