The first thing you do before starting a volunteering experience is to look up the place where you will spend at least 2 months of your life. Most of the times God Google comes to help us…not in this case! We couldn’t find neither the little village not the province so the only thing we could say was “we are going somewhere in the north of Nepal!”. We were actually relieved by this fact since it meant that technology hadn’t reached this valley yet. For you, future volunteer, we make things a bit easier so here it goes the map with the village location.
The school was located in the neighbouring village and was attended by nearly 250 students of the surrounding. I had to walk every day from Sunday to Friday at least 30 minutes to reach it (good training for my button!). Reading some recent Italian news about how it might become compulsory for the parents to pick up the kids from school until they are 13 years old, it just made me laugh! In our school, 4 years old kids used to walk alone, in the forest, for at least an hour just to have the chance to study and change their destiny. Since the school was at the bottom of the hill it was even more difficult to reach it during rainy season since the little path turned into a river. But these little worriers with their little umbrellas always managed to be on time (on the other side I used to fall down at least 3 or 4 times on my way). The school area was composed by different buildings: some existed before the earthquake, others (the metallic shelter) were constructed after the earthquake and one building was brand new and has been given in donation by Walk Along. In the same spot where the new classes were erected, there were the original classes that had been completely destroyed by the earthquake. Luckily there were no kids inside since the earthquake happened on Saturday so no one was at school. Due to the mentioned bureaucracy it took more or less 2 years to complete the quake proof building. It originally consisted of a single floor but, of course, in the Nepali vision no houses can have ONLY a single floor! So while we were there they had the brilliant idea to build a second floor (made by the local workers with no construction plan) without asking any permission to the organization! Jointly with the karma and fatalism (following one of the teacher my good karma helped me avoid the bricks falling down from the roof of the new rooms) this is a fundamental aspect of the Nepali culture: if you don’t ask me, why should I tell you? No one asked to the school board if they would have built another floor! The same logic is applied when you ask the hours: “Sir, do you have the time?” “Yes!” And then they will just walk away without giving you the time!!!
My lessons covered the all morning and afternoon. The school started at 9 to allow all the students to walk from the villages and be on time and finished at 4. Classes were quite short, only 45 minutes and in my case they were even shorter cause I spent ages to make all the students seat and listen to me XD Everyone has experienced a new and young teacher at school so we all know how to make fun of them at the beginning. The same happened to me, and I was even a foreigner! First of all the students name were just impossible to memorize and, when I made them create a name tag they kept changing it every time to confuse me! On the other side, they immediately memorized my name and instead of calling me Miss, like they used to call the other teachers, they called me Didi that in Nepali means older sister. Is it possible to get angry with these beautiful creatures when they call you like that while looking at you with these eyes??? IMPOSSIBLE. So they basically understood that they could manipulate me whenever.
A common thing of the Nepali is that they are really really curious and have no idea of the privacy concept. Even if they just know you they will ask you: “How old are you? Are you married? Which job are you doing? (In this exactly sequence). Then they will start showing you the picture of their family, house etc. With kids is more or less the same, only the question slightly change “What is your mother name? What is your Didi name? What is your Bai (little brother) name?” And finally “Chocolate?(Seriously, who is the foreigner who started this game with the Nepali kids? We will find you one day…)
The time passed really fast, and everyday I was getting closer and closer to the kids. Since the begging I understood that playing game was the easier way to teach them English and, for them, to teach me Nepali. While they perfectly learned thes tendipanni song in less than 1 week, it took me nearly 2 months to learn a sentence of Kuttuma Kutu!
One of the task the organization gave us was to decorate the classes, so we decided that it would have been a good idea to hang a world map. When I asked class 5 where Nepal was located they immediately pointed…Madagascar! Once understood that geography wasn’t their favourite subject, we started analysing all the continents until reaching Qatar when most of the kids yelled: “My dad lives here!”
A sad truth is that most of the kids have not seen their father in the last 7-8 years. A big part of the Nepali population live in fact in countries such as Qatar or AEU. They leave their family with the illusion of finding a well-paid job but, once there, only exploitation is waiting for them. Usually, once arrived, the employer takes their passport and only gives it back to them after 3 years. In this way, they cannot leave the country (they couldn’t even come home after the earthquake to see if the family was ok). At the same time the family cannot leave Nepal since, even if they have enough money for paying the flight, Nepali cannot travel (even for tourism) without a recommendation letter from the foreign country. In other words, the foreign person who will host the Nepali guest needs to certify that he or she will pay all the expenses during the stay…when we discovered it we started to appreciate even more our liberty of movement.
Every teacher has a favourite student, and for me Sustika, was my special Boini (little sister)! She had mental retardation and even if she was 7 years old she was still in class 1. Unfortunately, most of the time the family is just too busy to look after kids and the teacher are paid way to less (250$ a month) to take care of them. The saddest thing for me was to see how no one really took care of the kids during school time and, some of them, even used way to often violence to “make them learn faster”. Under these circumstances, even a little smile makes you the new best friend of a little girl. And this is what happened with Sustika. Every time she saw me she ran after me and she used to sing me a Nepali song about the family. The hardest part of this experience, was to see her running towards me and give me her last hug. But she made me a promise, she won’t grow too fast so even next time I will be able to lift her!
was a little building composed by different offices and a birth place room. In Nepal the health situation is really poor: there are few good hospitals and they are all located in the capital (just to make you understand, the Nepali politics prefer to get cured in Bangkok rather than here!). If this is the situation in the capital, you can imagine how it is in the remote villages! In Karmidanda health post there was only a nurse and no doctor (in most of the places is like this or, even worst a paramedic who undertook a 8 month course in medicine…) Most of the time the personal is not fully qualified and this represented for me a big challenge. The patients are not checked properly and antibiotics are given as candies. This is a real issue in Nepal since, not needing a prescription, people are hardly abusing it.
So after a couple of weeks, I had to give a turn in my position and, even if with resignation, leave the health post and focus more on the school. I really wanted to be more useful in the health post since it would have been a resource even for the village, but sometimes you need to face the cultural aspect and make a step back. On the other side at the school there was no time to get bored! First of all, we painted all the library in order to try to save the books from the mould! It was tougher than I though since the concept “Don’t touch” doesn’t exist in the Nepali culture. Every time that I just finished painting there was someone, students or even teacher, that had to personally check with their finger if the painting was really fresh! Secondly we reorganized all the books by topics (like in a normal library) and teach to the kids how to read the books instead of only passing the pages (we think they understood now :). Since the dean admired my Michelangelo skills, he asked me to paint even the new rooms. We decided to draw a big tree representing the fact that students grow with learning and a girl flying with balloons with the written “learning gives you freedom”. We decided this “controversial” subject in order to make femalet sudents understand that they worth as much as boys and that only studying they can really get free from a society where, if the new born is a female it is still considered a disgrace. In Nepal, girls don’t have the same chance of studying as boys: while the family will pay up to university for their sons, the daughter can attend only until 5th grade for then leaving school and start working. That is why we used the word controversial and that is why we made this painting in class 5.
But I didn’t only paint! I tried to use my medicine knowledge and transmit it to the students through 3 sessions of first aid. It was a really funny experience, especially when I pretended to be a dead person and a student tried to reanimate me with the CPR movement nearly breaking me all the ribs (for real in this case). With no doubt, the funniest part of my experience was doing the health check to all the students (including the teachers). Kids from class 1 never saw a doctor in their life so they were pretty impressed and curious by my stethoscope!!! The results of this intent of being a doctor inside the school was that every 5 minutes a kid would arrive with a scratch asking “Sir Javi, can you cure me?”…. And with a smile, how could I say no? The effect of this training session spread even outside the school walls and little by little the villagers started to come at our house looking for the doctor. As a pay back I received loads of presents such as delicious buffalo milk, goat meat or yak cheese! My conclusion? Is great to be a doctor in a Nepali village!
We have always thought that Spain was the country with most festivities in the world…we were wrong! Nepali festivals double the typical European celebration. Every month there is a special event and if there is not, they invent it! Every day we had to ask if there would have been class the day after and, at least once a week there was a day off for: the day of children rights, the day of teacher rights, the day of games…during our staying at the village we have experienced 2 major festivals: the Gaai Jatra, where they usually honour a cow since is the mean used by the souls to reach Yamrai (the god of death), and Tijr, the Women festival. In Europe too we celebrate women on the 8th of March, but the meaning here is quite different. In the Tijr, women dress up with their most beautifuls saari and celebrate in front of the Shiva temple…for their husband or future husband! Once again, the only festival dedicated to women, undercover a veneration for men.
As explained in the section above, be a woman in Nepal is still difficult! Give birth to a little lady is still considered a course for most of the family since, when she will be ready to get married, the family will have to pay a big dowry to the future husband. In developed countries, when a woman is pregnant is possible to know in advanced the sex of the new born. This medical exam is considered illegal in the Nepali hospitals since, if the family discovers that the future baby will be a girl they will immediately ask for abortion (unfortunately is possible to do the exam by paying a “little sum” to the doctor). At the same time, there is a huge pressure on the mother since, if she is not “good enough” to give birth to a son, the husband has all the right to get married with another women.
Another alarming example is that, in 2017, the Chhaupadi is still normal. The Chhaupadi is a hindu tradition that prohibits women from taking part in normal family activities during the menstruation period. When a girl has the first period, she is considered impure. The family takes her and put it in a shelter with no light where she will spend there 4-5 days until her period is over. She cannot see the sun and even stare at the vegetable or fruit cause otherwise they will turn bad. In some cases this practice is applied only for the first period but, most of the time, especially in the Terai where the Hindu tradition is stronger, is repeated every month. Luckily, this September, the government classified this practise as illegal, after that 2 young girls died of a snake bite and no one helped them. Unfortunately we don’t think it will change the situation that much. Nepal has one of the highest rate of suicide in the world and most of them are committed by women. Is the country with the highest rate of underaged weddings, 60%. We were pretty shocked to discover that our Ama got married at the age of 7 with a 23 year old man…we couldn’t even sleep alone at that age! Little by little the situation is changing, love marriages are spreading, especially in the city, and girls are having more opportunity compare to their mothers. Still there is a lot to do and, luckily, there are organization such as Apeiron (www.apeironglobal.org), that are making this change a reality!
Sightseeing in the valley
Volunteering does not mean only work but even enjoy the beautiful environment that surrounds you! We were extremely lucky to spend two months in this remoted area out of the tourist trekking paths. From Karmidanda you can reach many different destinations. On our free day we used to walk up the hill to the so-called Calgari rock,where you have an amazing view of the valley or take a bumpy and pretty scary road to Dunghe, the entrance of the Langtang park, only to buy yummy yak cheese. Highly recommended is to go down to the Trisuli river, the only river that has water all year around. From there you can reach, especially during monsoon time, breathtaking waterfalls! If you like wild animal you can spot Himalayan monkeys while stealing rice from the villagers, and, if you are lucky enough leopards and bears. Unfortunately we didn’t see any of them but people told us that they still surround the area.
It is difficult to resume in just few words our amazing experience so, the best way to understand the Nepali culture is to go and check yourself. For the future volunteers, we would like to give you the following tips.
Do you want to volunteer with us? All you need to know:
- The most important thing is to be really open minded and flexible. You will face a cultural shock when you arrive, but after few days you will easily adapt. Understand that the European and Nepali way of living are completely different.
- While volunteering, respect you colleagues but, at the same time, don’t be afraid in expressing your opinion. Culture and tradition does not mean that you can’t introduce changes and improvement. Be creative and when you think you are doing the right thing, follow your instinct.
In the last years, few shops opened in the village. You will have the chance to buy
- While volunteering, respect you collegue but, at the same time, don’t be afraid in expressing your opinion. Culture and tradition does not mean that you can’t introduce changes and improvement. Be creative and when you think you are doing the right thing, follow your instinct.
- In the last years, few shops opened in the village. You will have the chance to buy food and drink (biscuits, soft drink, beer) directly in Karmidanda. For more “sofisitacted stuff” (such as toilet paper or sanitary pad) you have to reach the closest village (Kalikstan).
- For those who wants to socialize with local people, go to Shanti bar. It is a really local and lovely place, that all the villagers know. You can try the local raksi (attention, it is quite strong XD)
- We highly recommend you to buy a Sim card in Kathmandu. We bought a Ncell one for 600 rupees in total (SIM and recharge with data) and is really useful in case of emergency.
- You will eat every day Dal Bath, but the family is really open to introduce some changing. You can buy once in a while some chicken in the neightbouring village and they will cook it in an awesome way.