Sarah Knox - General Care Projects in Nepal
Arriving in Kathmandu, there is a lot to take in. My first views as I flew in were absolutely spectacular, the contrast of the huge sprawling city against the starling green of the surrounding hills and the white tipped peaks of the Himalayas behind, was a sight I’ll never forget.
As I jostled my way through the airport crowds to the exit, I spotted the white “Projects Abroad” sign and was led across the car park to a van. As we drove across the city I was feeling quite shocked by the crazy traffic, like the 3 wheeled tuk tuk ahead of me. It was crammed with about 20 more people than it could possibly hold and lurched sideways to the point that it nearly toppled over every time it hit a bump or pothole!
Once I got over the initial shock of arrival, I moved in with my host family, who were absolutely delightful people, and very typically Nepalese. My diet over the next 4 months consisted primarily of daal bhaat, which is basically lentils and rice and they eat it for breakfast and dinner every day. It is quite a nice thing to have for dinner but initially at breakfast I found it difficult to adjust to! Everything in Nepal is eaten with your fingers and whilst my host family deftly rolled their rice into little balls I ended up with most of it all over my face! I soon got used to it though and considered myself a bit of an expert by the end of the four months.
My care placement
During my time in Nepal I worked at 2 different placements, both of which were a fantastic experience. My first placement was a centre for children with HIV. The kids all come with their mothers to act as a carer, and my role was basically to play with them and try to teach them basic English as well as accompany the children on hospital visits. Every Wednesday we would have to take one of the kids, Rahul, to a children’s hospital about an hours drive out of Kathmandu. He had club feet and was undergoing treatment to fix them, which basically meant he had huge plasters on his legs that were replaced and tightened every week to help push his feet back into place. Every week I was given the task of removing his plasters with a bucket of warm water and a rock! Not an altogether pleasant experience for Rahul, but he was the most incredibly brave and lovely kid, his beaming smile never once left his face! His casts were put on in the week that I arrived at MSPN, and on my last week in Nepal 4 months later, they were removed and he was able to run around and climb trees just like any other little boy. It was one of the most rewarding things that I saw in my time there.
My supervisor, Ranju, was a fantastic lady and we became quite close during my time there. As well as running the centre, she also conducts training courses for women with HIV all over the country teaching them about the disorder, and ways of coping with it. I was lucky enough to be invited on one of these training courses which was an amazingly eye opening experience.
I sat in on the first session of the course, which was basically an introductory session for all the women. It was very simply done, the women just threw a ball of wool to one another and each told their individual story and struggle with HIV. Luckily I was sitting next to the nurse who could speak English, so she could translate most of what they were saying. As the wool was passed from person to person I started to see a pattern in their stories: all of these women had contracted HIV from their husbands, many of whom were drug abusers or had worked in India. The hardship that these women had gone through I couldn't even begin to comprehend, not only had they had to deal with the physical effects of HIV but the stigma that comes with it- shunned by family, friends and neighbours, having your children expelled from school or being unable to find a job yourself.
Although I couldn't understand what they were saying, just seeing these fun vibrant women become so sad and subdued as they spoke, was a very moving experience. At one point in the session the ball of wool was passed to me and I was asked about my life and any hardship that I have had. It was only at this point that it fully dawned on me what a lucky life I have led. I couldn't answer the question 'tell us about a time when you have cried' because crying over failed maths tests and boys not liking you doesn't really measure up to what they have had to deal with.
My teaching placement
My second placement during my time in Nepal was at Arniko School, where I worked as an English teacher and a class assistant. It was an extremely full-on but nonetheless enjoyable experience which really gave me an insight into the world of teaching. I can safely say without a doubt that it is an extremely difficult job! In the morning I would assist in Class 2 (6-8 year olds) who had a hopeless teacher - in my time there he did living and non-living things about 7 times in science.
The definitions did make me laugh: “living things have life, and non-living things do not have life”. Very descriptive. Most of my time in spent in there involved barricading the door so they couldn’t all escape to the toilet and confiscating water bottles which they loved to spray all over each other. The rest of my classes were like angels compared to them and did some great English work which made me so happy!
As well as providing fantastic host families, and placements, what impressed me most about Projects Abroad was their dedication to making sure all the volunteers experienced as much of the country as they could. Every weekend they organised fantastic trips for the volunteers: from white water rafting down Nepal’s largest river, bungee jumping over the stunning Bhote Khosi gorge. It was a great way to meet other volunteers that you weren’t living or working with and some of my fondest memories are from these trips.
I also took two weeks off work in my time there to go on a trek in the Annapurna mountain range with my family, something I would recommend to everyone. The scenery throughout this trip was truly breath-taking. Every morning my camera finger would get a workout as I tried to get the 'perfect shot' of the Himalayas (which inevitably was never going to happen) and we walked most of our days off the main trail through spectacular pink and red rhododendron forests.
You haven’t truly visited Nepal unless you’ve experienced first-hand one of its many festivals. I got my fair share in my 4 months there, but probably my most memorable was Holi, the festival of colour; basically a day when everyone covers their faces in red powder and has massive water fights. I joined all the neighbours in the local water fight which in retrospect was probably not the brightest idea I’ve ever had. Because I was the only western girl in the area I got special treatment and as soon as I walked out the door I had a huge bucket of dirty water poured over my head followed by pretty much a whole packet of red powder! I must have looked quite a sight sprinting down the road with about 20 kids in tow all absolutely pummelling me with water balloons! Afterwards I scrubbed my face as best I could but for the next week I was covered in red blotches that made me look as though I was coming out in some sort of funny rash…
Looking back on my time in Nepal, I can say there are things that I don’t miss about this country: the incessant power cuts, the piles of stinking rubbish that line the streets and the feeling that you’ve just smoked a 12 pack of cigarettes every time you walk down the ring road to name a few. But ultimately the friendly and beautiful nature of the Nepalese people allow you to look past all this: the way I was welcomed and accepted there and the unforgettable experiences that seem a part of everyday, have made it the most incredible 4 months of my life!