Volunteers Initiative Nepal or VIN is a Nepal based not-for-profit organization that was founded in 2005 by Bhupendra Ghimire (Bhupi). Bhupi grew up in a remote village in Nepal where he had to walk three hours a day to school. He was one of the few students from his village to complete graduation and later on went on to get his masters degree and become the youngest principal in a school in Kathmandu. After a successful career in education, Bhupi realized he wanted to improve the lives of the Nepali people, especially the poor, women and children. He joined forces with a diverse group of development workers, educationalists, social activists and other professionals to form VIN.
VIN’s mission is to empower marginalized communities, with a focus on women and children, through enhanced educational programs and community training to promote equality, economic well-being and basic human rights. Currently, VIN serves the village of Jitpurphedi which is as a rural community 11km from the capital on the outskirts of the Kathmandu Valley. The community is home to a thousand households, with a total population of around 6,000 people. There are 9 schools, 9 early childhood development centers and very limited resources.
The volunteer abroad opportunities at VIN are unique as they involve staying with a host family and getting a real experience of the Nepali culture. Each volunteer is placed with a family where they are given room, board and food. The families adopt the volunteer for the duration of the stay and are given a small stipend to cover the costs. The households are typically farmers with large families and are eager to interact with people from around the world who have come to enrich their lives. The life in village is not easy but offers pristine quiet scenery, friendly people and a strong bond with the community.
VIN offers a number of meaningful, affordable, fun and safe volunteering as well as internships opportunities in and around Kathmandu. Minimum commitment is one week, although most volunteers tend to stay for months and include hiking and sightseeing trips between their programs. A three day induction introduces the newcomers to Nepali language and culture. Volunteers also get to meet each other and the staff, forming long term friendships. Perhaps one of the most attractive features of VIN is that its programs are affordable and most of the money goes back into the community. A four week stay costs around EUR430.
Some of the volunteer projects include:
Help run microcredit cooperative
Train women in new income generation ideas
Organize literacy and life skills training
Work with 3-5yr olds as an ECD teacher’s assistant
Teach English in schools
Run teacher training to encourage use of creative teaching methods
Help out at an orphanage
Work as a qualified doctor or nurse at the Health Post
Organize health and hygiene awareness training for the community
Help with toilet construction and school renovation
Develop a waste management system
Work as a volunteer coordinator
Help with fundraising and grant writing
Work for environment and agroforestry
Teach English in a monastery or nunnery
Intern as a journalist at a Nepali magazine or other publication
Teach at a school for the deaf
To learn more visit www.volunteeringnepal.org
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when it came to Nepali cuisine. All I could infer is that Nepal’s neighbors India, Tibet and China would have some role to play in it. That truly turned out to be the case.
Food in Nepal can be categorized into three main categories – Nepali, Tibetan and Indian. Most menus will carry a few dishes from all three regions. The traditional Nepali meal is called Dal-bhat meaning lentil curry and rice. In some households, it is steamed white rice, in others it is served with the husk which calls for a special technique to eat it. The meal may be served with a vegetable dish such as saag (spinach), gobi (cauliflower), potatoes or pumpkins and a side of pickle. The dishes are cooked similarly to those in India. Meat is rare in Nepali households, but some have adopted chicken and buffalo into their diet. Cow (beef) is considered a sacred animal in Hindus and never killed for meat. You do find fish in the market but it’s not part of a mainstream Nepali diet. Bread and desserts are rarely served with the meal. In the villages, people eat two large meals a day – breakfast and dinner – both are typically the same.
There are exclusive sweet shops that sell Indian style desserts such as jalebi, maal pura and mithai. Poplar Indian snacks- samosa (pastry filled with potatoes) and pakoras (vegetable fritters) are also quite common. Cakes and pastries from India have seemed to have made their way here, including the famous bakery chain Hot Breads that has a few locations spread out through Kathmandu.
Mo-mo can be proclaimed as the national food of Nepal. There is hardly a restaurant that will not serve it, be it a fast food or fine dining. Fresh steamed, pan fried or deep fried mo-mo’s can be ordered stuffed with vegetables, chicken or buffalo. It is served with a spicy sauce. Thupka or noodle soup is also a popular dish which can be enjoyed on a cold winter evening. Chowmein (noodles sautéed with veggies) and other Chinese dishes can be found at Tibetan restaurants. Indian spices are commonly used to season all of the dishes served in Nepal and the food can be quite spicy to a foreign palate.
You will find Nepali’s drinking black tea with milk and sugar throughout the day. It is slightly different from Indian chai, lacking the ginger-cardamom spiciness and a lot milkier. In Kathmandu, international restaurants are quite popular due to the heavy influx of tourists from around the world. It is not uncommon to find mo-mo’s, pizza, butter chicken and Thai curry on the same menu. Price of food is quite cheap in Nepal. One can enjoy a good meal for $3 + drinks and dessert. Alcohol is heavily taxed and can double that check. I found cappuccinos to blow my budget too, priced at $3 a cup at most coffee shops.
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.
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