Diana Dahl - General Care Projects in Nepal
I will always remember my arrival in Kathmandu! There must have been hundreds of people pressed against a glass barrier outside of the airport. There were signs calling for volunteers, and others advertising trekking companies in big bold letters. I only stood there for a moment, when a lovely Projects Abroad employee appeared and greeted me. He took my bags and brought me to the van, and then presented me with a khata, a traditional greeting scarf. This was the first of a thousand acts of kindness that I encountered on my journey.
We set off for the hotel, but there was a brief stop. As we drove through the narrow streets, a black cat suddenly darted out in front of us. The van came to an abrupt halt, and the driver and Projects Abroad employee began conversing rapidly in Nepali. I tentatively asked what the problem was, and was told: “Black cats are bad luck. We must wait.” We sat for a few minutes, waiting for I wasn’t exactly sure what. But soon enough, another car came up from behind us, and crossed over the path the cat had taken. The driver broke into a big smile, started up the van and ensured me that my time in Nepal would be happy and successful. How true this turned out to be!
Volunteering in Nepal
Early the next morning, another member of staff greeted me for breakfast at the hotel. She went over all of the logistics with me, and gave me a tour of the tourist district, Thamel. She then brought me to Snowlands for the first time, the school where I would spend the next few months of my life. My time here was truly astounding.
Snowlands is a charity run boarding school that mostly houses kids from the Dolpa region of Nepal. Many of them had not seen their families in many years, but they had developed such tight bonds with one another that collectively we referred to them as the “Snowland family.” For the first month or so, I spent a lot of time working with the youngest children. I would organize games and crafts, and help them with the basics of English. There was also a lot of soccer playing, goofing around and getting to know each other during this time.
I also organized a weekly fruit day, in which I used funds raised by members of my hometown to purchase fresh fruit and yogurt to be distributed once a week. As time went on, I became more involved in different work. I would step in if a teacher was not present, and went along on school trips to help chaperone. During my second month I began to appreciate that a group of boys were really excellent basketball players, and decided that I should take on the role as their coach.
While they easily schooled me in a game of hoops, I had made some connections with other schools in the region, and my main task was coordinating games with these other schools. I believe these games were really great experiences for the kids. They got to meet other peers their age, explore the region, and engage in a healthy, self-esteem building activity. What I really appreciated about my placement was the opportunity to adapt in accordance with what I felt was needed, and what I felt I could offer.
Living in Nepal
The hostel where I stayed in became my home and my refuge. On the practical side, it was centrally located, I had a nice room and my own washroom, and lovely meals were prepared 2-3 times a day. Moreover though, the several people who worked and ran the hostel truly took care of me. They showed me the neighborhood when I first arrived, and gave me loads of helpful tips.
We played cards together by candlelight when the power was out. Movies and stories were constantly exchanged. When I was sick, Garrett, the principle caretaker of the hostel, took me to the nearest hospital and arranged everything with the doctors: from my admittance to my medication. Furthermore, the hostel housed many different volunteers during my time there. It was so fun to meet new people over dinner, and I formed many life-long friendships in that house.
I was lucky enough to be in Nepal during Holi – the Hindu festival of colors. On the morning of Holi, me and some other volunteers walked out of the hostel and were immediately bombarded with water balloons by our neighbors! The whole hostel teamed together and we had an epic, hour’s long battle with others in our neighborhood. It was such a blast, and an incredible bonding experience. I felt safe, cared for, and if I ever came back to Nepal I would want to stay here again.
Another great aspect of my trip was the support from Projects Abroad. You could always reach someone by phone if there were any issues, and they were always willing to assist you. I know a few of my fellow volunteers wanted to change their placement after they arrived, and the staff helped them find placements that were better suited for them. They also organized get-togethers and trips throughout the country with other volunteers. Two particularly memorable trips were to the Last Resort near the border of Tibet, and to Chitwan National Park.
During these trips we were able to exchange with each other what we had learned about our various placements, the country as a whole, and our role there. Through such activities I developed a wide support system that I deeply valued. Finally, staff also organized learning opportunities to help with our work. I attended one about teaching in schools and found it particularly useful. My experience in Nepal was unforgettable, and life-changing.
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