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Your flights to Lukla from Kathmandu may be diverted to Ramechhap Airport. Here’s Why!

Your flights to Lukla from Kathmandu may be diverted to Ramechhap Airport. Here’s Why!

Danielle’s Experiences Volunteering in December 2015

Before I set off on my adventure with Take on Nepal I knew it would be a life changing experience – and I was right! I have always wanted to volunteer but was overwhelmed by length of time, the cost and uncertainty about the ethics of the programs I had come across. After stumbling across a Take on Nepal sign whilst in Cairns and speaking to Susan’s brother about the program I was intrigued and the notion of going to Nepal remained in the back of my mind for some time. A year later I met a man who, by coincidence, had worked closely with Som (through the charity Friends of the Himalayan Children) and could not recommend a better volunteer program than Take on Nepal. The final sign that I should embark on this trip was but 6 months later when at university I noticed that walls all over the had been plastered with Take on Nepal flyers! From that point I had been in contact with Susan about the program, who I constantly bombarded with nervous emails up until my arrival. Particularly in the wake of the earthquake I was unsure what to expect and hearing that many people had left our volunteer group because of this, I knew that Nepal needed support now more than ever.

When I arrived in Kathmandu I was met by Sujan and Dinesh who were so friendly and welcoming. It was a nice relief arriving at the hotel and being able to catch up on some sleep before I met all the other volunteers the next day. Whilst I found the hotel did have some minor faults, such as leaking showers and firm beds, I really did feel extremely safe and comfortable there (especially knowing that it withstood the earthquake!). After meeting the five other volunteers it was clear that we all clicked and were all here for similar reasons – to help in anyway we can, learn about ourselves and grow, and explore Nepal. Our first day as a group we spent walking around Kathmandu exploring the city where we saw monkeys going about their day at the Swayambhunath Stupa, spun prayer wheels with the locals and ate the most delicious Tibetan bread with dahl. Walking around Kathmandu really is the best way to explore and see how the locals live. The next day our guides, Jitay and Mane, helped us buy our last minute supplies before we were to begin our trek (the sleeping bag I purchased is amazing and still less than half the price of the ones you find in Australian travel stores!).

The drive out of Kathmandu to begin our trek to Batase was great. To finally see some greenery and breath in some cleaner air was just what I needed before our walk. We were met by the young women from Batase who were our porters for the trek, and while we initially felt a bit uncomfortable about them having to lug our 10-15kg bags around for the next 2 days, we quickly were amazed with not only how strong and fit they were, but also how high their spirits were whilst trekking with their friends and exploring Nepal for themselves. This is a great initiative taken by the team at Take on Nepal as it gives the girls the opportunity get a taste of what it is like to be a guide in Nepal, better their English through conversation with the volunteers (even if they were just listening to us talk), it gives them a couple of fun nights out of the village to see Kathmandu and explore the surroundings, and they get paid for it.

So while the walk had its tough moments (all of the stairs!), it was an incredible experience. I won’t forget looking around the seeing rolling valleys for kilometers and little villages perched all over, witnessing the strength of the elderly couple who out walked us (whilst carrying supplies that probably weighed 30kgs+), the peaks of the Himalayas, which stood out through the fog and clouds, the sunrise at Chisopani, and the simplicity of life in the villages that we passed, the sense of accomplishment when I (someone not so fit) looked back on how high and how far I had just walked.

I will also not forget the harshness of life in remote villages and the trail of devastation left by the earthquake, the houses, the schools, the roads and the people all affected. As sad as this is to see, this was one of the most important aspects of the tour and only prepared us for the experiences we were about to have in Batase. After waking up to a beautiful sunrise we set of for our last few hours of walking before arriving in the Village. As we walked through the village we could see how isolated it was and how many challenges they would face living in a remote community with limited access and communication to the rest of the Nepal. However being so isolated also removed us from the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu and gave us all a sense of calmness and peace. The only noises that could be heard were the sounds of the goats and bulls, the children running through the village, and the men and women working to build and grow their community.

Our accommodation was newly built cement brick rooms with two beds. While these were simple, they were more than enough. After seeing that most people in this region are currently living in small makeshift sheds crammed with far too many people to live comfortably, we really felt honored to be given this accommodation. The only thing that irked some of us were the spiders that seemed to appear as night came around. As much as I love all creatures, I had no trouble going on a spider cull before going to sleep each night. This was followed by clothing myself from head to toe and wriggling right down to the bottom of my sleeping bag!

On our first visit to the school we introduced ourselves to all the classes and the teachers. As the school was destroyed in the earthquake the students were now learning with bare minimum resources, in corrugated iron sheds with classroom chatter travelling all throughout the school. The enormity of the job at hand for the teachers of this school hit me at this point. The next day I really saw that the work was cut out for the teachers! I spent the morning with year 3, after only 30 minutes it was clear that this class needed a great deal of support. In a class of 34+ students, many of who have discipline issues, I could see that Nirmala (Year 3 teacher) was having a difficult time engaging and teaching her students. The learning throughout the entire school was rote, repetitive and teacher-centred. This was at no fault of the teachers, but is what they have been taught to do, and are only now being introduced to more student-centered, interactive learning that we are taught in Australia. Being the only volunteer with some school teaching background I decided to stay with year 3 during my time in the village and support Nirmala, hopefully improving the behavior of students and increasing her confidence.

Each day I found myself a hitting a wall of some sort, feeling a sense of helplessness. The struggles that everyone in this school community have to face on a daily basis are heartbreaking, and frustrating. At night I would always sit there, a little overwhelmed, and think how hard of a job this is, how much is needed to be done and how so many things there are working against everyone in the village. It all felt helpless at times. Yet seeing how every teacher and every student turned up day after day regardless of everything they are going through, making the best of a non-ideal situation showed the resilience and determination of Batase locals and gave me the motivation to keep trying my best for them.

Making a real difference in the beginning seemed impossible, but in my short time there I truly did notice a difference. Maybe not any monumental difference in the students understanding of English, but rather a confidence boost in Nirmala and a slight behavior shift in her students. While I thought I had little to offer and would have no impact on the scale of the issues the locals have to face day in and out – I in fact did make a difference! Even if it was a small starting point it was something and it meant something to me, and I know it meant something to Nirmala, and all those who work so hard within this charity.

As cliché as it is to say, volunteering really is one of the most rewarding things you will do. It will make you feel so far out of your comfort zone and you will be so surprised with how you cope and manage to get on with job, putting the needs of others before yours. You will take so much from an experience like this; you will learn all kinds of things about yourself, little (or big) likes and dislikes, your limits, your passions, how you cope, how quickly you can grow and mature, how much more you have to offer than you think, how much you can learn from those who have so few things but such big hearts and full lives…

Before I went away with Take On Nepal I was unmotivated to continue my degree and my passion for teaching was withering. Now, I am eager to finish my last two years head on, gain as much experience as possible and undertake Honors research into education problems and solutions for developing countries. I owe it to this experience for confirming and driving my desire to work in schools in developing countries, offering help where I can and sharing what teaching knowledge I have.

~ Danielle Ozdirik

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