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Toby Faulkner’s Experiences Volunteering in Batase (September, 2016)

I could probably fill two pages of this notebook with my story of getting to Nepal. Delays, missed flights, absent luggage and a blocked card made my journey to Kathmandu more frustrating than I had planned for. However, upon arrival the heart-warming smiles of Dinesh and Mane were enough to stop any Englishman moaning for too long. I was filled with nervous excitement as the lads took me around Kathmandu on day one, visiting Swoyambu (the monkey temple) and tasting traditional Nepali food for the first time. The boys are an absolute credit to take on Nepal and made me feel welcome and at ease in such a vibrant and sometimes intimidating atmosphere.

We hit the trail the morning after, once we had filled up with any last minute essentials and snacks for the trek. The heavens opened about ten minutes in, but I assured Mane that this was completely normal for when any Englishman starts any walk. Mane and Bishal lightened up the rainy day by teaching me a little Nepali and even a traditional song, with which I still struggle. Amongst all the excitement I had almost, shamefully, forgotten why I came to Nepal, although it wasn’t long until I was harshly reminded of the devastating effect the earthquake had here.

Arriving in Chisopani, the stop for the night, I was lost for words. It was like something from a computer game, in a war zone or as if someone had drawn it and it just wasn’t real. A four storied building stood lopsided with half its walls crumbled away to leave an eerie cross-section of someone’s shattered livelihood. As Mane told me of how this once was a thriving hotel and a main stop for trekkers, but was now reduced to rubble, I was reminded, with a crash, just why I was here. Stories of lost lives, fathers, sons, mothers, daughters and siblings continued as we trudged on the next day towards the village. Once again I was lost for words as we reached Batase.

What exactly do you say to someone who is explaining to you how a pile of stones used to be his home and how he, along with so many others, lost their families?

As you walk down into Batase village you see; the old hotel, which was barely complete before being ruined by the earthquake, all the houses of those that live in the village, just corrugated tin roofs upon a wooden structure and the stretches of cultivated land, that never ceases to amaze amongst the rolling mountains.

I jumped straight into village life, after lunch of course. Planting my first spinach, helping clear grass, dig up the earth and placing the baby plants into the ground. Even though I did not understand a word they were saying the smiles and attitude of the women made me laugh and enjoy the work. Mane told me afterwards that they had invited me to eat the spinach once grown, if I stay long enough. This was just one example of how friendly, welcoming and kind the village people are, despite all the hardship and horror that they have been through. The strength and determination they show to carry on smiling is beyond touching and made me instantly fall for the village. That, along with the boys love for football, meant I felt like I had made the right choice to “Take on Nepal”.

My first day at the school was spent with Rubin, the volunteer who had arrived a week before I had, watching him take his English class and engage the kids in fun learning activities. The children’s attitude towards learning was beautiful to witness, each child jumping at the chance to get involved and beaming with delight after getting something right.

The children of Batase filled my next few days in the village with joy. Reading English books, kicking a ball around, trekking and playing. Time flew past as over and over I was taken back by just how passionate they were to learn, work, play and just be happy, even though they were all deprived of so much, that we are all guilty of taking for granted.

I was privileged enough to be present at the school’s 28th anniversary where we were all treated to dances and live singing from the students. Overall it was a wonderful celebration of education and culture that ended with the student’s test results and a prize giving for the top students in each class. The next day was also filled with a buzz of excitement as Som was arriving in the village and it was clear from the offset that he brought a sense of hope and cheer with him whenever he arrived. Som came laden with bags, books and donation clothes but the prize package was the running shoes he brought with him. Pairs upon pairs of great shoes were lined up as the kids excitedly fell upon them in anticipation for their next run. Before the morning was out I found myself involved in Som’s “30km” run down to Kathmandu. These kids are keen and fit runners, so all of a sudden I felt a bit out of my depth as they all hurried to get ready and became keen to head off.

I learned two things on my first trail run in Nepal, first was never to trust a Nepali man when he tells you how far there is to go or how long it will take. Before the day was done, we had been on the move for just over nine hours and covered over 50 km. Secondly I learned that the kids in Batase are made of stronger stuff than I am. Throughout the whole run I couldn’t help but be impressed by the sheer power of these kids, all heading off together into the mountains.

To sum up my first week in Nepal and the village I would say that most of all I have been humbled and honoured to spend time with such a strong and kind people. Time and time again I have been left speechless listening to heart-wrenching stories of loss and hardship. But, I have never been failed in being filled with hope by the smiles and determination of everyone from Batase.

~ Toby Faulkner

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