Whilst I had travelled for many years solo or trekking with a group, often I had found myself wanting to be a little more "hands on" in the communities I was experiencing; so in 2017 whilst taking a post business gap year and in the prime of my life at 50 I decided to volunteer with Projects Abroad in Nepal.
Travelling to Nepal
I arrived in Kathmandu around midnight and though a little travel weary, I felt well informed of what to expect as the preceding departure information from my Projects Abroad volunteer advisor was both informative and professional, as was their website link for volunteers.
I was greeted at the airport and driven straight to my hotel in Kathmandu; after a good sleep and breakfast I met with my volunteer coordinator, who armed me with the "do’s and don’ts" whilst in Nepal and all the contacts should I require any assistance.
My host family
The following day I was driven out to my host family in Delighty, approximately 30 minutes south of Kathmandu. My host mother ensured I was fed and watered every morning sharp at 8am before leaving for my placement and every evening at 7pm her two young sons would round us up for dinner; often they would perform a song and dance whilst we were eating, priceless. The weekends I would join the other volunteers, stay in Thamel for a little ‘luxury’, and enjoy a non-dahl baht meal!
Teaching in Nepal
My first week volunteering in Delighty was spent teaching English and assisting the teachers with various other subjects for students aged 3 – 16 years. The commitment and dedication of the principal of the school was nothing short of inspiring; as the school received no government funding she worked two other jobs outside of running the school with her husband to ensure the school and teaching staff were always funded. She valued the volunteers immensely and one day asked if I would run a few ‘health education classes’ for the older female students, as she had heard I was once a nurse (many many years ago, I might add!). So after dusting off the cobwebs I ran the most enjoyable education classes with a group of amazing young women, it will remain one of the highlights and fondest memories of my time in Nepal.
HIV/Aids Care Project
The next three weeks I spent volunteering at a HIV/Malnutrition Centre aimed at rural communities. Whilst the results achieved by a team of nurses, nutritionist and a sole doctor were amazing, often as a volunteer my days were spent developing and teaching a basic school curriculum or simply interacting with the children through play and games. I will admit there were moments I questioned the value I bought to these children, as I was not doing any healthcare as such. Then I recalled how many were stigmatised by their own communities and families, who often refused to have anything to do with them. Some had no family at all, orphaned with both parents fatally succumbing to the complications of HIV….so to have someone actually care, play with them and simply offer a reassuring smile was all they wished for some days. I could see the value of my volunteering and it did not come in a box or attached to a degree!
As a parent with now grown children, it was one of the most rewarding and humbling experiences I had felt in Nepal. It was an experience shared and always remembered with many other amazing volunteers.
My Conservation Project
The second month I was off to my Conservation Project in Ghandruk, a stunning rural village set on the side of rice paddy terraced mountains, approximately seven hours bus ride from Kathmandu, followed by a three hour all terrain jeep ride from Pokhara. Now if there is one word to describe Ghandruk it is "steps...steps and more steps!" all climbing through tiny laneways of a village caught in a time warp; no large shops, no ATM!!, just bare basics and the best apple pie you could imagine. My advice for volunteers heading to Ghandruk is stock up your Rupees and any snack type supplies in Pokhara before you jump in the jeep. Entry permits are only valid for three trips in/out of the Annapurna Conservation Area, so use them wisely, if you are staying a considerable period and want to trek some of the stunning mountain ranges whilst up there.
My conservation work consisted of short day treks through some of the most pristine Rhododendron forests and mountain ranges you will ever experience. The highlight for me was setting camera traps for leopards and actually capturing one in view a few days later, this more than made up for the mad dash down the mountain every day to try and catch a warm shower before the solar only hot water went completely cold; down jackets and sleeping bags are invaluable from November on. Weekends were free time and on one occasion, together with a few other volunteers, I trekked to Annapurna Base Camp, renowned for its incredible scenery and second only to Everest Base Camp. The sense of achievement far outweighed the sheer exhaustion I felt; it was with grateful sadness that I left Ghandruk, never have I felt so alive doing a hard day’s work!
In finishing, whilst I was the oldest one in both my placements, I not once felt out of place and thoroughly enjoyed my time with the younger volunteers, often taking on the natural parental role; we had amazing times working and socialising together. So if you are in your prime like me, and looking for a rewarding memorable time away, I can highly recommend volunteering with Projects Abroad, both on a professional and personal level…enjoy!