Volunteering in Nepal
Insight Nepal is a cross-cultural exchange program promoting appreciation and understanding of traditional Nepali life. The organization recruits volunteers of any age
to work in local schools or education centers for three to four months. Participants are mainly based in the town of Pokhara, a beautiful community strung
out along the Phewa Tal lake with the Himalayan mountains providing a sensational backdrop.
The orientation phase of the program in Kathmandu lasted for one week. It started with a whirlwind tour of the citys main sights
conducted by the programs director.
Pokhara is a total contrast to Katmandu. The atmosphere is relaxed, with cows in the middle of the street. The program really began
for us here as we split up and moved in with our host families. The programs rule is that at least one family member speaks some English, but the similarities
among the families stop there. The house of my family had an inside bathroom, hot water, phone, and TV. Other participants homes had none of that.
The first priority was to communicate with our host families. Fortunately, spoken Nepali is not difficult to learn. After five days
of language classes and practice with our families in the evenings, everyone could manage a few practical phrases.
After classes we were taken to local monasteries and temples. In the end, we asked for a few of the local trips to be dropped so we
could get some sleep.
The second phase of the program consisted of two separate cultural excursions. We spent three days roaming the jungle on foot or on
the back of an elephant looking for the elusive one-horned rhino, followed by a 1-week trek into the Himalayan foothills staying in local villages. We wandered
through the mountains and across footbridges, photographing frisky gray monkeys and meeting traders and porters.
The trails are the freeways that connect the various communities, and they are filled with countless people eager to chat. A highlight
was watching the morning sun rise over an isolated hill illuminating 15 peaks all around us.
The final but most important phase of the program was the work placement itself. I worked at Pardi government school. The children aged
4-17 were mostly from the poorest groups in Nepal, including the untouchable caste. Classes took place in tiny dark rooms with 50 to 70 students per class.
There was no electricity or running water, and the school had almost no money to pay for books or paper. I worked 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., six days a week and was
always thoroughly exhausted at the end of the day.
Most Western teachers would beg for such appreciative students, however, teaching was a 2-way lesson: I tried to explain the difference
between to hear and to listen and the students taught me five new Nepali words as reward. Their appreciation made me work doubly hard.
Class sizes were the main difficulty. Teaching sports to 100 children on dried mud courts with just one volleyball was a new challenge
that took a few attempts to get right.
Some might question why children from the poorest groups of society in Nepal need to learn English. Nepals major source of income
is now tourism and Pokhara has become the gateway to the Himalayas. Thousands of visitors descend on the town each year for trekking, whitewater rafting,
and jungle safaris. People in Pokhara see the economic potential in welcoming visitors and want to learn English.
Insight Nepal is an ideal program for those who are looking to volunteer in a developing country for the first time. Experience is not
necessary and the three distinct phases allow you to interact with other participants, thus giving you a good support network. Once at your school, contact
with the program organizers becomes minimal, but this didnt prove to be a problem. We eventually made Nepali friends, and participants usually met up
on days off.
Insight Nepal is a for-profit organization. The $800 fee for the 3-month program covers accommodations, meals, excursions, hotel stays,
and the language course. Also included is a 1-week trekking excursion and a 3-day jungle safari in Chitwan National Park. It does not include the air ticket
to Nepal, entry visa and subsequent visa extensions. None of the fees go toward the work placement.
Nepal has beautiful mountains and scenery, but its people left the real impression on me. A highlight was participating in the Hindu
festival of light (tihar) with the students and my host family. During the five-day celebration dogs, cows and family brothers, including me, received tika,
a lessing in the form of a red mark placed on the forehead. The streets are lit with candles to welcome Ramma, the personification of the god Vishnu, back
from exile. Students danced in the streets to traditional songs while the teachers and I collected money to pay for schoolbooks.
For More Information
Contact: Insight Nepal, P.O.Box 489
Zero K.M., Pokhara
Recruitment: Through application forms. Four photographs and an introductory letter should be sent three months prior to
the starting date.
Kathmandus Tourist Service Center will try to answer question.