Alex Chooses Social Work

I volunteered in Nepal with the Nepal Orphans Home in Ramechhap for three weeks, from 6th March to 28th March earlier this year. Since then, I feel that I have had a strong connection with the little remote village on the top of a mountain. In January, I will return to Ramechhap for another two weeks from 1st January to 14th January.

My experience in Nepal was incredibly eye-opening and life-changing. From this experience, I decided to become a professional social worker, even though I graduated with a background in engineering. The volunteer experience was hard, undoubtedly, and it was different from any sort of volunteer work I had ever done before. I used to work on supporting groups of people at the bottom of society both in China and Singapore. This included needy families, the elderly as well as students from disadvantaged family backgrounds. However, throughout all these volunteer experiences, I never felt that I could make significant changes to people’s lives. However, my experience in Nepal was very different.

Each child made necklaces out of flowers and put them on me, when I arrived at the school in Ramechhap. From this moment, I understood the great responsibility I had over the children in the school. Every morning, children waited for me in front of my host family calling ‘Good morning sir!’ Soon I realized that I was no longer an outsider, but more like a channel for those kids to know what was happening outside of this isolated mountain and what our world was like. Most importantly, I told them that there were some people out there who wanted to help and support them. I didn’t plan on teaching them lots of new knowledge or skills, nor did I plan on changing their mindsets over a short period of time. What I taught them was the importance of integrity and collaboration, and I stimulated their curiosity in exploring more things. I noticed that these qualities had been missing in their education at the time due to all sorts of limitations.

To be honest, I had a difficult time communicating with the children and the teachers at the beginning because no one there could understand English properly. I started to use my painting skills to illustrate the vocabulary of animals, weather, stationary and numbers. Gradually, there was some understanding between me and the children. Their favorite part was learning about the names of different continents and countries on the world map I drew. I taught them to be proud Nepalese people and be proud of their heritage. At the same time, I reminded them that the world is very big and they should never limit their outlook to the mountain. The most rewarding moment for me was when they started to help each other and understood the importance of sharing.

I sincerely admire every teacher working in Shree Sham School. Their job is extremely hard, since most of them have to hike from the foot to the top of the mountain every day, in all weather conditions. I imagine the teaching positions are not ‘well-paid’, based on what I saw at the principal’s house. The principal’s family, consisting of four people, could squeeze only into a temporary shady ‘shelter’. However, the only thing on his mind was how to give students a better learning environment. The principal once showed me the record of previous volunteers at the school. I was disheartened to see that fewer than 50 volunteers had been there to date, and that some of them had left halfway through their placements. There was a lack of commitment on the part of some volunteers, compared to the local teachers. From them, I learned that social work is not about doing something good for a short period of time, but that it is about in long-term commitment to the well-being of others.

Inspired by my experience in Nepal, I started to volunteer in different places around the world, such as an orphanage in Costa Rica and an environmental preservation sector in the Amazon. I truly appreciate my experience in Nepal which taught me to be grateful.

I still cannot forget how scared those children were when it was windy outside the classroom. One year has passed since the earthquake, but it will take time to overcome the trauma brought about by the disaster. Ever since I started working in July, I have donated a part of my salary to the construction of a new campus as well as a lunch program. It is not a lot of money, but I hope it improves the situation of the children over there. I was excited to hear that the construction is going to be finished soon and I can’t wait to see those lovely children studying in the new classrooms and no longer being afraid of the building collapsing.

Throughout the past few months, I have also been proactively sharing my experience in Ramechhap with people around me. I have also been spreading an awareness of the difficult lives Nepalese children have in an unstable political and environmental situation. I try to tell them what we can do to change the current situation at the school and improve the quality of lives there. Luckily, some of my friends and colleagues have given me positive responses and expressed their willingness to support the kids in different ways.

I would like to understand the professional and sustainable approaches of social work, and apply my strength in Information Technology to the modern ways of conducting social work. Most importantly, I hope that through pursuing the MA of Social Work, I might be able to raise awareness about the plight of children in Nepal via a much wider channel.

Alex Lu