The First 3 Weeks of Raleigh ICS in Nepal: Kathmandu
Kathmandu was a pleasant surprise. Upon landing at Nepal’s only international airport we were greeted and surprised to find out that we’d spend the first few weeks being trained up in the Country Office in the capital city, not in a different city 4 hours’ drive away. The volunteering programme I’m participating in (see this blog post for more details) is government-funded and for that reason I’m not allowed any independent travel around the country – no city sightseeing, no trekking, no Himalayas (besides the view from the plane). I had come to accept that and wasn’t expecting to see any of Kathmandu, so was thrilled to learn of the change in plans that would allow us to explore pockets of the city in our spare time and ease into the Nepali culture.
So for the last three weeks I’ve been living in the neighbourhood of Lalitpur with 8 other Team Leaders and 8 Raleigh staff members in one big house, our Country Office. On top of that there are a few other locals working in the office who are also in the photo above. The reason for these 3 weeks in Kathmandu is Team Leader training, which is divided into 4 sections:
- Operations & Logistics
- Programme themes, Nepali culture & context
- Leadership, Team Management & Personal Development
- Project Planning Visit to our villages
1. Operations & Logistics
This has involved a large amount of Health & Safety briefings, Risk Assessments, a First Aid refresher, Logistics, the Raleigh Code of Conduct (meaning no alcohol for 3.5 months!), Communications, Host Home Agreements, earthquake preparation (after last year’s devastating 7.8 scale earthquake, we’ve already had one 5.5 scale earthquake since I arrived), Contingency Plans, Casualty Evacuations, etc.
2. Programme themes, Nepali culture & context
Various orientation sessions on Nepali culture, attitudes and behaviours and the current situation in Nepal, with visiting professors and experts on Livelihood Diversification, specialist farming techniques, WASH (water, sanitation & hygiene) and Entrepreneurship, as well as debates on world issues, the UN Global Goals and approaches to international development work, showing how our efforts with Raleigh fit into the broader picture of tackling poverty in developing countries.
3. Leadership, Team Management & Personal Development
Focusing on soft skills, we’ve studied leadership styles, volunteer learning styles, resources and activities, team management skills and the programme’s objective of youth development. This ties into one of my personal reasons for participating in the programme, as I’m hoping to gain team leadership experience to improve my career prospects. My main revelation from this aspect of the training is that the ICS Team Leader role involves so much more than just “line management”. On the project site I’ll be responsible for the volunteers’ wellbeing 24/7, dealing with homesickness, culture shock, first aid, communication issues and their health and safety for 3 whole months, on top of managing the project, ensuring that the work gets done, the objectives are met and the volunteers are happy and motivated throughout. This is so much more than the 9-5 line management responsibilities I’m used to in the UK – there are no weekends here, we Team Leaders are responsible 24/7. It’s an exciting challenge and I’ve no doubt I’ll learn a tremendous amount.
4. Project Planning Visit to our villages
The Team Leaders all spent 3 days down south in the villages we’ll be working in, staying with a host family, visiting the other host families, meeting local leaders, social workers and NGO representatives who will be key to the success of our projects, doing risk assessments and generally making preparations for the soon-to-arrive volunteers. It was a great snapshot of the many challenges that rural communities face and also of the basic living arrangements that many millions have to endure in Nepal, with frequent power cuts, houses made of mud and stones, and extremely limited resources. We’ll be joining them by staying in host homes and while adjusting to the bare necessities and prevalence of creepy crawlies will be a challenge, waking up each morning to these idyllic views shan’t be!
Outside of these four key training areas, we’ve also been paired up with our In-Country Team Leaders and my partner is the lovely Asha! She’s such a kind-hearted young woman and really passionate about making a difference, as are many young Nepalese since last year’s earthquake which threw their entire country into chaos. Asha and I will be placed in the village of Bhalu Khola in the VDC of Aambhanjyang in the district of Makwanpur, a 5-hour drive south of Kathmandu.
We’ll be leading one of two ICS Entrepreneur projects, focusing on livelihood diversification, coping strategies during environmental disasters, encouraging small businesses by investing seed money in suitable micro-enterprises and specifically working with women and young people. Between us we’ll be managing 13 volunteers, 6 Nepali and 7 British, all of whom will be living in host homes with local villagers in Bhalu Khola. Having an In-Country Team Leader by my side will be invaluable as she has more knowledge about the Nepali context, the cultural differences (eg. the intricacies of the caste system) and of course the Nepali language. I’m armed with a Nepali phrasebook and textbook and am slowly making headway with the language but am still very much in need of a translator! Asha is just lovely and I’m thrilled to be working with her.
The other 3 teams are as follows:
We’ve all come to ICS with different life and work experiences, skills and areas of expertise so our team partners hopefully will complement one another, and one huge advantage of the UK-Nepali partnering is the intercultural exchange that takes place and the opportunity to learn from one another. This intercultural exchange is a key element of every ICS project, regardless of which charity is delivering the ICS project, and was a key factor that attracted me to the programme. We’re not just flying in a load of inexperienced Brits to do some aid work in isolation, we’re working in 1:1 partnership with Nepali citizens and two local Nepali charities (RADO and WOCHEND), to ensure our work is relevant, productive and appropriate for Nepal, also ensuring the local buy-in required to maintain our efforts and impact even after we Brits depart in May.
Lastly, we’ve had a taste of Kathmandu city. Every now and again in our free time we have headed out with our In-Country Team Leaders Asha, Bimisha, Kapil and Rahul as tour guides, into the beautiful chaos of Kathmandu. Nearest to us is the UNESCO site of Patan Durbar Square, a former royal palace from the 17th century. Around there is an infinite number of Hindu temples to various gods, Buddhist stupas and old buildings, all of which are full to bursting with inhabitants. Kathmandu is overpopulated, crowded, polluted and not built to cope with the rampant population growth. Roads are rarely smooth and chock-a-block with traffic and vehicles from 5 decades ago, cows, chicken and other animals graze wherever they can, locals wear face masks to protect their lungs from dust and carbon dioxide, electricity cables tangle and somehow weave their way through the maze of streets and alleyways, food and products are sold everywhere by women sat cross-legged on the ground, horns beep constantly, colour presents itself from every angle, and lots of people live in dark houses built of corrugated iron, using large stones to pin down their roofs in case of a windy storm.
This picture is similar elsewhere in the tourist hub of Thamel (which is purely made up of souvenir and trekking shops, and not a particularly nice area) and the more interesting area around Basantapur Durbar Square. This is the second of Kathmandu’s three UNESCO royal palace squares and is larger than Patan, although the main building itself was partly destroyed by last year’s earthquake and the tops of two temples completely crumbled. But it’s a fascinating area to wander around, and well-worth reading up on Nepal’s fascinating history before you arrive.
Other key UNESCO spots in Kathmandu are the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, the Buddhist stupas of Swayambhu and Bauddhanath and the Hindu temples of Pashupati and Changu Narayan.
These last three weeks have been hugely useful: educational, informative, acclimatising and motivating, and I now feel ready and eager to meet our volunteers and head down to our respective villages in Makwanpur. The next 12 weeks are all about getting down to work and I feel like we’ve been building up to this moment for a long time. Here in Kathmandu I’ve had more access to internet than I’d expected, and to a certain extent I’ll have occasional access in the village as well (inner sigh of relief!) so I’ll try to keep this blog updated with our team’s progress, and fingers crossed it all goes to plan after so much training!