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July Volunteering Group — The Earthquake and What it Means

The images on our TV screens coming out of Nepal are scary. The situation in Kathmandu is visible to the world, and the pictures tell the story of a devastated city and people. What we don’t see are the images from the mountain villages like Batase. We don’t see them because for now, these villages are cut off from the outside world, mourning their dead and tending their injured alone.

Batase Village — where all of our volunteers spend time, and where our July group will be travelling in just over two months — was hit hard by the earthquake. The school and hostel were heavily damaged, and many houses were destroyed. We had contact by mobile phone with the village for a few hours after the earthquake struck, and we know that 10 villagers lost their lives.

It would not be a surprise if some of the volunteers due to travel to Batase with us in July were having second thoughts. The reality on your TV screens must seem a far cry from the calm mountain landscape you were expecting.

If you are reconsidering your commitment to volunteering with us in July, stop for a moment and ask yourself why you volunteered in the first place.

Was it because it would look good on your CV? Was it because it sounded like fun, and would make a great story to tell your friends? If so, then you are probably right to reconsider. The problem with volunteering in third world countries is that the reality on the ground is often far different from the safe and comfortable reality constructed by our western expectations and imaginations.

People have died in Batase. People have been injured. Homes have been destroyed and schools have fallen down. If you come with us in July, you need to be able to handle this reality.

If you are part of our July group and have decided that you can’t handle this, then we will of course be happy to refund your deposit.

Did you decide to volunteer because you sincerely wanted to help people? Because you wanted to make a difference in the lives of the young children and women of Batase?

If so, we need you to come with us in July. The work and living conditions will be different to what they were when we brought our last volunteer group to the village in January. But it will be just as rewarding, if not more so. Our guides will still meet you at the airport. You will still trek up the mountains, stopping along the way to admire the majesty of the Himalayas. You will still be doing valuable work in Batase — maybe not in the schoolrooms that you’ve seen in our gallery pages, but that will not make it any less valuable.

For July, our 21 day itinerary will be almost completely changed. The start and end points will remain, but the substance of what you will be doing each day will be dictated very much by circumstances on the ground. The route to Batase will depend on the condition of the trekking routes after the earthquake. The work you do in the village will depend on whether a school is available, and on what else might need to be done to help the villagers as they rebuild their community. The final day’s excursion to Chitwan may or may not happen — the route from Kathmandu to Chitwan flows through the epicentre of the earthquake, and may not be passable by July. If you are part of our July group, consider the published daily itinerary to be redundant.

Before the earthquake, the village was reachable by 4WD. Due to land and rock slides this is no longer the case. The village is inaccessible by vehicle and is likely to remain so for a number of months. This means that the only way into and out of the village will be on foot — the two day trek that most of our volunteers make. I mention this, because in the past we’ve allowed less fit volunteers to travel by 4WD. This is now no longer an option. But don’t worry — the trek is not that difficult. If you’re reasonably fit, if you can cycle or walk 3 miles at home, you can handle the trek.

Our sister organisation — the Friends of Himalayan Children charity in Cairns — is already fundraising to help with rebuilding Batase. They expect to have a team in the village in the coming weeks to assist. If you’d like to stay up to date with their progress over the next two months, you can do so by following the FHC Facebook page.

If you’re up for a challenge and want to make a real difference to the lives of the people of Batase, then we look forward to meeting you in July in Kathmandu. It will most certainly be a month you will never forget.

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