Gratitude, Resilience, Mindfulness. These are the lessons I hoped Batase village and its people could teach me. In return I hoped I could help impart my knowledge and experiences as a teacher and as a person who cares about the world and its people.
My journey with Take On Nepal started at the beautiful town of Thamel in Kathmandu. I was particularly eager to meet the Take On Nepal team and my fellow volunteers and to share my thoughts on the upcoming program. Greeting me at the Pilgrims Hotel doorway was Sandhip, Dinesh and Anil, the leaders of our expedition. They were very generous and welcoming, making myself feel at ease and like a part of the Take On Nepal family right away. Soon afterwards a steady stream of my fellow volunteers made their way to the hotel and we all were able to mingle and share our expectations and ideas for the program.
Once all of the volunteers had arrived in Thamel and rested we made our way to a local traditional Nepali restaurant to have our first taste of what would soon become very familiar to us, Dahl Bhat. Also accompanying us at dinner were some of the amazing runners and guides and porters from Batase village, who shared their experiences. So many of the backgrounds of the attendees were mind blowing in the range of challenges faced throughout their daily lives which provided a sense of perspective upon reflecting on my own life and the privileges I am lucky enough to have, the privileges I like many others easily take for granted.
The next day the Take On Nepal team took us for a walk through the streets of Thamel and surrounding greater Kathmandu to the renowned “Monkey Temple” This provided a taste of of Nepali culture with a blend of Hindu and Buddhist culture and tradition, embodied in the ginormous Syambhunath Stupa. I would be lying if I said this was the highlight of my experience there as the real highlight was seeing the Monkeys! Monkeys everywhere! Monkeys grooming each other, monkeys swinging on trees, monkeys playing with rocks, super cool Monkeys!
The following day was departure day from Thamel to Batase village via an amazing trek through the beautiful Chivaburi national park. Sandhip informed us all that the national park is home to many cool animals that we could be lucky (or unlucky enough) enough to see, such as Leopards, Tigers, Black bears, Sloth Bears, different species of Monkeys, many kinds of birds, and others. This day held no luck for us as we did not see these awesome creatures but that did not dampen our spirits as the trek through the forest up to the highlands was awesome. For many of us this was our first taste of what we considered mountains, but to the Nepali people these ‘mountains’ are just hills! The trek took us to Chisapani village where we settled for the night. Here was evidence of the devastation of the Earthquakes of a few years past, with one building perilously standing on a 45 degree angle, surrounded by other foundations of buildings that had toppled over.
Sandhip and Anil had us wake early the following day which wasn’t very pleasant until we saw why: an incredible sunrise shining on the peaks of the Himalayas that words fail to do justice. If there is anything in life that cannot be replicated it is experiencing such a sunrise, it really does leave you speechless and thankful for being able to witness it.
A little while later after some nice Tibetan bread for breakfast we made our way for the final part of the trek to Batase. This was a great time and chance to get to know the fellow volunteers a bit better; I was also able to talk more with some of the young female training guides/ porters. Two girls Maya and Rita embodied what it takes to be resilient. They both talked about their families and lives, Maya comes from a family of 13 (13!), 2 of which have been “placed” in Malaysia, another to India. Maya rebelled against this destiny, as a result losing any family support. Rita’s father has been involved in people trafficking and as a result placed in prison, which has put herself at risk, leaving her with very little support. Still they continue to fight for a better future despite this adversity, an extremely humbling thought.
A little over three hours of trekking we arrived at Batase Village! WHOOO! Surprisingly quiet it was as it was school time, so we took the chance to put our feet up for a while and enjoy the amazing panoramic view of the surrounding mountains in the shadows of the Lantang ranges. Being satisfied with the short rest the volunteers were eager to head to the school to check out our workplace for the upcoming weeks. Another sense of perspective arrived when we walked to the school, not by a road or a path, but by stumbling down through people’s backyards which were crop fields, it was just a little bit different to my schooling experience in Australia!
Soon below us we could make out the temporary school; a few rooms with corrugated iron sheeting for walls and roofs which astounded me, even more shocking was walking into the office. Tiny, Dusty, Unkempt, Claustrophobic are fitting descriptions. The Earthquakes had forced the village to resort to these limited facilities. The real gold which made all of these observations unimportant soon showed their adorable little faces and cheeky attitudes. The children all seemed to be enjoying themselves so much and so happy just to be at school, grateful. After showing our new faces to the staff and students we headed back to the hostel to relax a bit more, making use of the musical instruments and sports equipment to have some fun.
The night was time for the volunteers to reflect as a group on our experiences and thoughts for the time to date which had me thinking about my own experiences. To summarise I would say that it has been an incredibly eye opening experience this far when comparing and contrasting with life as I know it in Australia. Looking forward I know and feel that I can make a big, positive impact in the school, on its teachers and students, to give back for the experiences that Batase and Nepal have given me.
~ Jayke Ducan
© Take on Nepal 2020