Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with ELI Abroad in Nepal?
David: Last summer, I reached a point that I realized that I had less time in front of me than behind me. That awareness spurred me to ask, “What might I do with my life to help make this world a better place and to enrich my soul?” In surfing the internet for volunteer opportunities, I found Experiential Learning International, a non-profit organization that places volunteers throughout the world.
ELI opened the door for me to Sarita’s Safe Haven in Kathmandu, Nepal to work with orphans. Little did I know that I would sit at the feet of these poverty stricken children and be their student. Sarita’s is a non-profit organization established in 2008 to provide a safe and secure environment for children who are orphans that are abandoned by their parents or their parents were killed in the recent civil war with the Maoists. During my 5 weeks in Nepal, my heart and soul were awakened and expanded by these homeless children. Whether it was teaching English, playing Frisbee, assisting with meals, or mopping floors. I was deeply moved by the children’s warm embrace, gratitude and acceptance. There was an inner radiance that lit a fire within my soul that will burn forever.
I went to Kathmandu seeking the secret of such abundant personal expressions of joy, love and humility of those who live in the second most poverty-stricken country in the world. The yearly average income per capita is $220 USD. That is less than $1 per day. The paradox may be that the Nepali people have found a blessing in their poverty. Without the external attraction of materialism, they have found the true treasure to be within themselves and each other – their magical spirit. Through my many hours of living with these wonderful people, I discovered the source of their beauty to be a deep abiding commitment to their deity and their family. Every action and decision in their lives has to enrich their spiritual life and their multi-generational family.
What was your favorite moment of the experience?
David: My Namaste Blessing (I honor the deity within you.) summarizes all of my beautiful experiences as a volunteer with Experiential Learning International. I was honored to be invited to Hari Sapkota’s home to meet his family and spend the weekend.
After awakening in my wonderful room, I was served a hearty breakfast prepared by Yoshada, Hari’s wife. Hari then takes me on a stimulating and extend trek through rice paddies, rocky trails, small villages and breathtaking views to a remote mountain with a magnificent temple. As we approached the final village before the summit, I was given the gift of a lifetime. An older Nepali grandmother saw this strange white dude (me) approaching in the distance. She summons her tiny granddaughter with grandpa trailing. As I neared the family’s modest dwelling, she brings her granddaughter to meet me. I am speechless and moved beyond words. The granddaughter bows toward me with hands clasped giving me the traditional Namaste gesture. I kneel and respond in a like manner with my hands folded. Wow! What a gift! Not a word was spoken! However, I experienced the universal language of LOVE from a little child who barely spoke her native Nepali. I then respond by blowing her a kiss and she returns this sweet gesture.
After viewing the picture of this remarkable event that was recorded by my friend, Hari; the biblical saying, “and a little child shall lead them” came to mind. This event was totally spontaneous lead by some power beyond words. A million bucks could not have purchased this heart-warming experience. I will be grateful forever!
The second gift and next most favorite experience occurred during a school day when my fellow teacher, Veronique, and I were attempting to teach the children (3-11years old) English in the orphanage.
As we approached the end of the day, we lost control of the class with the two older children “acting out” and disrupting the class. It felt chaotic and out of frustration and desperation, I ordered the children to sit in their desks SILENTLY. While the period of silence felt like an eternity, it last only a few minutes. I interrupted the silence by expressing my feelings of disappointment with the children, my hurt and pain from not being successful with the children. I stated that Veronique and I had come thousands of miles to work with them out of love and a desire to help in any way possible. Now get this…all of this communication was in English and the kids only speak Nepali! However, the most astounding thing occurred, a 9 year old boy with a severe learning disability placed his two index finger behind his ears and pulled them forward while staring at me. The 10 other children followed suit. I had no idea what was happening and asked the Nepali teacher what this meant. She said, “It means that they are sorry!” Tears began to flow from my eyes! And then all the kids began to cry and leap simultaneously from their desks and surrounded me with arms outstretched around my legs.
There is an old saying, “when the student is ready, the teacher will arrive.” While our language was foreign to each other, I re-discovered the universal language …the deep expression of feelings and emotions transcends words. The children were MY teacher!
Tell us about one person you met.
David: I was deeply inspired by Sarita who founded the Sarita’s Safe Haven Orphanage in Kathmandu. She was born in an upper-class family and was moved to leave her home of luxury and develop a home for homeless children whose parents were either too poor to feed and house the kids or the parents were killed by the Maoist revolutionaries.
Sarita begins her day at 4 AM and retires around 11 PM. THAT IS A 19 HOUR DAY! She does it all…household chores, preparing and cooking the meals (breakfast and sometimes dinner), dressing the kids and providing educational activities and all the administrative duties.
In Nepal there is no federally funded agency to support orphanages. The orphanage survives through donations. Can you imagine providing a home for 19 kids, clothing, food, education and medical services for $590 USD a month? That is less than $1 a day per child. This is truly a miracle and a labor of love!
What was the hardest or most challenging part of your experience?
David: ELI did an excellent job of introducing me to the realities of living in a Third World Country. However “talking” about the challenges and “walking” the extreme living conditions are radically different.
Imagine walking an hour to your assignment facing hundreds of small cars, motorcycles, scooters, bicycles and buses blasting their horns on a narrow street that flows the British way opposite from the US. Additionally, there are no smog control regulations so all the vehicles are spewing volumes of exhaust fumes. Many are wearing masks to filter out the emissions. The SENSORY OVERLOAD is beyond words! Take heart, within a few days your body and system adapts and what was impossible becomes normal and acceptable.
SPACE – Envision living in an environment that has one of the highest densities of population per square foot. People everywhere – above, below and around you. Again, within a short time you feel comfortable with the masses.
DAAL BHAAT – this single dish of rice is the main staple for all meals. On the surface it sounds “boring” BUT in truth with the magic spices and vegetables the DB is very satisfying and nutritious. It assisted me in losing 10 pounds.
So the “bottom line” is yes, initially there are cultural shocks but ultimately you adjust and integrate with the Nepali people and environment. You become ONE with them and are enriched with their way of life. One last challenge is saying “good by”. The Nepali people capture your heart making it difficult to leave your new family.
What tips would you share with someone considering volunteering with this program?
David: Be Open to a new and different world that has unlimited opportunities to discover your inner gifts you never knew you possessed.
Let Go of Western Ways, expectations and judgements. This will allow you to go into a mysterious world and discover their secrets of getting more of life with less.
Be Yourself for that is the greatest gift you have to offer. You can establish a “level playing field” where you and the Nepali people are equals and you relate to each other without regard to culture, education, language, possessions or age.
Approach Any Difficulty you may experience as an opportunity to grow, learn and become an even better person. The experience will expand and brighten your world.