Volunteer stories : Saffron S., Care & Community in Nepal
Throughout high school I knew that I wanted to travel overseas, so I knew that volunteering abroad was right for me. Being only 17 at the time of finishing year 12, I searched around online for programs offered to younger volunteers and found Projects Abroad.
I knew that I wanted to volunteer somewhere in Asia, but with so many different programs it was hard to choose. Eventually, I narrowed it down to Nepal, mainly due to the devastating earthquake in April 2015. I applied as soon as I discussed it with my parents.
I was ready to take on Nepal in January 2016. After applying, I was constantly sending and receiving exciting emails about my upcoming placement, and the Projects Abroad staff was eager to help me out with all of my questions and queries. I booked my flights through Projects Abroad, which took away the stress of organizing them on my own. Projects Abroad set up a Facebook page for the volunteers to communicate through prior to our trip away. This helped to calm my nerves, and I discovered that I was on the same flight as another volunteer!
Arrival to Nepal
After months of anxious and excited waiting, it was finally time to say goodbye to Australia and hello to Nepal for two weeks. I met up with the another volunteer at the airport and we waited to board our flights together. I was quite nervous at the time, but having someone to travel with was definitely calming, and we were able to easily make our way throughout the different airports.
We were met at the airport by a member of the Projects Abroad staff and taken straight to our hotel to make up our team of six volunteers. At the hotel, our needs were met; having our own beds, meals, power, Wi-Fi and hot water – (most of the time). Our hotel was in the middle of the city, so as soon as we were settled into our rooms, it was time to explore Kathmandu. Being in a group of only six volunteers, we were able to easily walk around Kathmandu together with our supervisor.
After feeling like we had slept forever (it was hard to get used to the time difference), it was time to get ready for our first day of placement. We had breakfast (generally a banquet of toast, cereal, banana bread, eggs, and fruit), and then we were collected from the hotel by a minibus to go to our placement. For the first week we painted the walls of classrooms at a school. We were welcomed to the school by the principal in a ceremony on our first day, before being split up into groups of three, undertaking two different classrooms.
For the first few days, we painted primer on the walls, followed by a base coat and finished with murals later in the week. At lunchtime on the first day we got to play games with the schoolkids, which was fun to break up the tiresome job of painting. For the rest of the week, the children were on holidays, but some of the students came back for holiday classes, and to check on their transformed classrooms.
On our first day of the following week of placement, we visited a nutrition rehabilitation center and a center for children living with HIV/AIDs. Both visits were purely for educational purposes and gave us an insight of the daily lives of people less fortunate than us. We were taken on tours of each center and told stories of the children’s lives, which was both confronting and inspiring.
The visits also showed us the amount of time and effort that people in Nepal were willing to give for others. For the remainder of our placement, we taught primary aged students English and math. This was the most difficult task for most of us; reminding us how important good patience and organization really was. It was probably one of the most rewarding things on the whole trip; being able to interact with the children in small classes, learning a bit about their lives, and seeing their faces light up as we turned up each day.
Evening and weekend activities
At night after each day at placement we had plenty of time to wash and freshen up before heading out to discover more of Kathmandu (and go shopping)! On our first night, we went out for dinner at a traditional Nepali restaurant where we were served six different courses along with as much dal bhat as we could eat! We were graced with traditional dances with each course, and at the end we all got up on stage and danced together. That was probably one of my highlights of the trip. On other nights after our placements we visited a Buddhist monkey temple, a Hindu temple, had a quiz night, got henna done, and went shopping for saris.
The weekend took us on a 5 hour trip to Chitwan National park where we stayed for two nights. On the first night we watched the sun set over a river, followed by a traditional Nepali dance performance. The next day we visited an elephant breeding center – one of the highlights of the whole trip. We got to watch the elephants be taken out to roam in the national park, and we even got to see a week-old elephant and a month-old elephant. We followed this up with a jeep safari in the heart of the national park to find some native animals. We came across loads of deer, monkeys, crocodiles and native birds, and even caught a glimpse of a wild rhino!
On our final day in Chitwan we went on a jungle walk and visited the elephant breeding center again, because we all loved it so much! After this, it was time to start the long trip back to Kathmandu, with countless sing-along’s to pass the time. Spending a whole weekend all together helped to bring the group closer; we discovered different sides to each other that we hadn’t seen in the first week of placement.
On our final night we all dressed in our saris and went out for pizza! Although everyone had a good time, there was a tinge of sadness as we all came to the realization that this would be our last meal together. And so the trip drew to a close and after saying our goodbyes, we were dropped off at the airport ready to start the long journey back home.
Upon returning to Australia, it was difficult not knowing if and when we would see everyone again, but I was glad to be back sleeping in my own bed. Our group keeps in contact on Facebook and no doubt we will continue to. The trip to Nepal has opened my eyes to everything around me and I feel like I can take on the whole world now! I am forever grateful for this experience and words cannot explain how truly amazing it was.
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