Alumni Spotlight: Wytze van der Naald


Wytze van der Naald (54) stayed with his partner Astrid van de Ven stayed at the Diamond Hill Academy project from June 11 - June 29, 2013. They are from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and they previously worked for non-profit organizations. Both are travelling at the moment and have volunteered around the world for the past 18 months, to meet people and experience other cultures.

Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with Diamond Hill Academy in Nepal?

The Diamond Hill Academy project is all about supporting a local mountain village community and that is what appealed to us in the first place. We decided to volunteer with Diamond Hill Academy because we got a very prompt and enthusiastic reply from the host, Samsher Thapa, when we contacted him for more information on the project. My partner and I have been volunteering in several countries, including Nepal, Thailand and Malaysia. It is a very good way to meet the people and learn the culture of a country, and also to meet other volunteers/travelers, and most importantly, to support local communities. It was clear from the first contact with Samsher that we could directly help a local community with this project and therefore the decision was easy to make.

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

We arrived in Gaunshahar on a Saturday, that is the weekly day off in Nepal. It was a good day to arrive and meet the host and his family, as well as the other volunteers. Samsher took us on a little tour of the village where we met some of the teachers of the Diamond Hill school. We were invited to drink tea and have a 'snack' in their homes and it was an excellent introduction into the local way of living in Gaunshahar. The first two days we helped the host family around their house where they were reorganizing the accommodation for volunteers, which was nearly finished when we arrived. We then were introduced at school and helped with English lessons and Math. The children were clearly used to volunteers and very nice and interested in us.

Usually a 'working' day for the volunteers runs about 4-5 hours per day. Samsher is very eager to learn from the volunteers himself and we had long conversations with him on various subjects. This resulted in a new project that we started after the first week: a homework class. Some children do not have the appropriate help at home with their homework and we started a homework class one hour before school starts and one hour after school finishes. After the first week, we had already received very positive feedback from parents and teachers because the children were making progress. Most importantly, the children loved it and we expanded from 8 to 12 students in the first week and an extra self-supporting class was started by some of the students themselves!

If you could go back and do something different, what would it be?

With the experience at the Diamond Hill Academy I now have, next time I would bring some learning materials and some English videos for children. The school has the basic learning materials (books), but is lacking supporting materials that can make lessons more appealing and can help to develop their learning skills, like counting materials, or materials to use in the lessons and video materials. We did download some things, like songs, but there is a need for other basic materials.

I would also bring some typical Dutch things with me. Gaunshahar is a very poor mountain village and children don't have much to play with at home and don't have access to internet. In fact, Samsher is the first one in Gaunshahar with an internet connection. So there is a lot the children can learn from volunteers, including from their home countries.

Lastly, I would plan to stay longer. Especially when you want to teach you ideally would need a week to follow some of the teachers and learn about the school educational program before you start teaching yourself. That also helps to get to know the children better and for them to get to know you.

Was it difficult to navigate around language barriers?

Generally speaking it was not a problem to navigate around language barriers because some of the teachers spoke English as well as some of the older children, and they helped in the class. Only with the very small children in the homework class was it a problem in the beginning. We discussed that with Samsher and then he asked a Nepalese teacher to help us with the homework class, which was a real improvement. Of course a lot of people don't speak English, but with a 'namaste" ("good day"), a smile and hands and feet you usually will find your way around. The village people are very friendly and appreciate the work volunteers are doing, therefore language was not really a barrier for me during my stay.

How has this experience impacted your future? (Personally, professionally, etc)

We stayed in Gaunshahar at the Diamond Hill Academy project as volunteers for only two and a half weeks, but that was a fantastic time and we learned a lot about the traditional lifestyle in the Nepalese Himalayas (and enjoyed the great scenery of the massive snow mountains!).

Even though we stayed only for two and a half weeks, we feel that we really have contributed to the school development en help the teachers and children. So the time we spent there was absolutely worth it and I wish that we could have stayed longer. Samsher is a person with a real vision and a lot of energy to help his community in several ways and that is very inspiring. Especially because he does not want to change the traditional lifestyle, on the contrary, he wants to help to give his community a new perspective and hope that will prevent the villagers from leaving the community to seek their luck in the city or work abroad, which is happening now. A part of being a volunteer is also that you are introduced in the traditional lifestyle, and it was no problem to help in the kitchen and on the land when we asked for it because we wanted to learn more about the the way they live.