Description of the assignment as described by Nepal Orphans Home
“Dumrikhara is a small and poor Dalit (“untouchable”) caste village in the high hills of the Ramechhap district. For many years we have helped sponsor the local school and have provided volunteers to assist with English teaching and village work. This placement is recommended for volunteers who are not afraid of hard living and tough assignments. To reach the village, you will travel 5 hours by bus followed by a 2-3 hour uphill hike”
For people thinking about travelling and volunteering in a rural Nepal placement, please remember you’re not there for a holiday and it’s not always smiles and beautiful children like it may look on social media. Rural living is charming; the beautiful mountain views, the cool (occasional) breeze, the chirping birds, the peace and serenity. However, without any running water and very limited clean water overall (water purification tablets came in handy) nor the ability to communicate with anyone it can become really difficult and lonely. There's no health care facilities, no pharmacist if you get sick, no corner store if you need a snack. Everything you bring with you with the exception of rice and vegetables supplied by the host family will be your lifeline.
Days got really hot and combined with the dusty landscape within a few hours of each day I was covered in sweat and dirt. Then I had to make the choice, do I use my only water for cleaning my face or drinking? The latter always won so every morning and night I used a number of baby wipes to clean myself. I almost felt guilty for spitting out water when brushing my teeth!
My first school day
I arrived on a Wednesday, the children ran to the edge of the cliff squealing hello's and waving their arms around enthusiastically but I didn’t return to school until the next day. When I arrived, I was made to sit on a chair in front of the whole school (around 55 at my count) and several children came forward to place flower necklaces around my neck. When I thought there was no way they could fit another necklace over my head, another child came forward. When my face started becoming buried in all the necklaces they then proceeded to come forward and pour full bags of flowers onto my lap. It was one of the nicest welcomes I’ve ever received!
I was then escorted to the staffroom and had no idea what to expect. The principal, a kind and gentle man wrote my timetable onto a piece of paper and another teacher handed me a whiteboard marker before showing me out the door to my next class. It took improvisation to a whole new level and I found my first lesson really difficult. The children knew limited English, so trying to communicate and teach them in English was initially quite difficult! However, I soon found my groove and with brand new resources (although still very limited, pencils, erasers, a few books etc.) left by previous American volunteer teachers I was soon able to understand their abilities and started planning lessons to maximise my placement at the school. By the end of my time at Ramechhap, children were having simple English conversations with one another and that small achievement made me really proud!
The Children of Ramechhap
The children are much smaller by comparison to Australian children. A child of 8 – 10 years can look as young as 4 or 5. Some of their uniforms were dirty and ripped, some children had cuts and visible infections on their faces, some used plastic bags and old rice sacks for school bags, lots had snotty noses, most had very grubby hands and feet but all wore beautiful smiles! In my travels I’ve come to learn that children are the same all around the world, some are sweet and some are naughty but all just want to play and have fun!
It’s not unusual to see teachers hit misbehaving children with their hand or a large stick. However, it usually only kept them discouraged for a short period before they start misbehaving again. At no point did I think it was cruel or that they were using excessive force. It was the way a parent might give their child a smack in a shopping centre for throwing a tantrum.
Nepal Orphans Home is one of the sponsors for this school and children are incentivised to go to school as they are provided with tiffin (lunch), a bowl of rice, plain biscuits or something along these lines. Some children would scoff down their food as if they hadn’t eaten in weeks before running back for more. I would skip lunch mostly because I’d had a large breakfast. I was given meal portions much too large but I forced myself to eat everything on my plate otherwise it would be considered ‘juto’ (unclean) and thrown out. I don’t know all the stories of the children that attended the school but I know some of them have to walk for hours to get to school each day. Even some of the teachers walk up to two hours each morning and evening to get to school and back home again.
Sunday through to Friday, I walked through the corn fields and up the dusty dirt path to school. When I arrived at school the children were very excited to see me, they all wanted to shake my hand, hold my hand, touch my skin, give me high fives and hug me. I made the mistake of bringing my SLR camera on the first day and got bombarded with children wherever I went constantly begging me to take photos of them, not even the teacher staffroom was safe! It occurred to me early on that I didn’t bring a mirror with me and there were no mirrors at my host home. My theory for the photo obsession is that some children rarely get to see their reflection. Thus they would squeal with excitement and laughter when they saw photos of themselves on the camera screen and ask “just one photo Miss?”
My bed consisted of a doona over a wooden bed frame with a rock hard pillow, although this was never an issue for me as I usually slept pretty well after a day in the hot sun. I shared my hut with large spiders, ants, crickets, mosquitoes and lots of flies. My meals were set for around 9.30am and then again at 7.30pm and consisted of rice and potato, rice and beans or rice and pumpkin leaves. My ‘host mother’ often watched me eat, her gummy smile only inches away from my face and I always ate my meals alone (cultural practice for guests). She would often try and offer more rice and I would pat my belly and say pugyo (enough/full) but that didn't stop her from appearing from the mud hut 'kitchen'' with another big scoop of rice, maybe my Australia accent confused her... I was served very sweet tea throughout the day, although I felt my teeth rotting as I drank it, I didn’t want to be impolite so would finish it off. One day I sipped with relief, the tea wasn't sickeningly sweet that was until I realised it was overloaded with pepper, not a flavour I will be rushing to add to my tea anytime soon. Apparently drunk for medicinal purposes.
On my first day at school, I made the mistake of not bringing my own water. The water in Ramechapp is not safe for drinking, especially not for foreigners so one of the teachers offered me some boiled water after seeing I was sweating profusely. Little did I know I would actually get a cup of boiling water…I sipped it slowly, I was very thirsty! Hot tea was also served each day in a metal cup that almost burnt my fingers each time it was handed over. During one of my last days I decided it would be a good idea to take my purified water to school with me, unfortunately someone drank it all while I was in class so my last few days at Ramechhap were without water. I even had to brush my teeth without water!
During my rural stay I found a lot of comfort in lying in bed of an evening and watching TV shows on my laptop. One evening while it was raining I woke up around midnight to stand in it, it was only a drizzle but the feeling of water touching my face was pretty magical and in that moment I realised how beautiful simple things in life can be. Despite at times being a difficult assignment, overall, it was an amazing and unforgettable experience and I would recommend to anyone wanting to shift their perspective of life!
For more information on how to make a donation or do a placement of your own, you can contact Nepal Orphans Home here.
A preview to a film recently released about Nepal Orphans Home can be found here.