Global Volunteers’ Team One shares their reflections on their first week of work on our inaugural Nepal service program in Kathmandu!
Saturday – Nepal Arrival
Throughout the day, the team assembled, some coming from a trek out of Pokhara, some after long flights from the USA, and others having arrived early, from other parts of Kathmandu. The staff at Hotel Buddy welcomed each of us with sincerity as we gathered together in the lobby before being led off to the Nepalese “Welcome Dinner” at Mahabir’s Center for Nepal Connection. Our first cultural experience! We must walk in a “single file” procession to keep us out of harm’s way in the form of motorcycles and car traffic! At the restaurant, we were formally welcomed, in true Nepalese tradition, by Global Volunteers’ Community Partner Buddihman and his charming wife, with a “Namaste” and the placing of the “khada,” (a welcoming white scarf around our necks).
Sunday – “Getting to Know You!”
It was an active first day for the Global Volunteers “premier” team in Kathmandu, Nepal. Twenty-one volunteers from the U.S. and Canada represent the team. With the effects of the devastating 2015 earthquake everywhere, there is plenty of work to be done. Dorota and Stephen, our fearless Team Leaders, assigned us to work projects which include:
- Teaching conversational English, math and business to students of all ages
- Working with orphaned children
- Helping marginalized and low-income women learn English
- Assist with repainting of rooms at an orphanage
With the team-building sessions completed, Buddihman guided us in some basic Nepalese words. It gave us insight into not only the fun of learning a foreign language, but the challenges too – all of which our students might experience learning English. Global Volunteers “Philosophy of Service” is a bridge for peace and justice, so it is paramount that we be aware of our actions as we interact with individuals. Honoring this, we’re called to embrace, getting to know those whom we will be working with and forming friendships. Thus, we met with Global Volunteers’ extraordinary community partners in Kathmandu. We’re all eager to get to work and learn from one another.
Monday – Our First Day of Work
With “butterflies” in our stomachs and Stephen’s advice at the morning meeting to “take it easy and go with the flow,” we set off for our various work projects. Six of us were met by the St. Joseph English School Principal and taken to the school by school bus. When we arrived at the school gate, we were welcomed with a ceremonial scarf (khada) and students lining the walkway into the school. We enjoyed a cup of coffee in the Principal’s office and a tour of the school before finally being escorted to our assigned classrooms to begin teaching. The school walls were covered in many inspiring quotes. One especially caught my eye:
“One book, one pen, one teacher can change the world!” – Malala Yousafzai
At our evening meeting, volunteers shared their experiences – some challenging, some amazing – with one team actually making it onto National TV! They’d had the honor of meeting various dignitaries including the mayor of Kathmandu!
Tuesday -“A Very Good Day”
This morning, each team member set off in high spirits for the various worksites on our second work day. Later, we briefly rested, relaxed and recharged our batteries reconvening for our evening meeting at 4 PM! By the end of this busy day, every worksite reported, with great enthusiasm, on a greatly improved second day and confirmed it has been a very good day! As the sun set on the mountains and the prayer flags flapped in the breeze on the hotel rooftop garden, each site mentioned the high points of their day. For me, it was the smiling faces and warm embraces of pre-school children at St. Joseph’s School. As well as the friendly, warm, and generous spirit of the pre-school teachers, who laughed and wiped noses and corrected workbooks and managed 30-40 children at a time. Nothing beats a mother/pre-school teacher when it comes to quick and efficient multi-tasking! Each site reported achievements and successes, as well as questions and ideas for going forward.
Buddihman joined us for dinner, and gave a deeply moving report on the devastating earthquake of April 2015. Nearly four years later, remote villages and Kathmandu remain in need of assistance to rebuild. People are still in hospitals, widows and orphans still need care, infrastructure and historic sites are still being rebuilt, and remote villages still have unmet needs. Buddihman and his wife rescued and adopted five boys and continue to shelter a widow and her son. Though assistance has come from outside Nepal, much work remains to be done, while the fear of further earthquakes remains a possibility.
Wednesday – Settling Into Service
We gathered for the morning meeting excited by the sense that, as a team, we are beginning to catch our stride. After a full day of service, we returned for our evening meeting and discovered that overall this was a good, yet exhausting, kind of day. Some of our victories came from establishing stronger personal connections and proficiently adapting to last-minute class schedules, student capabilities and chaotic situations, all the while finding creative ways through role-playing, games, and songs to keep the students engaged and motivated. Patience and flexibility seemed to be the order of the day. At the conclusion of our discussion, Stephen informed us that the Maoist political opposition party would be holding a one-day strike on Thursday with the goal of gaining more support for lower-income people. Consequently, daily activities would be slowed down as some of the government schools and supporting agencies would be closed. As Global Volunteers’ “safety trumps everything” policy is the priority, we’ll remain in the hotel during this period and redirect our efforts towards lesson preparation and participation in lectures on Nepalese culture.
Our day concluded with a great evening meal at Saktar Restaurant, enjoying Nepalese cuisine and local folk-dance vignettes. The talented performers were energetic, bringing their characters to life with various costume changes. As their performance came to an end, we were invited to join them on stage. Who knew we had so many “Dancing Queens” among us! As we retired, we were reminded once again that life begins at the end of our comfort zones, grateful for the opportunity to expand our boundaries, learn about ourselves and dance the night away.
Thursday- “A day of Learning”
Each day in Nepal has brought many memorable moments as our bonds with one another build, and our volunteer work experiences continue to unfold. In fact, today was the first morning I hadn’t woken up to the sounds of honking horns and looking out of the window. The streets were empty because of the strike.
During the morning, our Team Leader Stephen talked about the Caste System in Indian and applications to Nepal. Steven is a scholar in his knowledge of this very complex topic. All the time Stephen was teaching us, you could feel the compassion for the people of his homeland, hear the clarity in his words as he surrounded facts with anecdotes. Stephen provided some heartbreaking facts about crimes committed against the lower caste since June 2018. As appalled as we were to hear such stories, it reminds us of the injustices that continue in our own countries.
Next, we were invited to practice conversational English with the hotel staff that worked at the front desk, in housekeeping, the kitchen, restaurant, and office. What a privilege to meet more beautiful Nepali people and share our experiences through language training. My group had a great time role playing with five members of the housekeeping staff. We learned so much from them – including some Nepali phrases – during our lessons.
Our learning continued when Bhuwan, (hotel staff) helped us learn more Nepali phrases. We got a chance to practice phrases that would help us both on the street and in schools. “Sit down” and “quiet” were favorites of the upper school volunteer teachers.
I would like to thank the volunteer teachers who were in our school to break students’ monotonous. The students were feeling bored from congested classroom activities, got a chance to feel fresh. We hope we will see you again. – Narayani Pathak Timilsina (teacher at Bans Bari school)
Dinner was delicious at the Hotel Yatri, accompanied by our guest speaker, Principal Dambar of St. Joseph’s School, who talked about the three educational systems of Nepal. He walked us through government schools, private schools, and semi-private schools. The most moving words came when he spoke about the remote areas, the marginal people and their daily struggle to stay alive. He, like Stephen, shared his humble beginning and insight into his family life. As we struggle with executing lesson plans or fret over how to connect, let these two men, in particular, remind us of the power and ability within ourselves if our intention is led by a loving heart.
As we retire, we are reminded once again that life begins at the end of our comfort zones, grateful for the opportunity to expand our boundaries, learn about ourselves and dance the night away.
Friday – The Satisfaction of a Productive Week
We arrive at our worksite two minutes before we are to start. The ride to the schools was slow, owing to the residuals of the strike. We visit with our students and teachers a bit, and I answer questions about the use of bullets in our writing. Our class formally begins around 10:20 with a discussion about the strike, then move into techniques of education. This is a good group of students who are focused on improving.
The afternoon group arrives on time and we jump right into where we left off on Wednesday. This group is starting from a lower skill level, so our teaching is more basic. We show ways to use picture books to improve vocabulary, and we work on asking and answering questions in “full sentences.” We’re all falling into the rhythm of the classroom, and feeling comfortable with our assignments. It’s clear we’re well-received and appreciated by the students and teachers equally!