Returning to Nepal for a second volunteer placement, this time I chose the Mountain Volunteer Fund. I actually decided on the Mountain Fund because of the prompt email support offered by director Scott MacLennan with answering my numerous questions, and because the infrastructure was in place behind the program with both management from the U.S. (when Scott wasn’t in Nepal), and the facilities on the ground in Nepal. The fact that in 2010 Scott had been awarded the Sir Edmund Hillary Mountain Legacy Medal for his work in Nepal confirmed for me that the organization and their projects were solid. I was put in touch with two other volunteers who were going to be there at the same time, so we emailed before and this meant I was totally prepared, arrived hitting the ground running feeling excited to meet my new friends and start the program.
Her Farm is a work in progress. Long ago it was one building for animals and staff, but now more than adequate infrastructure and volunteer facilities exist. Soon there will be more buildings being built for the school and daycare centre and additional housing. It is a farm so crops are being planted, maintained and harvested with the seasons. Also while I was there, two pop-up medical camps were done in the local rural areas that do not have permanent facilities. You can teach or assist with teaching; do farm work, plan, build, dig, plant, harvest, cook, clean, and build mutually beneficial relationships with volunteers/staff/villagers and as the Mountain Volunteer profile says: explore, learn, contribute.
For me the highlight of the program was the connections made with people and what we were able to achieve together as a team. We planned and set up the school at Her Farm in Mankhu and helped put systems in place to help those teaching in the future. With volunteers supporting the permanent staff, the volunteer house and farm were undergoing similar positive improvements and were evolving. The first classes started under a verandah with an A4 hand held whiteboard, and by the time I had to leave we had created a beautifully painted, fully equipped classroom that serviced classes of up to 80 excited and motivated students. It was win-win for the volunteers, staff, students and the village. As part of the program I did teacher training and gave feedback to the teachers at the local primary school, offered teaching assistant support to the other volunteers and also got to teach a few pronunciation lessons at Orchid Garden in Kathmandu.
I took an extra suitcase of teaching supplies to set up the school (and procured an additional weight allowance from my airline), but as an experienced traveller in Nepal the only thing I didn’t use was a journal – my photos became my record of the trip. Others wrote and created beautiful journals on paper, but I spent my time feeling, reflecting and lesson planning and capturing digitally. Everything essential (except the no rinse toiletries) can be bought at the shops and department store minutes from the volunteer house in Kathmandu (and are probably cheaper than from home).
The program’s impact personally was huge. I returned a more serene, confident and multi-skilled person – even more creative and resourceful. Some of the changes were from overcoming personal challenges, and others from achieving amazing outcomes as a team. The biggest impact was a changing perspective on work, life and world issues. Doing the volunteer work as a teacher certainly adds to my professional portfolio as an ESL teacher in London. Volunteers will find enhanced ways to approach and live the challenges of life, much as Nepal will evolve and find its place in a modern world and both will be immeasurably enriched.