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.