I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do after high school. I started college the month after my graduation and had a clear goal of finishing a degree is Psychiatric Nursing. Well, it took me a year and a half to finally admit to myself that there was something missing in my life. The more I reflected on my future and tried to imagine what it would look like, the more terrified I got. Deep down, I knew that the program I had selected was not at all what I wanted to do. I remember one day I asked myself, “What is it that will make you excited and happy to go to work every day?”\n\nWe all know how difficult it can be to turn around and see if there is the slightest possibility to backtrack our lives in order to take a different path. For me, this was it! I had always had a passion for social change, and in order to make the switch in my educational choices, I decided to go out in the field and see if International Development was the path that led to my happiness and daily fulfillment.
Not only was my time in Nepal educational, but more importantly I was able to re-connect with my inner self and rediscover my goals, values, and happiness in life.
Nestled in the Himalayan Mountains, Nepal is a land of endless temples, lush greenery, and has some for the world’s best hiking trails.
Though every region in the country has it’s own uniqueness, my time was mostly spent in the country’s capital city, Kathmandu. Nepalese people are extremely friendly and the city is filled with opportunities to explore unique cultural experiences. You can get lost in the streets of Thamel (the tourist district) listening to live Nepalese bands performing your favorite songs from the 80s and 90s while you enjoy beers with your new friends. Yet, in the same city, you can hike to nearby temples, where you quickly escape the busy streets, traffic, and noise. Most travelers make Kathmandu a short layover, as they are focused on trekking through the Himalayan Mountains. Yet, this is the best place to slow down and watch culture showcase itself right in front of your eyes.
Though people speak Nepalese and many understand Hindi, in the tourist districts of Nepal, you will find numerous individuals who are able to communicate in English. When most travelers leave the country, they remember the short slogan that sums up the lifestyle in Nepal, “Never Ending Peace and Love.
Before leaving Canada, I did my research on many volunteer programs. Numerous programs have outrageous prices that they charge for volunteering, which makes it very important to critically think about where the money is being spent and the long-term impacts of your presence. I found a program that I was happy with (Volunteer Abroad-Basecamp Centers), planned my volunteer placement with the coordinators in both Canada and Nepal, purchased my ticket, and flew into Kathmandu!
Visas to enter the country can be purchased once you land in Kathmandu- you have the option to select 2 weeks, 1 month, or 90 days and accordingly the payment must be made in American currency. You will need 2 passport size pictures for the process!
Volunteer Abroad-Basecamp Centers has its own four-story house for all of its volunteers. The house was located in a quiet neighborhood that was only a fifteen-minute walk from Thamel, directly on the microbus route, close to temples, and hiking trails.
While in the city, I relied mostly on walking because all the local and tourist hang out spots were well within a 30 minute walk. Also, if you feel comfortable, it is super cheap to rent a cycle and peddle around the city! Fortunately, the volunteer house had a bike that we all shared.
Highlights and Thoughts
My volunteer placement was at a local NGO called Womens Security Pressure Group. I spent three months writing grants for projects that were geared towards alleviating gender and caste inequality. The best element of this program is that there are numerous NGOs that you can work with. The coordinators do an amazing job of assessing your skills and your matching your future goals to your placement needs. Therefore, not only are you providing assistance with an expertise you may have, but you are also learning skills that will contribute to your future goals.
In regards to travelling to Nepal, the longest period any traveller can stay in the country is 6 months out of the year. Even though you are only able to obtain a 90 day visa at the airport, there is an office in Kathmandu where you can go and purchase an extension.
Be aware of seasonality. Nepal has monsoon summers and if you are looking for mountain views and sunrises/sunsets, you will most likely be disappointed. During one of my summer visits, I trekked through the Himalayan Mountains on a 5 day trek, and though one would’ve seen the mountain ranges their entire trip, we only had a ten minute view in our 5 days. Many trekking routes are dangerous during the summer months due to landslides. Ideal trekking season is between October and November, and this is also the tourist season. Yet, do not let this discourage you from travelling outside of that timeframe!
I lived in Nepal in both the busy tourist season and again one year in the monsoon summer. Both are equally valued experiences.
If you are thinking of volunteering in Nepal, I would recommend going with a program that you have researched well. Yet at the same time, put in the time and critically think of what you are getting in return for your program fees. My fee for this particular project was $1,500 for two months and this included: accommodation, three meals a day plus snacks, airport pick up and drop off, 7 day orientation (including city tours, temple visits, cultural norms, culture shock training, and a great scavenger hunt in the city to wrap up the orientation!), 5 day survival language course, placement connections to the organization, pre-departure support, and 24-7 emergency support.
So, when you see a program fees for $4,000-$5,0000, be very skeptical and ask questions. When you’re on a volunteer trip, give yourself some time to explore! I’ve seen people who commit to a short two-week volunteer program, where four days are spent on orientation, the weekends are off, and people are left with 4 or 5 days at their placement. Commit to a two-month program, take the weekends off and explore the country, and give yourself time to adjust to the lifestyle of the local people. I was fortunate to extend my stay for an extra month and with new friends I had made, I travelled outside of the Kathmandu Valley for the entire month. At the end of the day, it is more about your experience and cross-cultural relationships than it is about the actual work.
The volunteer house was a 5/5! Every floor had at least 2 balconies, common areas with desks and computers, wireless access, a full kitchen and dining area, and shared bathrooms on every floor. Best of all, the house has a two beautiful roof top patios. We spent so many nights out on the patio lighting a bonfire, drinking beer, and stargazing. In your program fees, your meals are covered and the cook makes both Western and traditional Nepalese food. The program offers great services as there is 24/7 security, a person you can contact at any time of the day if you need help, and some of the staff are also very knowledgeable on planning weekend or day trips. Beyond the home-like feeling at the house, I was very impressed by the staff members’ hospitality. I still keep in touch with everyone that worked in the house during my visit.
The job was a great learning experience. Many volunteers go overseas chasing an idea that volunteering is going to save the world and change someone’s life. It is experiences like these that teach you that the discourse in international development cannot be solved by visiting an orphanage and snapping a couple of pictures with kids. The grassroots work was tiring and often mentally exhausting. Yet, you gain so much knowledge in return. The staff at WSPG were social activists that I was honored to be around. I learned research methods, grant-writing techniques, and most importantly was able to learn from the experiences of people living through the inequalities that I was working on.