Every time Ive traveled overseas, Ive felt a desire to volunteer or give back to the amazing people that I meet. Its one of the reasons I became a nurse. Therefore, it was a priority for travel this time around. Luckily, my friend Mary was interested as well, so we did some research before we left, found an organization called Hands For Help Nepal based on a friends recommendation, and signed up.
We arrived in Kathmandu, and instead of bargaining for a taxi outside of the airport, we were met by a guy holding a sign and, like royalty, were whisked to our hotel. We spent two days in Kathmandu, learning Nepali, walking the streets of Thamel, and visiting temples as part of our "cultural orientation". Badri, a large Nepali man who has been the head of the organization for over fifteen years, provided us with our daily schedules, and also escorted us out to our clinic.
Khadijaur, the village that we were placed, lies about 60 km northeast of Kathmandu, but takes about three hours to reach. When we arrived there, we met the friendly, inviting staff, who took us on a tour of the clinic, the hospital cantina, and our accommodations, which was a sparse but cozy room in a big house across the street from the clinic. There were several nurse interns who were staying across the hall, which made for a semi-social environment.
Because we were there in the winter season, the clinic census was lower than normal, so our hands-on skills were not necessarily needed. But, we were invited to participate in daily patient rounds, and watched several procedures. We spent most of our time interacting with the nurse interns, practicing our Nepali and their English, and comparing nursing practices in our respective countries. We were very impressed with their ability to provide care with limited resources, and their readiness to provide teaching and instruction to their patients.
One of the tasks that we took on while volunteering at the clinic was to visit a few of the local schools to talk about the health issues the students face. We named our presentation "Take Pride in Your Health!" and had a lot of fun brainstorming and then teaching students about basic things like handwashing, nutrition, covering your cough to reduce disease transmission, and other things along those lines. They seemed to enjoy it, and it gave them a chance to practice English and us to practice Nepali. And, for the rest of our time in Khadichaur, kids in town recognized us as the health workers, and would run up to us and say hi. One afternoon, we were playing and talking with a group of kids, and when we said goodbye and turned to leave, we were serenaded by an impromptu chorus of "Please Come Back! Please Come Back!". It felt good. We also provided some education in the form of lectures for the nursing staff at the hospital, especially targeting the nurse interns. We found health posters on the internet, in Nepali, and hung them on the bare concrete walls of the hospital, adding some color and hopefully generating some conversation and awareness.
When we came to the end of our stay, everyone seemed genuinely sad that we were leaving, and Facebook addresses were traded frantically. I had no illusions of changing the world in two weeks, and although I had hoped to do more, it was a good "first experience" of what it is like to volunteer and share knowledge in a rural, developing nation. Im excited to do more!
Abby KoszarekMay 10, 2015
I had an amazing time volunteering for Hands for Help Nepal. My volunteer experience left a deep impression on me, and it has changed the way I feel about my life and human culture as a whole. I found Hands for Help Nepal in a book, Alternatives to the Peace Corps, and I feel very lucky for having found it. I couldnâ€™t have been happier with the way my time in Nepal turned out.
I spent the month of March 2013 in Nepal, and lived in Baluwatar, Kathmandu, with Badriâ€™s family. It was a great month from start to finish that I could probably write a small nonfiction book about. The experience was like boot camp for my soul. I immediately connected to the people and found Nepali life to be fascinating, stimulating, and grounding. I loved every second of my days and I arrived home changed, and seized with an irrational vigor and zest for life that still has not quite faded.
I was incredibly blessed to stay with Badriâ€™s family. He and his wife maintain a traditional and lovely home in beautiful Baluwatar. I stayed on the second level with two other volunteers from Germany. All together, including Badriâ€™s daughter, we made six, so our days were lively. I spent a lot of time with Badriâ€™s wife and daughter and felt very much at home. Badri has a great family and they all speak very good English so we were constantly chatting and I was involved with daily life just as any member of the family would be. One of my favorite things we did was go out to buy a freshly killed chicken and some vegetables that after many hours we made into momos.
For my volunteer work I helped in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the city, and at Kanti Childrenâ€™s Hospital. I loved my time spent in both locations. At the monastery I taught English to monks ages 5-13 and they were incredibly bright and interested in what I taught. Volunteering there was pretty straightforward because they had lesson plans for a lot of the classes. The monks were great at asking questions though so what started as a simple lesson would always get very complex and I ended up spending a lot of time explaining grammar and decoding stories. In one class we had a sophisticated discussion on medical ethics during World War I. I loved the monastery but didnâ€™t stay there long because I felt slightly out of place there as a woman and I wanted to respect their all-male custom. However I feel so appreciative of my time there. I had something to chat about with everyone there, even the lama, with whom I had a memorable discussion about eastern and western cultures.
I am a Nursing student, and at Kanti hospital I was allowed to help in the Burn Unit and the Physiotherapy Unit. I met so many wonderful parents and adorable kids in the hospital and it was another good experience. In the Burn Unit I saw a lot of brave little kids with bad burns who had to stay there for weeks. Most of the time their parents stayed there in the bed with them which was really nice. The other student nurses there were also great about including me in their rounds. In the Physiotherapy Unit I worked with the presiding physician and patients, mostly children with developmental delay. They were all incredibly cute and I was included in discussions about their care and in helping with some difficult cases which was a great privilege for me. I spent most of my time in the Physiotherapy Unit and took pages of notes on everything I learned.
Between my volunteer days, Badriâ€™s family, and time exploring the city, I had long, full days. I was mostly busy with volunteer work but got plenty of time on my own as well. I loved Kathmandu. It is a giant melting pot of people from all walks of life and in all kinds of situations with beautiful mornings, peaceful afternoons, and a good nightlife. Everyone asked me when I was getting out of the city and going to Pokhara and it became a running joke for me that I was â€œnever going to Pokhara.â€ Despite Kathmanduâ€™s overcrowding and smog, I never wanted to leave. I explored, bought traditional clothes, got a tattoo and a piercing, and wound up lost in early monsoon rain. There were plenty of people to meet and things to see and there still are.
I will never regret my month volunteering with Hands for Help. It was affordable and gratifying, and I would go back and do it again, especially with an interested friend or family member. My time was filled with rich experiences that have become surprisingly vivid memories I hope never leave me."
Ashley MarlynMay 01, 2015
I was in Nepal for one month. It was my first time away on my own and my first time in Asia, yet I had absolutely nothing to worry about. Hands for Help is a fantastic organisation; I was taken good care of and there was always someone I could contact. I was most impressed with how flexible the program is. I spent my first week on a farming project in Kaule, a week in an orphanage in Pokhara and a week teaching English in a Tibetan monastery in Chauthe. I also had the opportunity to go on weekend expeditions to Chitwan and Lumbini, where I bathed with elephants and saw Buddhaâ€™s birthplace.
The Nepali people are extremely welcoming and kind. Although I was travelling alone I felt completely safe. Everyone is happy to help you and even when I was walking or dining alone someone would come and keep me company..
As well as the friends I made one of the best things about travelling was the food. Nepali food is incredible and a vegetarianâ€™s dream. As part of the volunteering fee I was provided with all my meals: mo mos, curries, chutneys and my favourite, dal bhat. Despite moving around a lot I was given traditional home cooked meals every day. In most Nepali restaurants I paid a set price and could eat to my heartâ€™s content - it was like going to an aunts house for dinner. Once I had finished the chef would bring out the bowl and offer me seconds and thirds for no extra cost.
Rachel BeanMay 01, 2015