Volunteering in Nepal
Education Does Not End With College
By Allison Lince-Bentley
Last fall was the first in my memory that I was not returning to school, and, like many of my recently graduated peers, I went through an arduous process of deciding what to do next. I wanted to find a useful bridge between the world of school and the world of work, and volunteering abroad seemed like a good option. Because of my interest in working in the field of international development, I looked for a position that would allow me to witness a development program in action so that I could see for myself what kind of impacts such projects can have. In college I had studied abroad in South Asia and wanted to find some way to return. So before I graduated I spent a lot of time searching the Internet for information on volunteer programs in that region.
I found a website for Himanchal High School in Nangi village, located in the mountains of west-central Nepal. In the mid-90s , a U.S.-educated Nepali named Mahabir Pun established the site in order to inform outsiders about life in rural Nepal and to attract foreign visitors to his village. Since then, a steady stream of volunteers from around the world have come to teach in the high school and work on various types of community development projects. The programs success is apparently due to the fact that foreign resources (funds, supplies, and manpower) support equal efforts from members of the village community. The result is effective and meaningful grassroots development.
The school now has a lab with around 25 computers donated by foreigners but built by villagers. Components were brought in by volunteers, and the students learned how to assemble the parts into basic computers.
A similar project is currently underway to set up a wireless communication system that will connect Nangi and surrounding villages to the Internet. Once the system is up and running, educational possibilities will explode for students in this area. Many of them have never even been to Kathmandu, but if the wireless project is successful they will soon have access to information from any place on earth.
A program like Nangi offers you the chance to match your own skills and interests with the needs of a village community. Manyvolunteers teach English in the school or work in the local plant nursery, but you can also devise your own assignment. Because I love books, I began working in the schools library, which was in utter disarray. After a couple of weeks of cleaning and reshelving books I was about to declare the job finished when another volunteer arrived in the village and suggested that we create a database to organize and keep track of the collection.
With the help of several Nepali teachers from the school, we undertook the massive task of classifying all the books in the library filing them in the database. Once this was finished, I taught the students in the high school about how to use the facilities and was amazed by their enthusiasm to learn. Unfortunately, much of the donated English-language material was too complicated or obscure to be of much use, and the Nepali-language collection was pitifully small and somewhat outdated. Several of my students commented on this, so I asked them to make a list of the types of books they would like to have more of. I wrote to the director of a foundation connected to Nangi and was given enough money to buy books that could help make the library into a more functional resource for students. I thus had the satisfaction of turning one of my favorite pastimesbrowsing bookstoresinto a helpful contribution to the school.
During my first four-months in Nangi, six other volunteers came and left. Some stayed only a matter of days while others stayed for weeks, but each found ways to make a difference in Nangi. Possibilities for projects are wide open: volunteers routinely teach in the school, but many also get involved with coaching sports, providing medical assistance or training, conducting research, assisting with income-generating projects, or a variety of other activities.
There are no fixed guidelines for how to volunteer in Nangiwhat one chooses to do is guided mostly by his or her imagination. Because of the open-ended nature of this program to be an asset, it may not be suitable for those who are looking for a structured experience. Though it is possible to earn college credit for volunteering in Nangi, this tends to be a self-directed learning experience.
For me, volunteering in Nepal was probably the best thing I could have done right out of college. It was an ideal transition between my student life and my life to come in the work world. In the process of deciding what projects to undertake in the village, I had to spend considerable time assessing where my interests lie and what skills I had to offer to othersgood preparation for any future job. At the same time, living in a village in rural Nepal was a major learning experience, similar to a fifth year of school but with a radically different curriculum. When I wasnt teaching or working in the library, I was learning how to plaster a house with cow dung, how to weave a basket from a few sticks of bamboo, how to assemble a computer, or how to cook more than a dozen different dishes using only potatoesall emphatic reminders that education doesnt end with a college degree.
Nepal Volunteer Resources
It is possible to arrive in Kathmandu with no planning and find a volunteer position. If you are willing to deal with a little initial uncertainty, however, I highly recommend researching NGOs and other volunteer programs in Nepal before going. I found the following Internet sites particularly useful, but they by no means represent of the full range of options available:
Nepal 28 NGO Links www.friendsofnepal.com. A very comprehensive site compiled by former Peace Corps volunteers.
Nepal Vista www.nepalvista.com/cat/govt.html. A well-maintained web directory for Nepal-related sites. Offers a short list of some of the larger NGOs and INGOs in Nepal plus links to other development organizations, government offices, embassies, and more.
NGO finder www.ngofinder.org. This site is still being launched, but already has a fair list of NGOs up and running. When it is fully functional, the site it will also have forum for potential volunteers and organizations to exchange information about each other.
Volunteering in Nangi Village
Nangi Village website: coe.unk.edu/nepal/index.html. Mahabir Puns email address: email@example.com.
Credit for volunteering in Nangi is available through the Univ. of Nebraska. Contact the treasurer of the Himanchal Education Foundation, Dr. Leonard Skov (firstname.lastname@example.org).
ALLISON LINCE-BENTLEY graduated from Carlton College in 2002.