Several years ago, I made the decision like many others, to leave my well guided path of working my way up the ranks in a stable career, to venture off on a new journey traveling around the world and looking for alternative possibilities for earning my way in life. I had no solid idea of where exactly I wanted to go or what I wanted to do, just that I had to start investigating the numerous opportunities that this vast world provides.
I am totally in awe after meeting some volunteers here in Kathmandu. There are boys and girls in their 20’s who have come from Canada, USA, Switzerland, UK and Australia – all with common goals to give back to this world and experience life in a different culture.
They have abandoned their comfortable lifestyles and families, and are living with Nepali farmers’ acting as host families in the rural area of Jitpur. The village houses are spread around the hills so a hike through a dirt path usually leads you into the homes. Sometimes the climb can be quite steep. The volunteers are provided a bed (either single or shared rooms) and two meals a day of daal-bhat (the staple food of Nepal). The kitchen is an open fire pit fueled with stick of wood. The facilities are rather limited. There is one toilet shared by the household which is located outside the main house. Cold shower and self clean toilets are the norm. There is a mandatory power cut for up to 16 hours a day. Room heating is out of question. There is nothing to do after dark besides read, talk and contemplate. Pleasantly, none of the volunteers I met complained about the inconveniences. Instead, they all confirmed their host family was the best part of their experience in Nepal. They felt welcomed and invited. A few of them shed tears when leaving their home away from home.
The volunteers I met are here for 6 weeks-5 months. Some are students between semesters, earning credits for masters programs, others have quit their jobs and are fulfilling their desire to travel. After deeper conversations, I felt some of the youth were running away from personal life situations and looking to find themselves. A minimum commitment of 2 weeks is required in order to volunteer through Volunteer Initiative Nepal (VIN).
The work involved while living in the village differs based on interest. Some of the guys wanted to work in construction, building a public toilet facility for the villagers. Others are involved in teaching at schools and women’s center. The volunteers work for 2-8 hours a day depending on where they are placed and what activities need to be organized. They are expected to be on site 6 days a week and only get Saturdays off. Most of them visit Thamel (tourist area in Kathmandu located 30 minutes away) for hot showers, internet access, shopping for basics and getting a taste of coffee and international food.
Volunteers can take time off to go on excursions whenever they want. Almost everyone I met had been on some hike or the other, climbing Everest base camp or Annapurna trail. They went bungee jumping at The Last Resort, took a 7 hour bus ride to Chaitwan national forest and explored the peaceful lakes of Pokhra. It seemed easy to make friends with like minded individuals sharing close quarters and end up travelling together.
I believe it takes a different kind of individual to get out of his/her comfort zone, travel half way around the world, volunteer in a totally different community, stay in less than optimal living conditions, learn a new language and cover the expenses-that too for months at a time! It takes a lot of courage to climb the world’s highest mountains and jump off the highest cliff. I’m sure these people would have a life altering experience and would never be the same after their volunteer trip in Nepal.
Recently, I have given a few presentations on volunteer vacations abroad, shares my stories and inspired others to travel. The question I get from my audiences after each presentation is “What do I do next?” So here is the answer to that and other frequently asked questions you may have about volunteering abroad.
How long do I need?
Typically a volunteer vacation program lasts a minimum of 1 week but you can go for as long as you can afford to. Students and retirees take 2-3 months off whereas professionals may only go for 1-2 weeks.
How much does it cost?
Each program is very different. Depending on the country, organization and activities involved, you can pay anywhere from $200-1500/ week. The costs include lodging, meals, airport pickups and some sightseeing activities. You will be responsible for your airfare and weekend trips.
How far in advance do I need to plan?
The further the better, especially if you need to save up or do a fundraiser to sponsor your trip. You need to plan at least a month in advance to arrange for visa, reserve your space, book your tickets, etc. Sometimes last minute spots open up at a discounted price but it’s rare.
What skills do I need?
You don’t necessarily need any particular skills. Most programs are designed so that the common Joe can be helpful and involved. An open mind, patience and respect for other human beings are probably the most important assets you can bring with you. If you have some experience in teaching, working with children or healthcare, it would help too.
What kind of work will I be doing?
Most places I have found have partners with local organization, such as orphanages, hospital, old homes, universities and schools. They send a constant flow of volunteers to do one of the following activities – play with children, do arts and crafts, engage elderly people, teach (English, Computer Science, etc.), or take care of babies.
Do I need to know the language?
All the places I volunteers at did not require me to know the language. There are interpreters if needed and basic English is understood in most countries. In Russia, language was a huge challenge as not many spoke English, but we managed just fine by speaking the language of games, arts and crafts.
Can I make an impact in a short time?
Yes, of course! You will be surprised to learn how much impact you can make on a life of another and on your own. When you bring a smile to a little child face’s who has not received much affection growing up in an orphanages, you would feel like you made an impact. When people see that you have taken the time and effort to travel all the way to their country and are spending your precious time with them, expecting nothing in return, it will stir a different kind of emotion. Undoubtedly, people feel more connected and grateful to each other, which is the entire drive behind the Go Eat Give movement.
What would a typical day be like?
A typical day would start early. Breakfast will be served at 8am, after which you will go to your volunteer workplace. Depending on the assignment, you may be scheduled to work for a couple of hours or half a day. If you are in a school, you can expect to work normal school hours. You would return to your home base for lunch. The afternoons are usually set for organized activities such as lectures, field trips, lessons, etc. (if the organization offers them). Evenings are free to explore the city, interact with other volunteers or catch up with your reading. Dinner is generally served early but you are free to stay up till late.
Is it good to go alone or with someone I know?
I have tried it both ways and see the value in each of them. I had more fun on the weekends since I had a friend to explore other cities with. We could plan our trip ahead of time because we planned sightseeing before and after our program as well. Going alone means you will get to meet people and make new friends. I have seen people pair up or go as a group over the weekend. I think if you are going for a longer period of time, going alone has more benefits. But be assured, you will never find yourself all alone.
If you have any other questions, please feel to reach out to me by leaving a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I personally reply to every message.