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Jayde’s Experiences in Batase and Nepal

My name is Jayde and I am a 31 year old teacher from Cairns. I have been teaching for the last six years.

It was in April 2014 that first met Som in his shop, ‘Himalayan Dreams’, in Cairns. I noticed his sign for the ‘Take on Nepal’ Volunteer Experience and we got talking about how I was a teacher and one day hoped to partake in a volunteer experience in a village somewhere overseas. We kept in contact and discussed plans of how I could help out in the Batase school. Now, almost two years later, I have just completed my first two weeks of my dream to voluntarily teach in Nepal. What a fantastic experience it has been so far…

I set off from Brisbane and said goodbye to my family on the 22nd of December. After a long stopover in Singapore I finally arrived to a surprisingly quiet Kathmandu airport. I quickly made my way through the visa process and thankfully found my bags after a 45 minute wait. I was very grateful to see my two guides waiting outside for me, waiting to take me to my hotel. On the drive to the hotel I was surprised to see a very functional city, contrary to my preconceived ideas. Recent media had portrayed Nepal as unsafe due to the recent earthquakes and fuel crisis, and advised travellers to rethink their plans.

Obviously there were damaged buildings and less cars on the road, but everyone seemed to be going about their business and shops and restaurants operated as normal.

Once at the hotel, I was greeted by a friendly and accommodating staff who helped me settle in my simple but comfortable room. Much to my delight, I found out that another volunteer was joining me for the two weeks.

Christmas Eve was spent with my guide touring around the streets of Kathmandu, which was a real eye opener. Despite some of the confronting sights of poverty I saw in Kathmandu, I was not deterred from venturing further into the real Nepal. My guide took me up to Swayambhu, better known as Monkey Temple. The stairs were a good warm up for the trek to come! We sat down for what would be the first of many meals of Dahl Baht, a traditional Nepalese dish of rice and lentils. Luckily, I liked it.

By the end of the day, I must admit, my insides were full of dust and smog – something I don’t think I’d ever get used to.

On Christmas Day I found myself in Bhaktapur with Lauren, my new volunteer buddy. It was great to see another part of Kathmandu, but devastating to bear witness to the destruction caused by the earthquakes in the small, ancient city square and beautiful temples. It was well worth the trip and a Christmas I won’t soon forget. It was nice to miss all the hype and commercialism of the festive season and to spend it instead with a nation who doesn’t celebrate Christmas.

Boxing Day saw the start of our trek into Batase. I was feeling positive and excited about the two day journey ahead that would take us to the village. I’d had a small taste of Nepal so far but realised that village life was going to be quite a contrast from our comfortable, busy, convenient lives in the Western world. I hoped my legs and butt were ready for the walk and my fingers and toes were ready for the cold.
I made sure to have a proper coffee before I left and treated myself to a last meal of pizza. I thought it might be a good idea, considering we’d be eating Dahl Baht for the next two weeks.

We hit the road at 8:30am for a 45 minute drive to Sundarijal where we unloaded, met our porters and started our ascent. It was tough going for about three to four hours and we moved at a slow pace. Very shortly we were sweating and stripping off the layers, as the daytime temperatures in Winter can get quite warm. We finally stopped for a much needed lunch of Dahl Baht. The views along the way were stunning scenes of terraced rice paddies, never ending mountains and clear blue skies. We passed many villagers along the way who greeted us with shy but kind ‘Namastes’. The children were gorgeous and eyed us with curiosity.

The rest of the day was spent making our way down to Chisapani. The downhill was a little hard on the knees and I wished I had a hiking stick. I was glad for my hiking boots, which I’m sure saved my ankles from rolling several times. We finally reached Chisapani late that afternoon, and all we could think about was food and bed. After a dinner of – you guessed it – Dahl Baht, we climbed into sleeping bags feeling exhausted for a much needed sleep. I was thankful for my purchase of a -20 degrees sleeping bag in Kathmandu as I was not cold throughout the night.

We got up early to watch the sun rise over the Himalayas, which was truly a surreal experience and so beautiful. We hit the road again after breakfast and made our way towards Batase. Along the way, we were constantly surrounded by spectacular views of the Himalayas in the distance.

Around 1pm we thankfully bumped into Som and the team who led us to Bisari’s school, where we were involved in our first distribution of FHC backpacks to their students. This was a great experience to have so soon into the program and I felt privileged to be part of it. The smiles and gratitude on the students’ faces were priceless. We had lunch there abd then continued our journey to Batase. We arrived in Batase around 5pm and were welcomed by a local teacher who introduced us to the hostel girls. They were very sweet and even sang us a welcome song. We had a quick tour of the surrounding area and met some of Som’s family.

Jayde

After dinner, as I settled into bed, I felt quite overwhelmed with the previous two days’ events. I felt lots of different emotions: I’d seen and heard so many devastating stories about the earthquakes which left me heartbroken, but I’d also witnessed and heard so many stories of courage, community spirit and kindness which left me feeling thankful that I was able to be part of this experience.

I spent my first few days fascinated, just watching how the locals go about their days and how hard they work, especially the women. We learnt how to shower in the spring (a hose coming out of a mountain!) and how to wash our clothes ‘village style’. Thankfully the days were sunny, so we could warm up after our cold spring showers. I must say I’ve really been enjoying the simple life, though – it makes me appreciate how easy everything is back home.

After a day’s rest we prepared to meet the children and teachers at Batase and distribute their bags. This was another experience I won’t soon forget. Once again I felt privileged and very moved by the children’s gratitude, and by the genuine hospitality and welcoming we received. Being a teacher myself, I admire the work that FHC does for the education of the children of Batase and surrounding villages.

The coming days were filled with walking down to the school at 10am each morning to help out where we were needed. We would finish at 1pm to come home for lunch. On my first day teaching, I was somewhat thrown in the deep end. I was placed in the infamous Class 3 which was made up of 35 children in one small classroom, with a new, 19 year old teacher. I originally thought I’d just be helping her for the first day or two but within the first thirty minutes I was up front, teaching the class. Even as a teacher it was quite intimidating, but I thought, ‘Oh well, this is what I’m here for.’ Straight away I realised this class needed a lot of work.

During the next few days, I tried to show the teacher some behaviour management strategies and also show the kids that they weren’t going to get away with behavior such as eating in class, hitting each other, walking in and out of the room or calling out. I’ve seen some positive changes already and am hoping to continue working with the teacher to create some more long term changes.

The lower primary is where the school needs the most support with behaviour management and English, and this is where most of the volunteers in our group found themselves. I spent a little time with the older grades and found them polite and eager to learn. The teachers have all been very friendly and welcoming.

Lauren and I unexpectedly had a few days off due to the Temple Festival, which we attended on New Years Eve at the school. It began with traditional sharmans doing a jumping dance all the way to the temple to give offerings. We watched in amazement as three villages came together to celebrate the Temple Festival. One of the highlights was watching the sharmans violently beat on their drums, which seemed to induce a trance-like state. It was a wonderful atmosphere and quite an unusual way to spend New Years Eve!

During our time in the village we were lucky to be involved in a number of other exciting activities, the first one being another backpack distribution which was four hours’ walk away. The 130 students had also walked four hours to meet us there to receive their educational supplies. They looked tired and hungry: luckily, Som had also put on lunch for them. Once again, I was touched by the children’s and parents’ gratitude and the excitement they showed for something many kids back home would take for granted. I was astounded by the lengths some of these kids went to just to go to school each day. This experience, I would say, was my highlight so far.

The second memorable experience was the Batase Trail Run 2016. We were up early and had a breakfast of donuts. Not quite sure it was the best breakfast for athletes, but I managed to down about six of them – big mistake! We were transported to our check points in the truck which was a little scary but very fun. Lauren and I got off at Talamarang and spent the morning fretting over recording runners’ numbers and times correctly. The ride back was a little crowded to say the least and I was very glad to get off the truck in Batase, where celebrations were well under way. Hats off to Som and the team: they had organised some great entertainment and there were some very important guests from Nepal present. It was great to see the locals really enjoying themselves and the turn out was amazing. The winners were announced, with several of them being hostel girls, and the festivities kept on into the night. For its first year, Batase Trail Run 2016 was a huge success. Unfortunately I couldn’t enjoy all the festivities as the dobnuts didn’t quite agree with me and I ended up ill that afternoon and night. Som did warn me that every volunteer gets a bout of sickness at least once in the village.

The next day, still at little weak but ready for some R and R, we started the two hour trek to a main road where we would meet our driver to take us back to Kathmandu. Later that evening after arriving, I picked up my friend Madeline from the airport. She would be returning to Batase with me for the next two weeks.

Back in the hotel now, I’m looking forward to a little down time here and a decent coffee before heading back in for round two. We will be sure to update you on how we are traveling for the next two weeks. Until then – namaste!

~ Jayde

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