Volunteering in Nepal: the evaluation

At this moment I’m back in the Netherlands, it’s great to be back after two months, after being away for so long I appreciate the luxuries we enjoy in the Netherlands much more because I’ve learned not to take them for granted. Overall, I think the two months I spent in Nepal as a volunteer were a great experience. I have evaluated what I think was good and what was bad. Because this was such a valuable experience I have intentions to work as a volunteer again when I have finished my master’s degree. I shall describe how I’m going to approach the next time I will be doing volunteer work. But first let’s mention the good and bad experiences.

The good:

  • I went outside my comfort zone and got the culture shock I was looking for, I responded to this well and that was exactly what I hoped for. I’ve never been away from home for so long without my parents, nor did I visit Asia before. I gained some valuable experience in life.
  • While it was only possible for me to teach English at a school for a little bit more than a week, I managed to keep a positive attitude and adapted and improvised succesfully.
  • I met a massive amount of new friends, mostly other volunteers but also Nepalis.
  • I’m careful not to generalize, but other volunteers and I think that the Nepali people are very hospitable. While you have people like that in the Netherlands and elsewhere in the West as well, I think it’s less common.
  • The shalwar kameez is an item of clothing which is very colourful and nicely decorated. The photos shown in the Wikipedia article don’t do it justice, but I thought it looks better than Western fashion.
  • AIESEC dismissed me for the reason that they didn’t expect me to possess enough independence. The irony is that working as a volunteer here probably demanded more independence than any internship offered by AIESEC. Teaching children (and adults) English was something I completely had to figure out for myself for example.
  • Maybe this subject is a bit odd compared with the other ones, but I felt I should mention it. In Nepal squat toilets are used most often, which provide several advantages over Western toilets, even if you need to get used to squatting for longer periods of time as a Western person. Another great difference is that, like in many parts of Asia, the left hand is used to clean the nether regions with water after using the bathroom, toilet paper isn’t used like in most of the Western world. This is also why the Nepali eat only with their right hand (cutlery is not used to eat). I liked to use water to clean because toilet paper is not so effective or hygienic, but using the hand to do this might be objectionable for Westerners. I think bidets, health faucets or Japanese toilets are a good compromise in this regard. We should be using these in the Netherlands too.

I did some things I thought I would never do any time soon and experiences I had for the first time in my life, including:

  • Giving English classes to these children all alone with a reasonable degree of success, even if it was only for a little bit more than a week. I expected to be asked to assist a Nepali teacher, certainly on my first day. I insisted that I would assist Collin first for a few days because he had some experience so that I could learn from him before I started teaching classes on my own.
  • Another first and unexpected experience was singing songs with children at school as a method to teach them English.
  • Reading fairy tales to the children at the foster home and orphanage, taking them to the park to play with them. I never saw myself working with children because I don’t like doing it, but I did so succesfully and with satisfaction.
  • It was great to walk through Pepsi Cola and have kids from school who I taught notice me and call ‘Hello Alexander!’.
  • I’m a bit ashamed to mention it, but using an iron on my shirts was a first experience for me too. I did live on my own for a year when I studied in Rotterdam, but my mother told me I could take my laundry back home during the weekends so she could wash and iron it for me.
  • Doing rafting and paragliding.

The bad:

  • VSN didn’t inform me of the longest school holiday taking place during the length of my stay, even though I communicated the length and purpose of my stay three weeks in advance. Hopefully VSN can prevent this from happening to volunteers in the future after mentioning this in the feedback I gave to them.
  • Nepalis like to spit, in a very loud manner. I almost get idea that they deliberately want to simulate sounds which are as disgusting at possible, similar to puking, for no reason. If I spit toothpaste after brushing my teeth for example, I have no difficulty doing it silently. I don’t get why anyone would need to spit out the slime from their mouth anyways, I never feel the need to do it. Sporadically a person was spitting while I was talking with him/her, which is even more disturbing.
  • Another annoyance I have as a Western person is that Nepalis don’t bother to keep their lips sealed when they chew their food. This produces some unpleasant noise.
  • Pollution is almost everywhere and they don’t care much about the environment. This includes waste lying scattered almost everywhere and some trucks which are like moving chimneys.
  • Dogs and mosquitos seriously disturbing your sleep, depending on where you stay.
  • I was properly prepared for Kathmandu’s colder nights with warm clothes, but insufficiently for the warm daytime temperatures and the warmer climate in Pokhara. I had only one shirt with short sleeves and many shirts required ironing. I should have taken along more shirts or t-shirts which have short sleeves and don’t require inconvenient ironing.

When I finish my master’s degree, which is in one and a half year, I intend to visit India both as a tourist and a volunteer. I came here to Nepal with the intention to work strictly as a volunteer, and encountered many volunteers which combine their work with holiday. They have visited more interesting places such as Chitwan and done more interesting activities such as trekking than me, and also combined their stay in Nepal with trips to other countries in Asia. I decided against this because I was on a budget and intended to work strictly as a volunteer. I probably spent € 200 or € 300 maximum during my stay when I exclude my flight ticket, the fee for VSN and money spent on charity. When I’d visit India I’d reserve a few thousand Euros for all expenses I’d make.

I decided on India because of my cultural and culinary interest in that country. Also, because Nepali is so similar to Hindi, I would have an easier time learning Hindi. While VSN did give me a language course for five mornings, my level of proficiency in Nepali is still very basic. After that I could learn from the book provided for the language course, but I didn’t invest much time in this because I wasn’t motivated to so. That’s why I want to follow a course in Hindi in the Netherlands before I would visit India.

I hope I could be doing the same over there as I did in Nepal, teaching English. Probably in the more remote villages or slums where there is a need for it, because India is more developed and in general has better education than Nepal.

2 thoughts on “Volunteering in Nepal: the evaluation”

  1. Hi Alexander, I volunteered in Pepsi cola for 5 months until may 2010. I would love to know if the children from the orphan home you were reading the stories to are from the Sanu Foundation, as I was living there. I found your blog by chance and have had fun reading them. So much of what you experienced is so familiar to me, I hope to hear from you. Una,

  2. Hello Una, nice to hear from another volunteer. I couldn’t imagine myself working as a volunteer for five months, I have respect for people how can keep up with it for so long. No, the children for who I read stories are from two orphanages in Pokhara, see my earlier blogposts about Pokhara for more information. Did you volunteer in Pepsi Cola for VSN, or a different organization?

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