Taking part in Take on Nepal’s student volunteer program after the earthquake has been an experience of a lifetime. I jumped on board at the last minute with an urge to help people affected by the devastation and make a real difference to the lives of village children. The local knowledge and professional guidance Take on Nepal offered was all I could ever ask for.
The first time I encountered the rich culture of Nepal was in 2013, when I was in Lhasa exploring the charming whitewashed old Tibetan quarter with a group of adventurous backpackers I met on the way. Falling in love with the otherworldly mix of magnificent temples, prostrating pilgrims and exhilarating trek routes, me and my fellow companions made our mind to cross the high wall of the Himalaya to explore the raw and honest beauty of Nepal, a land of ‘snow peaks and Sherpas, yaks and yetis, monasteries and mantras’(Lonely Planet). However, the limited amount of time and budget stopped me from going further. I dreamed, but I quit. I went back to normal city life, burying myself with all the trifling matters and I lost contact with those amazing people I admired on the journey. The next thing I knew, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal with its tremor and subsequent aftershocks and almost 9000 people were killed, including hundreds of foreign tourists who would never be able to come home.
I will be there. I have to be there. I have a position in Nepal which I always hesitate to stand on. I am just a student making a living in Sydney and I have no other skills apart from speaking both English and Mandarin. But somewhere in my heart pushed me to be there, to be the person I always want to be. I remembered that day I was determined to find an organisation and googled ‘volunteering in Nepal’ as a start. I have never heard of the small Cairns-based company and I only clicked into the ‘Take on Nepal’ page out of curiosity. This one click has enormously changed my life and now after two months of my fantastic volunteer trip in Nepal, I am so glad I made the right decision and that I was lucky enough to meet Som, Mane, Dinesh, Sujan and all the other great staff in the group who have made a lot of effort accompanying and looking after all the volunteers in a truly friendly and supportive manner.
Yes after the devastating earthquake, only five courageous volunteers took on Nepal regardless of the red travel alert on the Lonely Planet website. We strolled through the temple-lined medieval city of Kathmandu, exploring the centuries-old stupas and temples that lay scattered across the Kathmandu Valley. We wandered the trekking shops, jewellery stores, bakeries and cafes of Thamel and combed the jungles of Chitwan from the back of lumping Indian elephants. We enjoyed the most authentic Nepali cuisine from the popular Dal Bhat set (steamed rice, curry made veggies, rice dough and lentil soup) to my favourite Tibetan dumplings Momo (cooked with minced meat from buffalo or chicken). Most importantly, we overcame all the difficulties trekking in monsoon season and spent the unforgettable 10 days in Batase village—such a jewel of a destination. Teaching, rice planting, bonfire party and getting drunk on a local drink called Roxey, days in Batase have gone incredibly fast when the five of us experienced and learned together through a taste of the traditional Nepali village life. Nothing would ever compare to the smiles of children after such a tragic event and it touched my heart when I taught them my favourite song ‘Never grow old’ (by The Cranberries) and saw how excited and proud they became to sing the lyrics as loudly as they could:
‘Birds in the sky,
They look so high,
This is my perfect day.
I feel the breeze,
I feel it is,
This is my perfect day.
After two years struggling for a living between study and work, I found myself singing with all the kids under the vast sky of sun and stars. I enjoyed every minute in the village breathing the air of love and freedom. I trekked, I laughed, I cried. Thank you Take on Nepal for kindly offering me such a wonderful journey, and for all the hope and beautiful dreams you create for the people and innocent children up in the sacred mountain. Anyone who has been to Nepal will testify to the strength, resilience and relentlessly bright spirits of the land. Come and enjoy the endless snow-capped beauty of this amazing country.
~ Jasmine Yu
© Take on Nepal 2020