I am in Nepal with Go Kiwi Go, having chosen this destination from the many countries they work in around the world to spend a couple of weeks volunteering and spend a few days in Kathmandu to fly over Mt Everest.
As I only have a week in Pokhara, and I’m here to write about it, I was able to visit a few of the volunteer projects, rather than spend my entire time in the childcare project, that I initially signed up for, so here is my round up of what you can expect if you volunteer over here…
Volunteer construction project
We bumped over a pot-holed, dirt road from Pokhara to Little Daffodil’s School the remote village of Pame. It took us about an hour to get here, past houses where children in smart uniforms were on their way to school and waved as we drove by, their mothers busying themselves with chores.
Laundry was being handwashed in a river of water cascading down a concrete gutter by one woman and out in the rice fields men and women stooped with oversized baskets on their backs, supported by a band across their foreheads.
Not my usual Tuesday morning activity, I’ll admit. But today I am working alongside a group of volunteers from around the world through New Zealand’s Go Kiwi Go, and this is the construction project. My first duty was to recycle plastic water bottles into “sleeves” and wrap them on the fence to cover the sharp wire fastenings. Genius!
Children hung out of their classroom window ogling our work. The fence is to keep the goats and chooks that nibble and peck around us out of the school grounds. It’s hot work, I’m dripping from places on my face I didn’t even know I had pores – like mid cheek! Who knew?
Fortunately Jenny has brought a little blue-tooth speaker and we have retro tunes keeping us company thanks to the playlist on Henry’s iPhone. They call it retro. I call it the perfect playlist for a 50-year old’s birthday. Either way, we know all the words to every song!
When this project is done, Bibek (our project leader) has plenty more work to do. He proudly shows me the large water cistern he and his volunteers built and where the children come to drink and wash their hands. Another group made a concrete ping pong table – the only one in the village.
Volunteering in childcare
This was the initial project I signed up for. It includes week about starting bright and early with a half-hour walk from the host hostel in Pokhara to a Boys Home to spend 7-9am with young boys who were living on the streets, but who now have a home with a mum and dad and their teenage daughter.
On our walk we stop at a fruit shop and buy a big bunch of green bananas – they are ripe and ready to eat! Next door is a bakery and Tracy, who runs the Childcare team, tells me the pastries are good. They are! Warm twists of croissant with cinnamon sugar for 30 cents. Yes please!
I’m not allowed to take photos of the boys, and I respect that. These kids need all the advantages they can get and Westerners waltzing in with their iPhones to take selfies is not part of what our volunteering is about.
It’s about communicating in English through memory card games, reading stories, giving them a wordsearch that the team has brought. There are five boys ranging in ages from about 4-13. One is a brilliant artist so he gets to draw and colour in when the team arrive with their bag of materials. We take them back with us however as it keeps the stuff in good condition and also keeps it special.
Male Patan is the other childcare project, another 30-40 minute walk from the volunteer house, and we come here daily from 10.30am to assist in a preschool.
The week I visited happened to coincide with the annual Women’s Festival so lots of the kids were away with their families celebrating mums and grandmas. However we did have a couple of excited little boys who had the place to themselves, playing with their superheros that another volunteer had donated to the kindy.
Each day they are taught how to brush their teeth at a little portable bench that volunteers made and learn how important it is to wash your hands. They learn the English alphabet and stories are read in English, the aim being that these kids will really have head start when they hit school.
Volunteering at the Women’s Empowerment project
Meanwhile some of the mothers and other ladies arrive at the Male Patan preschool for the Women’s Empowerment program. This consists of one-on-one, or maybe one volunteer with two women, teaching them English for practical use in their lives and businesses.
Words for the products they sell, how to tell someone what items cost and also teaching them multiplication and division so they can be independent, as many have never had this education.
There is also a Women’s Empowerment program in Pame where the construction project is.
Another important reason to teach these women English is to not only help them with the tourism industry that is very important to Pokhara, but also to educate them around issues like feminine hygiene, human trafficking (52 children on average go missing every DAY from Nepal, sold to traffickers – more about that below.)
Join the Conversation Club
Each afternoon from 4.30 to 5.30 the ones who didn’t get up early for Boys Home meet with kids at a cafe owned by Bibek’s (of the construction project) extended family.
It’s about a 3 minute walk from the house and is run by the gorgeous Soyana, a Nepali woman who is another one of the volunteer coordinators for childcare. It’s a fun hour spent playing word games, memory games (I went the market and bought a jackfruit!), and just generally talking English with them.
These kids are very good actually and beat me in the maths game by a mile!
SASANE is a separate organisation that we got to visit and which they hope to become more involved with. It is a program of care, rehabilitation and education for girls rescued from sex trafficking.
As I said above, 52 kids a day go missing from Nepal. That’s the equivalent of two classrooms of kids, mainly girls, EVERY day.
I interviewed the Managing Director when I spent a few days in Kathmandu at the end of my time volunteering in Pokhara, so will write a separate feature about what they’re doing, but suffice it to say, we all got to spend an afternoon on Day 2 of our orientation learning how to make momos (dumplings) with six of these beautiful, elegant young ladies.
We all had a great laugh and those who are gaining confidence in speaking English explained what we were to do.
It was followed by eating them (and a delicious Nepali lunch) and a slide show presentation that made my eyes water with just how much of an issue sex trafficking is, not only in Nepal, but as we were here, it was about them.
What was it like volunteering in Nepal?
I will be honest and say my 10 days in Pokhara really stretched me. In a good way though. I will write a more practical post soon with things to know before you go and some tips for what to take – and not to take!
What I liked most was that these volunteers and the organisation that Go Kiwi Go partners with are about long term sustainability. Manager Cheryl, from Adelaide, told me ideally they’d like to work themselves out of a job. They want local people to be trained to take over these programs and as volunteers we’re not here to hug kids all day and get selfies for our Facebook walls.
It’s about keeping a “safe” relationship with the children and not allowing them to bond too closely as volunteers come and go and these kids stay here. But empowering them with skills, stretching their imaginations, helping them think critically and outside of the box, and all of this in English to give them a huge advantage when they seek (hopefully) higher education, or at least get a job here. Pokhara is a tourism hub, and every traveller speaks at least a little English.
This was the most valuable experience I’ve ever had while travelling and to be able to just spend 2 weeks (up to 24 weeks) is an easy thing to add into your travels, or like the other volunteers I was with (they called me mum!) they were all mainly on their Gap Year from the UK and Belgium.
*My visit to Nepal was sponsored by Go Kiwi Go, but as always, my opinions are my own.
You might also like to read my post on my First Impressions of Pokhara here >>
Here’s my post of flying over Mt Everest with a little video I took from the cockpit! >>
If you want a recommendation for a local operator, I met Tara Gautam who has been a guide for many years and has just launched his own business. He goes above and beyond to ensure your plans are made and will book flights (he booked my flight-seeing tour over Mt Everest), he also booked me in a little hotel at a good rate, plus all sorts of trekking adventures. Jump onto his website Skylark Himalayan Travel and see what else he can arrange for your visit to Nepal.