Genevieve Cox - General Care Projects in Nepal
“Miss, Miss, one more paper, one more paper!” The children came shooting into the volunteer area from outside, breathless and laughing. With outstretched hands they asked for more paper to deftly transform into airplanes. Turning to one of the youngest boys, “Ramesh what happened to your first piece of paper” I asked. He defiantly stuck his hand out even further and, with a cheeky grin, he replied “the goat ate it Miss.”
In the two months I spent in Nepal it was moments like this that I came to treasure, and the children I worked with in Bishal Nagar have left me with a store of wonderful memories, and a hoard of hilarious anecdotes. By the time I reached Kathmandu I had already travelled through Europe, climbed Kilimanjaro and taken the Trans-Mongolian train through Russia, Mongolia and China, but my time in Nepal was to be the pinnacle of my gap year.
I was looking forward to getting to know the area and especially the children. I was living in Bishal Nagar, to the north of the capital, with my host parents Kessari and Pahol, and a roommate Lea who was volunteering in a hospital. The area was perfect, close enough to Kathmandu for all the excitement, but also peaceful in the evenings. Plus there was a supermarket half an hour away which sold Cadbury chocolate fingers for the times when I wanted some home comforts. A short walk from my host family was Snowland Ranag School where I volunteered as part of my Care Project.
My Care Project
The boarding school in which I worked was primarily for children between the ages of six and eighteen, but many children were orphans with no knowledge of exactly how old they were, and subsequently some were older or younger than was documented. Regardless of age though, all the children had an immense willingness to learn, and whilst I wasn’t actually teaching, we organised literacy and numeracy games as well as afterschool sports sessions in football and basketball, a talent show, science experiments and music lessons.
For the talent show some of the boys from Year 1 asked me to choreograph their dance. Anyone who has ever seen me hit the dance floor can tell you how atrocious my coordination is, but the kids relished the moves I compiled to some 90s pop music. Nothing ever seemed to faze them, and in a moving piece of drama, some of the older boys retold their story of coming to Snowland School from Tibet.
Some of the children know they will probably never see their families again, and some do not have families to return to, but all of them are acutely aware of the chances an education can give them. As well as the odd footballer or Bollywood actress wannabe, many of the children want to be teachers so that they can transfer their knowledge onto future children like themselves.
Evenings with my Host Family
Working at the school and socialising with fellow volunteers took up the work days, and in the evenings we had the perfect opportunity to experience Nepali life. Sima, a fifteen year old housemaid, would sit to eat with Lea and myself while she taught us Nepali and answered our never ending stream of questions. Then we would sit with the family to watch a Bollywood film or a soap opera (which, if possible, is like a more farcical version of East Enders).
Sima and Kessari would roll incense sticks to sell to friends and then do their Reiki meditation while Lea would read and I’d prepare games for the next day at school. They were peaceful evenings and I learnt much more from my house stay than I would have done in a hotel. Aside from the frequent blackouts, it had all the amenities one could wish for, plus dinner by candlelight is so much more fun!
Travelling at the weekends
At the weekends Projects Abroad would organise activities for us. On a walking safari our tracker failed to spot a rhino and we nearly walked straight into it! I’ve never had to stand so still in my life and all I have to show for it is a very blurry photo of a grey blob.
I also took a week off volunteering to go trekking with some friends to Poon Hill to see the Annapurna range as the sun rose. It was a magical sight, and a lot of fun seeing the Nepali people of the mountains. It was extraordinary to see school children without proper shoes running passed us up the mountain, while we puffed and sweated away slowly (admittedly when I say mountain, Nepal considers it a hill, but it was 3200 metres above sea level so I’m still proud of our achievements).
Other weekends were spent exploring Kathmandu to the Durbar Square, Pashpati and Monkey Temple, and bus journeys out into the countryside to remote temples and monasteries, all beautiful and exciting at the same time. Some days Lea and I would spend time eating fruit from street sellers, haggling over souvenirs and getting lost in the little stone alleyways that form the labyrinth around the capital.
Weekend trips away
One of the best weekends was the first one I spent in Nepal. I hadn’t even had a chance to unpack or see Snowlands when Becky, one of Project Abroad’s staff, explained that the next day volunteers were leaving for a trip to Last Resort. Unsure, I signed up, but it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The three hour bus journey there left a lot to be desired, namely leg room, but the destination was well worth it. We stayed in house tents in beautiful botanical grounds next to a canyon through which a river ran, so one of the first activities I tried was canyoning (abseiling through waterfalls). It was fantastic fun but I can’t say I was the most graceful.
The best was yet to come as the next day I got to bungee jump off a bridge head first towards the river and rocks below. It was by the far the most exhilarating experience of my life and the six seconds of freefall felt amazing. When they lowered me down I just couldn’t stop laughing, and as I looked up it seemed ridiculous that I could have leapt so far.
It was by far two of the best months of my life. Not only did I get a chance to immerse myself in a totally new and different culture, but I also met fantastic people, experienced incredible things and sensations, and left feeling as though I’d helped children of Nepal, even if just in some small way. Sometimes sitting in my room I wish I was back there, it was a completely different lifestyle, with more new and exciting discoveries. One day I hope I’ll return to make paper airplanes and avoid goats.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.