Why did you decide to volunteer with The Umbrella Foundation in Nepal?
Aideen: The reason I decided to volunteer with the Umbrella Foundation was completely by chance. I am a secondary maths teacher and I was volunteering in the Maldives. My year in the Maldives was coming to an end and I was looking for another volunteer opportunity but not just teaching and for a shorter time. I saw a documentary on Aljazeera news about children in Nepal and the Umbrella Foundation was featured. I contacted the organisation the next day and booked my flights within a week.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Aideen: Umbrella currently cares for over one hundred and thirty children in five different homes in the suburb of Swoyambhu in Kathmandu. During the civil war in Nepal these children were orphaned, displaced from their families or abandoned.
I was assigned to one of the homes with 35 girls between the ages of eleven and sixteen. I have been working as a secondary teacher for the last six years and when I heard that 35 teenage girls were living under the same roof I was really interested to see how that worked. As soon as walked into the home I was giving an extremely warm welcome. All the girls treat each other like sisters and they are really dedicated to working together in the home. From getting ready for school to meal times in the evening everything in the house just amazingly works like clockwork and is run with the kind of precision and ease that most households I know dream of.
As you can imagine no two days were the same but each one was as enjoyable as the other. My role varied each day. On school days I would walk the children to school and help with homework in the evening and basically make myself useful around the Umbrella complex during school hours. Saturdays and holidays are when Umbrella really comes alive and volunteers have the opportunity to plan and carry out different activities with the children including sports of all types, arts and crafts, dance, music, reading and trips.
The Umbrella Foundation has also successfully reintegrated over 130 children to date and are continuing to support them through education and living allowances. I got to spend a couple of weeks in the stunning district of Rasuwa, helping the teachers of the school in Gatlang village. This village is where some of the Umbrella children have been recently reunited with their families. Entering Gatlang is like stepping back in time to a small farming community.
The welcome you get when you are there is overwhelming and it is pretty special to see the children back where they belong and happy with their own families. Unfortunately the level of education these schools are able to provide is limited due to the lack of training for teachers and facilities they can provide for their students. The teachers are however still very enthusiastic and showed up everyday when we provided them with some training during their days off.
What made this experience unique and special?
Aideen: There were far too many highlights from my time in Nepal to mention them all but here are just a few - the food (amazing dhal bhat), the welcoming people, out of this world scenery, picnics, crazy bus journeys, football tournaments, laughing yoga, being introduced to the world of Nepali TV, crazy monkeys, beautiful Temples/ Stupa’s, festivals, momo parties and most enjoyable of all, buckets and buckets of laughter provided everyday by the children at the Umbrella Foundation!
The Umbrella Foundation really is a very special organization. The children in their care are now healthy, happy and well-adjusted. They have been given a new lease of life. For the first time in their lives they can now begin to dream of a better future for themselves and their families. It is run like one big family. Unfortunately Umbrella does not receive any government funding and relies totally on the generosity of others and the volunteers who give up their time to volunteer with them.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Aideen: The three months I spent there went far too fast. I am returning to Nepal and Umbrella in one week and this time I’m going to stay for five months!!!