Volunteer in Nepal
Organizations Provide Service Opportunities
By Claudette C. Fisco
Students of Buddhism come to Nepal to learn from the masters. Climbers from all over the world are lured to the great mountains. Volunteers build bridges and plant trees.
Whatever your interest, the Kathmandu Valley is streaming with resources to assist you. But the visitors I have encountered were happiest when they found opportunities to volunteer in something that unexpectedly touched them. Two years ago I met a man who stumbled upon a tattered orphanage in the high mountains. He is still there. Trust your intuition and you will find a special place that will take your heart and change your vision of the world.
If you have less than three months to visit or wish to work in remote areas outside the Kathmandu Valley, find a position before you arrive. The following organizations will immerse you in the spirit of Nepal.
Insight Nepal has a comprehensive program with experienced coordinators and a structured agenda designed with emphasis on cultural immersion. Their 3-month program guides you through orientation, work placement, and village excursions.
BridgesProjects in Rational Tourism Development, www.bridges-prtd.com, generally works with remote mountain communities. Itineraries can be customized to meet individual schedules and objectives. Individuals may work alone or with team members, join a project already in progress or propose a plan for sponsorship. Bridges focus is broad, and projects are determined by the particular needs of individual villages. These may include designing and implementing plans to construct roads. A common 13-week program (costing $1,800) includes a week in Kathmandu, trekking from Jiri to Everest Base Camp, intensive study of the Khumbu District, and six weeks working at individual projects in the Rolwaling valley. The program cost includes trekking permits, transportation, and assistance (personal costs are approximately $1,000).
The Himalayan Explorers Connection, www.hec.org, is one of the most valuable resources for travelers to Nepal. For a membership fee of $30, you have access to the clubhouse in Kathmandu where you can meet with travelers, pick up mail, store luggage, access the Internet, gather information, and have a place to feel at home when you are on the other side of the world. If you find yourself in a predicament, they can help. HEC also offers a teaching program and organizes homestays.
Nepal has about 40 ethnic groups, all with a unique culture. If you plan to spend a significant amount of time volunteering or working, choose a region carefully, one that fascinates you, and focus your attention.
Travel Safety in Nepal
In June 2001 Nepal’s Crown Prince Dipendra shot and killed King Birendra and eight other members of the royal family. Although calm has replaced the widespread turmoil that immediately followed the tragedy, there is still political uncertainty. Remain cautious and avoid public gatherings. Check government sites for current warnings about Maoist rebellions in remote areas.
Visas can be obtained on arrival at the airport. However, I highly recommend getting your visa in advance through the Nepal embassy in the U.S. Lines at the airports are long and paperwork confusing. After a long flight, you don’t want to wait on line in the daunting unfamiliarity of Tribhuvan Airport in Kathmandu. Current visa costs are as follows: $30 for 60 days single entry, $55 for 60 days double entries, $90 for 60 days multiple entries. See the Royal Nepalese Embassy website at www.nepalembassyusa.org for additional info and to download applications.
Arrange to be picked up from the airport by making reservations with either your organization or a well-known hotel (exiting the airport can be an overwhelming experience, so have someone waiting for you): Yak and Yeti Hotel (high), Kathmandu Guest House (budget to high), Hotel Utse (midrange). Lodging Costs: Budget: $3-$10; midrange: $10-$50; high: $50 and up.
Meal Costs: Budget: $2-$3; midrange: $3-$10; high: $10 and up.
Health Risks: Altitude sickness, hepatitis A, malaria (low-lying areas only), meningitis, typhoid. Get all applicable vaccinations before entering the country and carry a comprehensive medical kit.
Recommended Reading: Lonely Planet Nepal (5th ed.), The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen.
Useful Websites: www.trekinfo.com, nepal.studyabroad.com.
CLAUDETTE C. FISCO is a freelance writer who has traveled alone through China, Tibet, Nepal, and India.