If you’ve ever fallen in love with a country and felt heartbroken on hearing bad news following a natural disaster, then you’ll understand why I decided to go volunteering in Nepal.
My first trip to Nepal in January 2015 was one of exploration, serenity and constant amazement. I’d initially not had much desire to visit this underestimated country but with a little gentle persuasion from a friend I found myself flying from Delhi and landing in a whole new world that called itself Kathmandu. I immediately fell in love with this big, dusty Asian city. Its noise, its chaos, its smells, but most importantly, the people.
During that trip I went on to explore the lakes and countryside of Pokhara, the spiritual city of Lumbini and spent countless days soaking up the culture of Kathmandu. I left the country in awe of its beauty and my mind craving to understand more.
A 7.8 Magnitude Earthquake
On Saturday 25th April 2015 at 11.56 (Nepal Standard Time), just weeks after I flew out of the country, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake would lead to the deaths of nearly 9,000 people going about their daily lives. 22,000 people were left injured and 3.5 million people homeless. Villages and towns were demolished and people’s hard-earned businesses, schools and farms were devastated.
UNESCO sites in Kathmandu Valley, Kathmandu Durbar Square, Patan Durbar Square, Bhaktapur Durbar Square and Boudhanath Stupa were heartbreakingly destroyed and ongoing aftershocks caused landslides in rural areas and deathly avalanches at Mount Everest.
The day I heard the news I felt so helpless. In a country that has so little to begin with in the way of wealth and resources, I couldn’t ignore my pressing feelings to give something back to these peaceful communities and these beautiful people who had opened their hearts and homes to me.
Volunteering with All Hands and Hearts
It took me 3 years and a lot of research to finally get back out there. My project of choice? All Hands and Hearts.
All Hands and Hearts is a US based, entirely non-profit organisation. Formed to assist and respond to both the immediate needs, but also, the often-neglected longer term needs of communities impacted by natural disasters.
With the help of skilled locals, they aim to help communities recover faster, and rebuild in a resilient way to prepare for future events, should they occur. All Hands and Hearts were out in remote Nepal, Haibung, 3 years after the earthquake helping to rebuild communities that had been forgotten about by so many.
Volunteering In Nepal – Life On Camp
Life on camp took some settling into. We lived in tents, ate lentils and rice, took cold bucket showers and were openly susceptible to all kind of diseases and ailments.
We worked long hours in the communities helping to build schools that had been flattened or rendered unsafe which meant that children were left with nowhere to learn. The work was hard but rewarding and truly, a massive learning curve for me.
Here’s some important things I learned volunteering in Nepal
1. Play a small part, make a big difference
I was only volunteering in Haibung for 1 month. Some volunteers were there for 6 months, some 6 days. Every little helps and in that month, I did all sorts from mixing cement to painting exterior walls. Every little helps and every day is appreciated.
2. Adapt, mould and immerse into the local culture
Chances are, if you’re volunteering in a local community you’re doing it because you want to. Because you have an open-mind and a desire to help. Learn about the culture you’re working in and allow them to learn about you. Curiosity works both ways and is a beautiful education for all involved. It helps nurture an open, understanding and more peaceful world.
3. Don’t be a Princess
Electricity, Wi-Fi, running water and toilets are luxuries. Embrace this way of living. Appreciate the luxuries you have in life and immerse yourself into how others live. You’ll be surprised how simplicity makes people happy.
4. Be aware of what you’re signing up for
Do your research, know the community, know the project. Know where the money comes from and where it is going. Do not get involved with projects that may damage communities. The reason I like All Hands and Hearts is for its dedication to non-profit disaster response. It relies solely on donations, volunteers do not pay for anything and they have some great side projects which means local communities can benefit from new skills and opportunities.
5. Be kind, smile!
This goes for locals and fellow volunteers. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t be intimidated. Share a tea. Learn the language. Make new friends.
Above all, if you’re not sure about volunteering, reach out, speak to others, do your research and the rewards and lessons learnt can be truly inspiring.
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If you’re feeling inspired by this account about what it’s like volunteering in Nepal and want to roll up your own sleeves and get to work helping a community too, simply visit: Allhandsandhearts.org/volunteer and pick a place. Nepal, British Virgin Islands, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Texas are all in need of volunteers after recent hurricanes, earthquakes and flash flooding have devastated communities.