Sophie-Jayne Bridgens - Care & Community in Nepal
I remember setting my password for a website as one month to go before my big trip. Weirdly one month before I left for my adventure in Nepal, I remembered thinking, quite naïvely, that I have lots of time to do that final bit of shopping and the actual packing. That month went so fast and before I knew it I was 3 days away from boarding my plane to Kathmandu!
Arriving in Nepal
My first impression of Nepal was that it was so hot and humid. I probably felt the change in temperature so much more than other volunteers, due to the fact that I came from the constantly wet and windy UK, where we take that one hot day a year as our entire summer, and we all rush out and grab our barbeques.
Only about 12 hours since I left London, I already had 3 plates of curry on the plane; I was set up for 2 weeks of a lot of rice eating. As a friend of mine said, on our last night there, her first impression of Nepal was that there is a lot of rice and she leaves with the impression that there is still a lot of rice!
During our free time we were certainly not lying down and relaxing. We were lucky enough to go to so many places in Nepal such as a tradition Nepali restaurant, where we had a 7 course meal ranging from dumplings to curries to interesting tasting coffee while several dancers were performing based on different religions and cultures in full costume.
We also got to visit several temples; the Patan Temple, the Boudhanath Stupa (which is the largest of its kind in all of Asia) and finally the Temple of the Monkeys (which was nothing short of The Monkey Temple in the Jungle Book!)
On our free weekend, we went to the Chitwan National Park, which required a 6 hour bus journey where the air cons didn’t really work and sleep was my best friend! While at the park we were then woken up at 6am to go for an hour long canoe ride and a jungle walk where the safety briefing included if we saw a rhino charging us we should strip off and run! The National Park was incredible; surrounded by lush tropical vegetation. It was hot there so you could imagine our relief when going back to Kathmandu, after the 2 days of hot weather and no breeze.
Volunteering in Nepal
The first day of my placement, we went to the project called Suryodaya English School. We passed through the school gates where we were greeted by all the children, who were at the school’s summer program. They were lining up on each side of the school’s path, clapping and cheering for us. They were so happy to see us! I felt very humbled and immediately knew that I was going to make the most of the time I had in Nepal. I was going to do whatever I could to give back to the school. This was done by, us volunteers, painting the school and making it a brighter, more positive place for the kids to be.
In total, we spent about 8 days working at the school. We used so much paint (there might be a chance that we caused a national shortage of paint due to the amount that we seemed to use!). Every wall, bench, pole and gate was painted, and in most cases repainted. It really was a team effort as every single one of us painted something at one time or another.
During our lunch hours, at the school, we all seemed to become 5 year old again and once we started listening to the crazy pop songs we couldn’t stop dancing with the children. We were taught some amazing new dance moves to replace our very dodgy, and in my case dad-style moves. We also captivated the children’s attention by performing the cup-song with our paint pots, teaching them the game duck-duck goose and attempting to get 8 girls to successfully play jump rope at the same time!
At the end of each day we were so tired yet our sense of humor never stopped. We were proud to see that, at the end of the 8 days, we created 9 murals; a princess scene with an amazing castle and unicorns, the alphabet, numbers, a collection of world flags and a mural of Spongebob Squarepants!
On our last day at the school we were all feeling very bitter-sweet. Happy because we could clearly see how much the painting we had done meant, not only to the students but also to the staff; we were constantly being told ‘Thank you for making our school beautiful. This meant so much to all of us. However; we also felt enormous amounts of sadness, stuck with the reality that we would no longer be a complete group in less than 24 hours. Our adventure would be over!
We took part in a farewell ceremony that was dedicated to us. It was a very emotional and humbling experience. We were treated to several cultural dances, the national anthem performed by the children and a presentation ceremony. I left the school feeling completely drained and very blotchy from crying but also very proud of what we had all given to the school. This was an amazing experience and memories I will remember and treasure forever.
On my last night in Nepal I wrote in my journal that I would miss being in Nepal. I would miss the heat, simply because it has been such a nice change from the constant rain and wind in the UK, despite being in the center of some monsoon storms. I would miss the genuine gratitude shown towards, not only us by the school, but by strangers who meet in the street. Finally, I would miss how relaxed and at peace everyone is even though Nepal is such a poor country. If I could I would bottle this relaxed atmosphere and give it to everyone.
Life back home
Now I’m back in the UK with the wind and the rain and the stresses of everyday life that a 17 year old seems to endure. I will never regret going to Nepal as it has honestly opened my eyes to see how people live in Nepal. I got to meet people from all over the world and by talking to them I got to experience their world as well. So I say thank you to the school, thank you to the people in my group and thank you to Projects Abroad for the experience of a lifetime.