In the last few months, Nepal has been popping out a lot in the news because of the earthquake that brutally devastated the country last 25 April, and the aftershocks that followed shortly after. Which explains why, when I decided to volunteer with the project Injuve in helping the country, everyone said that I should gone off the idea, that it was reckless going after what had happened…
Now, after what happened and my first incursion in Asia, I can say that I couldn’t be happier with the decision I made.
Why travelling to Nepal for a volunteer project?
Nepal, with a population of 28 million, is one of the poorest countries in the planet and the poorest in Asia. Before the earthquake, 25% of the population live under the poverty threshold and a third did it with less than a dollar a day. And I have been able to see that with my own eyes.
To this we have to add the earthquakes that hit the country on 25 April and 12 May, with a magnitude of 7.9 and 7.3 in the Richter scale respectively, leaving the following “numbers”*:
- 8,702 dead and thousands injured.
- 505,745 houses destroyed and 279,300 damaged.
- 2.8 million people in need of humanitarian aid.
*Updated data as of 3 June 2015. Source: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
If we peel off a bit more of the surface, we’ll find that over 27% of the population is not covered by health insurance, and just so that you get a rough idea of the kind of service that those who can access it receive, diarrheic diseases kill 9,000 children every year.
I believe all this data evidences the reason why a country like this might need our help, something that is beyond apparent to 7,000 Nepali organisations that work every day to reverse this situation. With one of them, Volunteers Initiative Nepal (VIN), I spent two weeks working in a project with children: Children development.
Children development program or how to let children make you happy
Yes, the title should read «how to make children happy», but no, the truth is that I have come back with the feeling that it is them who bring you the happiness that in western life seems to get away through the cracks of senseless daily worrying. The goal of this project is, just as the name suggests, contributing to the development and learning process of Nepali children in the areas where this organisation is given over.
In my case, the project took place in Jitpur Phedi, a rural community located 10 kilometres away from Katmandú, the capital of Nepal, where you can spend hours staring at the steep hills, the greenness of its vegetation (but truth be told, with your feet covered in dirt because roads are unpaved), and the night sky rising above you canopied with stars whenever the clouds give you a break.
Over the two weeks that I was involved in this project, we devoted our time to two schools: Tarakeswor School, a primary school, and North Star, a primary and secondary school, both private institutions. In the two of them we tried to get the children to say something in the languages we were conducting the project in (Spanish, French and Chinese, which were the languages of the volunteers), whether it was singing or talking, or simply playing, apart from teaching them a bit of geography.
If I have to choose a lesson learned over the time we got to be with those children (ranging from 3 to 14 years) is that communicating is quite difficult when there are different languages, backgrounds, and cultures so radically different involved, but that it is right then and there when creativity takes over, showing you what these children can teach you. In the end, everything can make sense depending on how you look at it.
And Sesame Street-style I will say: after two weeks of voluntary work, what have we learnt about the Nepali education system?
- The academic year goes from April to March.
- Primary teachers, in a private school, earn around 14,000 rupees a year (117 euros).
- Parents pay 7,000 Nepalese rupees a month per children (6 euros) for a private school.
- It is based on getting the highest grades (something similar to what happens in European countries, such as Spain). Therefore, this project is looking for new alternatives for children to develop other qualities such as creativity or leadership.
The “least good thing” about the project? That Nepali have more bank days that any other in the world (at least that was my impression while I was there) and that, added to the Nepali lifestyle, mixed with my western character, lead us to: «this laidback attitude is killing me». Yes, fellows, hard to believe but true, the western angst must be left behind when travelling to these countries because eeeeeverything takes its time (which is easily understandable, on the other hand, if we take into account things like the fact that their power gets cut, surprisingly, every other day of the week).
What was in my bags on the way back home?
Honestly, my suitcase was fuller than when I arrived. Because, the truth is that there are some trips you come back from thankful for the fact you have been able to visit the most amazing places, or you have been lucky enough to meet a special person you were not expecting to come in your way, or because your perception of the world has changed entirely. And then, there are some others where it is all of the above, which was the case of my trip to Nepal. For that, I highly encourage you to go, with or without rubble, but with your prejudices aside.
Of course, there was also time for sightseeing (I was not going to travel 11,000 km –with two stops!– and not visit anything), which I will later discuss in another post.
And to conclude, it is only left to thank my partners at Global Exchange for packing my suitcase with all sorts of supplies for the children. Thanks everyone!
You can check out more pictures of this project in this post: Las caras de Nepal.
© Pictures: Miriam Gómez Blanes.