I signed up for three weeks with Volunteer Nepal, but had a feeling I might like to stay longer, so left my departure date open. In the end, I stayed for almost three months. It was my first formal international volunteer placement – I've been wary in the past, concerned that many programs seem to lack a sense of humility; of collaboration with or direction from the cultural contexts in which they work. However, I still had a desire to offer useful service, and while researching potential organizations, I was attracted to the sense of transparency, authenticity, and heart that was offered by NOH and the Volunteer Nepal program. I am happy to say that I leave with those same impressions.
I spent most of my time with a small Nepal based NGO, the Centre for Awareness Promotion (CAP), which was established in 2003 in response to gender based discrimination and violence. Initially focusing on awareness campaigns and research, their activities led them to recognize an immediate, unfulfilled need for rescue and protection amongst many young women and children. They have since expanded to include a shelter, on and offsite counseling, health and legal advice, and education and empowerment programs. CAP Nepal now places particular focus on young girls who have been, or are at risk of, trafficking into Kathmandu's adult entertainment industry. Here, more often than not, girls will encounter exploitative conditions, and often commercial sexual abuse.
My initial work at CAP consisted of the analysis of collected data and writing of reports. This was from information gathered during their outreach programs, which they do to stay responsive to what is actually happening on the ground. It also allows them to offer updates to their regular donors, of which they are fortunate to have more than one. However, there is still always a shortfall between the resources that they have and what is required to continue and extend their incredible work. As such, a lot of my time at CAP also saw me writing multiple grant applications as well as responses to offers for funding.
Additionally, a (relatively) large sum of money recently became available from an international development agency to conduct research into the best means to rescue children from commercial sexual exploitation. Kathmandu is known as an 'international hotspot,' to have one of the highest incidences of trafficking and child exploitation. As such, bodies campaigning against modern forms of slavery are focusing notable effort and attention on Nepal. At CAP, we developed and submitted a research project proposal in response to this call. The decision is yet to be released, but all our fingers are crossed. Luckily, the funds for these ends are secure, so whether it is by CAP or another organization, this research will be undertaken and will be in capable hands. The published results will be of benefit to everyone working for this cause.
My arrival at CAP also coincided with their early development of a documentary project, detailing both the situation of gender violence and commercial exploitation in Nepal, and CAP's responses to it. My camera came in handy for this and I am currently helping them complete it. This has required me to accompany counselors and field workers to pick-up hotspots, cabin restaurants, and spas, to talk to women about their experiences as females at work. I've seen the CAP woman get mistaken by men for prostitutes on the infamous Kalenki bridge, and play along for a short conversation, all in order to better understand what it is that they are dealing with. I've witnessed the rescue of three girls under the age of 15, who will now be returning to school. I also got to meet with women who have completed vocational training with the assistance of CAP, and are now meaningfully employed in non-exploitative circumstances: one in a tailor's shop and one at a hairdressing salon. The film also saw me move onto the premises: the offices and shelter occupy adjoining buildings. While this has allowed me to better understand and capture the way that the organization and the shelter work, it has also given me the opportunity to spend more time with my co-workers and the girls in the shelter – who are such darlings that it is hard to believe they have lived through such horrific experiences. I've been able to join meal times, meditation classes, game playing and help with homework. I've had the unfortunate experience of singing along to English songs to show off English dance moves – dancing is not my strong point – but how could I say no?! I've drunk too many cups of strong, sweet and delicious tea. And, on my last night, I was treated to the most spectacular farewell party (I can report, with much gratitude, that they were much more restrained with the administering of tika dust than the NOH kids usually are, and the redness was confined to my forehead)...all in all a bunch of experiences that fill me with the utmost admiration and respect. I already miss them all dearly.