My name is Kamil. I arrived in Nepal in Kathmandu at the end of July 2008. I had long wanted to do a volunteer teaching in a country where there is great need for humanitarian help, but in all honesty, I couldn't possibly know what to expect. It was my first time ever in Asia, so it took me a couple of days to adjust to that. Maybe it was a bit easier for me as I teach at a highly multi-cultural and multi-national school in England, but obviously it was still a learning curve.
Coming to Nepal, though, little did I know how the volunteering experience would change me and how much it would open my eyes. A few days after my arrival, together with Jody, a Canadian, I left for Narti, a remote small village in southwestern Nepal. Michael's charity works in conjunction with a Nepal-based organisation: they provide help and support to young girls who used to be bonded labourers and were forced into physical work from as early an age as 8 years old. Such girls are often sold to landlords by their parents — for profit. Such families are extremely poor, often starving, and the parents will very often have no idea where their children are and what's happened to them. The girls we were asked to teach had already been saved and rescued and provided a place in Narti to stay: Lawajuni Girls Hostel (lawajuni = new life).
It was definitely THE MOST POIGNANT experience ever in my life and it's truly hard to imagine that anything is going to top it up. Even writing or talking about it feels a bit flat, because I constantly get the feeling I'm not conveying what was left in my heart and how it affected me as a person. I'll try to write about it, though.
Jody and I were greeted by the girls and Krishna (who runs the hostel for them) at the bus stop after our very long and arduous journey from Kathmandu (well over 15 hours). I don't think I have ever been treated this way as a guest by anyone. The girls kept insisting on carrying almost everything for us. At the beginning both me and Jody got a wreath of flowers and had our foreheads powdered with pink-coloured henna. It was so sudden and totally unexpected that from the get-go I had the "warm and fuzzy" feeling that is difficult to explain or convey — but it was there.
Starting the next day, Jody and I started teaching. The classrooms were very basic — a couple of wooden desks, chalk and blackboard. The girls were a joy to teach! I never enjoyed teaching English alphabet or numbers anyone more than to them! It is also important to realise that our teaching obviously didn't stop in the classroom — they curious about us just as we were about them, so we taught English just by being there.
They had very little to no English skills, while we didn't really speak Nepalese. They tried teaching us some while we taught them English. It was a true genuine cultural exchange. In those days I found how little you really need to stay happy, how basic things in life are what you really need to enjoy it. The area is really very basic — the girls kept bringing water from the well nearby, the majority of food (close to 100%) was rice with spices and that's how we ate for our 8 days' stay there. We would go to the river nearby for a bath and washing hair.
Hospitality and kindness in Nepal are pretty much incredible and it was definitely reflected at the hostel. The girls' curiosity and helpfulness was amazing. It was really little things put together. It was being walked by them to the well. It was having my hair hennaed by them and waiting for it to dry for 2 hours. It was watching them splash in the river. It was taking a walk with them into the hills at the end of the day. It was helping them with their homework. It was being invited to their bunkhouse. It was playing their own games in field right next to the hostel. It was me being called "uncle" for a week.
It was also far more natural in many ways than it is in Europe and, presumably, in North America. These children are very inviting. They *are* different from one another, some are more forthcoming, some are more shy. Some have been at the hostel for a while, some are new arrivals, and you definitely can see how having been in bonded labour (I'll call it having been slaves as that's what, for me at least, it boils down to) affects those children — both physically and mentally. Part of what me and Jody and other volunteers before us were doing in Narti for them was rebuilding their trust in adults in general. Maybe that is more important than teaching them English. I think that in fact is what affected me so much. It's about us, human beings, helping other human beings. And no one is more vulnerable than children. They only just happened to be born in a place where life is so difficult, more difficult than we can possibly imagine.
It changed my life. I was so sad having to leave Nepal, but particularly Narti. It was an eye opener. I have vowed both to myself and to Michael to try and help the unfortunate children in Nepal in the future through Michael's endeavours. I have a massive admiration for Michael and his efforts. We have to help. And I was glad and proud to be able to help even if it was for as short a time as only 8 days. I hope to come back one day and do it again.
Teacher of English,
lives in London, England