Volunteer stories : Sarah K., General Care Projects in Nepal
My journey to Kathmandu was a long one, so when I finally arrived, it took a while for it to sink in. On my first night, Projects Abroad set me up at the Hotel Excelsior, in Thamel. Thamel is the tourist district of Nepal; it is a small city within Kathmandu.
I don’t know whether to blame it on my travel fatigue, or just being in a new place, but Thamel was initially overwhelming. I got there in the afternoon, which turned very quickly into the evening, and while the atmosphere is fun, it is a lot to take in. The music was booming, the streets were crowded with foreigners and shopkeepers, the taxi drivers were calling and beeping. I’ve since grown to love Thamel!
My Host Family
The next day I was taken to my host family’s house in Patan. When I got there, everyone was at work and school, and the other volunteers were in the city as it was a Sunday. However, being in the host family’s house was comforting and a relief.
The relationships I made on my trip to Nepal were invaluable. My host family was truly wonderful. They were easy to talk to, open, attentive, and took very good care of me. The volunteers that I met in my house and on the weekends were wonderful too.
The volunteers give you a double cultural experience – not only are you in a foreign country, but you are surrounded by representatives of several other countries. In my room alone, there was me (from America), a girl from Australia, and a girl from England. Downstairs there was a lady from Austria, and a boy from France. Our house was a real melting pot! My American accent struggled to survive, and I found myself in a number of funny situations due to certain things being lost in translation.
Life in Kathmandu
Life in Nepal entails certain discomforts. For example, there are limits to the water supply, and the tap water is not very clean. This is a concept that Americans, at least, are not used to. I learnt quickly to check the tap in the sink before using the bathroom, and to frequently fill my water bottle with the filtered water that my host family provided.
It is also a well-known fact that in Nepal, and in many other Asian countries, there are plenty of power cuts. I always had a flashlight on me. I also always had an umbrella on me, and my feet in closed-toe shoes because I went to Nepal during monsoon season. It rained nearly every day, transforming the rocky and litter-strewn dirt roads into rocky and litter-strewn bogs. I will also confirm the reports of an abundance of stray dogs on the streets of Nepal.
After my first couple of days in Nepal however, I hardly noticed these things. It was easy to adjust to these lifestyle changes because my host family was so supportive, and to be honest, the experiences I was having from the workplace and my weekends in Kathmandu truly distracted from these minute details.
My Care Placement
I worked for my whole one-month stay in Patan Community Based Rehabilitation Organisation (CBR), a day care centre for people with physical and intellectual disabilities. At CBR, I spent most of my days in the Vocational/Skills Development classroom, where I taught English and Maths to men and women aged 18 years and above, so that they may ultimately join the mainstream schools.
This work was incredibly satisfying. It kept me on my toes because although there was a teacher in that classroom, there were a lot of kids, all of whom really required individual treatment and one-on-one lessons.
The teaching was also very challenging. I have volunteered several times as a teacher, but never with so many kids of varying ages and intellectual disabilities. The language barrier was especially tough to get past, and without the learning resources that I’m used to in America, I found myself having to be very creative!
I was constantly amazed with the progress that the students in this classroom made every day, despite the one million and one things that were working against them. Each day these men and women put in more effort than I knew was humanly possible; they pushed and persevered until they learnt something. Needless to say, by the end of my assignment, I felt very close to them. It was sad to leave!
At one o’clock every day at CBR, I went downstairs to the day care centre, where kids who were severely intellectually disabled, and/or had major physical disabilities were taken care of. In this room I fed the kids and played with them. This was a wonderful learning experience for me, because I have never worked with, or had any particular association with such debilitated people.
I learnt to become comfortable with these kids, and I figured out how to understand their limits and capabilities. My first few days in this classroom were a bit uncomfortable, because again, there was a lot to adjust to. At feeding time, some of the kids struggled a lot because of their disabilities, and it was difficult to watch.
Nearly all the kids were incontinent and did not wear nappies. They didn’t always make it to the toilets, but just like with everything else, I got used to it. By the end of the trip, in fact, it was nice to see that as long as I kept my mind open and focused fully on the experiences I was having; it was fairly easy to adjust.
Now that I am home, I can’t stop talking about my trip. I find myself looking back at my pictures on a daily basis, writing to my friends regularly, and most of all, planning my next visit. I had a truly beautiful experience, and I will never forget my time in Nepal.
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