Diary of a Raleigh ICS volunteer in Nepal: Part 2
We’re now 7 weeks and 2/3 of the way through our Raleigh ICS project in Nepal and have completed Phase 2, which simply flew by. For a bit more background of why I’m here, take a look at the following posts: En Route to Nepal and The First 3 Weeks of Raleigh ICS in Nepal. At the end of Phase 1 I wrote a tome of a blog post about the highlights and the things I learned (read that here), so I wanted to write another similar post. Summing up 3.5 weeks of work and life in one post is no easy task but I also tried to pre-schedule a few posts throughout the last month, such as a blog post on the digital detox and the new luxury of switching off, an opinion piece on why my passport is my most valuable possession and some poetry from three inspiring young Nepali people I’ve met here.
Top 5 Highlights of Phase 2:
1. Easter Treasure Hunt to highlight the role of youth in development work
High and low we searched for creme eggs and egg-shaped chocolate to celebrate Easter, to no avail. However a small sub-group of Exeter grads (Lara, Natalie & I) were not to be put off and we set about organising a treasure hunt for the young people in the village, along the lines of a typical British Easter egg hunt (which I sadly missed back at home, as my whole family gathered together in Hampshire to celebrate). The rationale was not just a bit of fun, its aims were also cultural exchange and an excuse to talk to the typically hard-to-engage youth aged 16-30 about the topic of the essential role of youth in development. If we can encourage the youth to take an active interest in and responsibility for the development of their community, then the impact of our work here will be far more sustainable in the long term. To do this we created a treasure hunt for 5 different teams following clues to 6 different “stations”, a concept that’s new to Nepal and which the 28 participants loved! I’ve never seen such excitement on their faces as they literally ran from clue to clue, completing relevant tasks at each station. Tasks ranged from solving a riddle about youth, to gathering new signatures on our environmental protection petition, to answering quiz questions about youth statistics and young role models, to fact-finding on topical issues affecting the community, to giving mini-speeches on the spot about issues such as gender equality and climate change.
The winning team were awarded a goody bag of (sadly non-egg shaped) chocolate and biscuits, and we had a small choccie treat to hand out to all runners-up too. Not only was it such fun to organise and take part in, but as a direct result the youth who attended were motivated to set up their own youth club! We’re helping them to form the club by facilitating committee meetings and helping them to write a constitution for official registration with the local council, which will allow them to access a 100,000 rupee fund (£635) to run their own events and empower their own campaigns. As a team of volunteers we are stunned with the results of just one fun activity which we thought up to celebrate Easter – proof that real impact actually can be achieved on a short 3-month project such as ours.
2. World Water Day celebrations
The 22nd March was the annual World Water Day and I was stunned to find out that only 1% of the world’s freshwater is accessible for human uses, and that 1.5 billion jobs in the world are directly dependent on water. As the community we’re working in is so dependent on water for their livelihoods, principally through irrigation for fields of crops, we thought it important to mark the day by raising awareness of the importance of protecting the village’s lifeline: the Bhalu Khola (the village’s very name even means ‘Bear River’). Currently the local council provide no waste collection whatsoever, so the locals’ litter ends up dumped, if not on the roads and paths, in the irrigation channels or the river. So our team organised an interactive debate for over 50 students aged between 16-18 inside the local school, on 5 key themes of water, also introducing a petition that gathered 154 signatures before being submitted to the local council. The school principal was particularly impressed by the students’ presentation skills, as there is apparently very little interactive participation in the national curriculum, so the event also helped to develop the students’ public speaking skills and confidence. We also worked with a couple of nimble-fingered artists to design and paint a colourful mural on the dairy wall in Bhalu Khola, which coincided very nicely with the annual Hindu festival of Holi, in which there’s an almighty water and coloured powder fight! The festival celebrates the change of the season and new life, making the subject of our mural very relevant on the day, which attracted lots of passers-by who admired and asked questions about World Water Day.
3. Completing our Baseline surveys
At the beginning of every development project, it’s important to conduct a survey of the ‘status quo’, so that Raleigh’s impact over the long-term can be effectively monitored and evaluated by subsequent surveys conducted after 18 months and 3 years. With 89 households in the settlement of Bhalu Khola, we dedicated a few mornings and afternoons to getting through as many surveys as possible, successfully exceeding our 70% target and reaching 93% of the village’s households. Working in pairs and taking an estimated 62 hours in total, it was really useful to learn about their:
- annual household income: c. 150,000 rupees (£952) per family to feed an average family size of 5 people, placing the village well under the international poverty line
- income sources: predominantly agriculture and foreign remittances from migrant workers in the Middle East (see my other post about Nepal’s migrant workers)
- crop yields: decreasing in recent years due to changing rainfall and temperature patterns caused by climate change
- understanding of climate change: only 30% awareness
- potential business ideas: off-season & high value vegetable farming (eg. fruit and mushrooms), poultry / goat farming, tailoring
- range of skills: carpentry, metal work, tailoring, among others
- literacy level: only 67% of the village, with a general trend that no women above the age of 40 attended school so therefore can’t read/write
- severity of earthquake damage: 77% of houses damaged, with cost totalling over 20,000,000 rupees)
It was such a useful exercise to do and a good way to meet the more marginalised and excluded members of the community, such as the 16 households of so-called “untouchable” Dalits, who are by far suffering disproportionately from Nepal’s endless catalogue of social problems that need addressing.
4. World Health Day
The last day of Phase 2 was also World Health Day and although health is not the primary focus of our project there are various health-related issues we’ve noticed in Bhalu Khola that we wanted to raise awareness of. To do this we ran a fair in the middle of the village that was to our surprise a huge hit! We attracted over 125 visitors who engaged with all our volunteers, curious to learn more and interested in the topics we covered, which really was one of our huge successes for this phase as we weren’t expecting such a large turnout in such a tiny village! On the day our fair contained 5 stands on:
- Nutrition: free bananas and oranges and a focus on a balanced diet, vitamins and the risks of diabetes
- Hygiene: featuring quiz questions on handwashing and food hygiene, and a truly hilarious role play from Phil, Nikee & Lara on how not to make a hygienic plate of chatpate
- Menstruation: primarily intended as an information stand, this turned into a lively debate trying to dispel the myths around the menstruation restrictions placed on women in certain castes and religions, which regards them as ‘impure’
- Contraception: raising awareness of the options available locally including a visit from the local Female Health Volunteer to provide advice
- Diseases: we encouraged 3 of the local Health Education students Apsara (21), Karuna (14) and Sushma (13) to create and present a session on various communicable and non-communicable diseases, including tips on prevention, symptoms and cures. Afterwards they said they felt more confident and really pleased to be involved, as they hope to work in this field in future, so hopefully the event also contributed to their personal development as well as informing their fellow villagers!
5. Endless games with the volunteers
One aspect of Raleigh that I really love and will definitely be taking back to the UK is the emphasis on fun and games. I swear that I haven’t played so many games in the last 10 years combined as I have in the last two months of NC1 in Bhalu Khola. The only games I ever used to play in the UK involved alcohol in some shape or form, with the exception of a 4th year tradition at uni with my adorable housemates: our many homemade pub quizzes. Here in Nepal we do an awful lot of serious work but we also live in the same village 24/7, meaning it’s important to break up the days and lighten the mood with group energisers and games such as dog and bone; giants, wizards and dwarfs; ping pang pong; splat; bombs and shields; cobardy; earthquake; flamingoes and penguins; Monopoly Deal; ninjas; fruit salad; evolution and even a brilliant (non-alcoholic) pub quiz.
I’m so grateful to be leading such a fantastic team and my daily laughter quota has multiplied ten-fold compared to my working life back in the UK. Honestly the best part about this entire project is the brilliant people who make up our NC1 team – and no matter the language barrier, the different working styles we each have or the diverse backgrounds we come from, I love working with this bunch of 14 people and I love the team bond we have. This was summed up by the incredible mood on the last night of Phase 2, which we celebrated with our customary barbeque next to the river under the stars, where we celebrated Phil’s birthday with a chocolate cake (which in Nepal it’s tradition to smear all over the faces of your party guests!), congratulated ourselves on a hugely successful World Health Day programme, revelled in the success of the completion of 2 days’ formal training on organic insecticides and pesticides which the team had organised for 25 farmers, successfully hitting one of our project’s key targets, and thought back over what an incredible phase it’s been!
Top 5 Things I Learned in Phase 2:
1. Holi and henna, both beautiful and permanent!
Flinging coloured powder at each other and being attacked and ambushed by all our host brothers and sisters and the legions of other local children from Holi, on not one but two days, was an experience! On the second day we were actually chased into the treehouse and then cowered there in fear under siege by powder-wielding, happy-holi-chanting packs of what we locally named “holi terrorists”. Hilarious but also terrifying! Learning point for blondes: cheap holi powder dyes your hair! So I’ve been sporting bright pin highlights for nearly three weeks now! Channelling my inner Avril Lavigne with this particularly fetching look… At least the colour wasn’t too horrendous – Lara’s hair was dyed green! Much more beautiful and welcome was the henna “mindi” that my host sister Apsara painstakingly painted onto the palms of my hands, which I then had to sleep in and keep on for 12 hours. It apparently lasts around a week before fading and I love it!
2. That everyone has an area of expertise they can teach to others
In Phase 1, three of our in-country volunteers, Amulya, Arati & Soshi, gave us an invaluable lesson on Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), a series of techniques we used to learn about the community’s needs. The success of that lesson planted the seed in my mind for each volunteer to deliver a masterclass on a subject of their choice, and ever since we’ve had lessons on such an amazing variety of topics: Nepali lessons from Asha & Pinku, Mandarin Chinese from Vicky, British Sign Language from Josh, Spanish from Phil, music lessons from Amulya & Mark, Nutrition and Circuits from Nirali, Yoga and Meditation from Prakriti, International Relations classes from Natalie and next week I’m even giving an Italian lesson too. Not only is teaching a fantastic skill to develop and a confidence builder, but it’s also a great way to spread knowledge and I’d love to translate the concept back to London as well, even if just among my own circle of friends, as everyone has some area of expertise that they know inside out.
3. How international development work happens in practice
While being the first ever group of Raleigh Nepal to head into the field has had its inevitable frustrations and delays, overall I’ve learned a huge amount about the challenges and conditions that affect development work and just how much work is required to set up a new project, putting into action a brand new agreement with our local project partner. I have new-found respect (even more than before!) for those who dedicate themselves to a career in international development, who persevere with the cause despite non-stop setbacks and struggles to satisfy all stakeholders and the community. This experience as the very first Raleigh team in Nepal has been eye-opening, more hands-on and I’ve had a lot more influence and decision-making responsibility in the project than I was expecting, which has been great! It will definitely inform and strengthen my contributions to debates on international development back in the UK, also informing my future fundraising and campaigning work.
4. How little I need internet and alcohol
Internet has been a rare luxury, although I’m also starting to regard being disconnected as a new luxury too. And because I’m not surrounded by alcohol I find that I don’t actually miss it. The things I miss are all food items, not alcohol! The amount of fun I’m having despite the project’s tee-total policy is a relief to me! I live a blissfully hangover-free life and as a combination of our healthy diet, morning exercise routine, sunshine, fresh air and lots of time outside in the natural surroundings, I swear I’m looking younger than ever. My skin is clear, radiant and circles under my eye are non-existent – something I haven’t had since the summer after uni!
5. Who’s important to me and how individualist British society is
I’m not sure I’d ever even heard the term ‘individualism’ before I came to Nepal, and it was a word used by a Nepali volunteer to describe their first impressions of us Brits. And now that I understand how interdependent Nepali citizens are on their families and ‘life partners’, I realise just how much of a fend-for-yourself and self-sufficient, independent culture I myself come from. Asha and I often run various team building and cultural sessions with our volunteers, and a great session that Asha lead required everyone to map their social relationships onto a Venn Diagram (rings of circles that indicate closeness) and try to guess that of the host home counterpart volunteer too. It still strikes me as excessive that Nepalis are so tied to their families all their lives, that they share their salary with their parents and siblings even if they live apart, but I also admire the importance they place on their social relationships, how they look after one another.
I disagree with the norm of the arranged marriage, which is first and foremost a financial transaction and the parents’ selection of a suitable husband is made on the basis of financial security and shared cultural traditions, religious beliefs and caste, with very little regard for character compatibility or personality. The concept of an arranged ‘life partner’ is for most young Nepalis even preferable to a love marriage – an opinion I really struggle to comprehend, as love is such an engrained and fundamental concept in Western society. We Brits on the other hand are much more ‘individualist’ and everything from our social relationship maps, to our attitudes towards sharing food and treatment when we’re ill are radically different from the Nepalis. On my own map for example I discovered that, after years and years of teenage sisterly bickering and squabbling, my sister Olivia is now surprisingly the person in my life that I placed closest to me on the diagram! Being here has also emphasised to me how much more I should nurture my relationships with those closest to me, my family members, my closest friends and those whose lives I play a role in. I hope to be more selfless after ICS and focus more attention on other people, instead of endlessly pursuing personal goals and personal fulfillment.
3 Lowest Points of Phase 2:
1. The mercury is rising
Boy is summer kicking in, with temperatures reaching 38⁰C in the daytime. Although I’ve lived in hotter conditions before and generally fair pretty well in heat, cold water bucket showers are my saving grace – as long as the water supply doesn’t dry up (as it apparently often does in the dry season), then I think I’ll survive. The downside I’m not appreciating quite so much is the correlated increase in tarantula-sized spiders, flies, insects of all types, frogs and alarmingly even snakes!
2. The battle against the bhat belly
The residents of Bhalu Khola need not worry about the beer belly epidemic sweeping the Western hemisphere – the real issue I’m facing here is a war on the bhat belly, due to the mammoth quantities of rice (bhat) funnelled into my mouth by my ever-caring host family who want to plump me up before marrying me off to a Nepali man (if they had their way, honestly that’s what they’d do and I’d never leave!). It’s not unheard of to digest four plates of rice in a single day… So I’ve resumed my daily morning runs and have enlisted the help of UK volunteer Nirali, a qualified personal trainer, to run boot-camp style Circuits sessions to beat that rising bhat belly into submission!
3. Time is flying by
Our team’s volunteers have also been writing some brilliant blog posts for Raleigh’s official blog which you can find here:
- The Caste system and Bhalu Khola by Pinku & Arati
- Contemplation and celebration in Bhalu Khola by Phil
- Raleigh & RADO by Natalie
- Learning & Development by Mark & Prakriti
- Unplugging the stereo(types) by Amulya
Kabbadi and Holi were definitely 2 of the highlights from my trip to Nepal. I’m so glad you’re enjoying a country so close to my heart. Nepal was the first country I ever travelled to alone and I volunteered there for 4 months! Thanks for posting such informative and truthful blogs – I hate the way travel and volunteering tend to be romanticised. I’m so impressed by how much your team has managed to achieve. I volunteered with ICS with Restless Development in India last summer and we didn’t get nearly as much done. I hope you continue to have a fantastic time and keep posting such insightful blog posts. Reading these posts has given me serious nostalgia and has only increased my desire to return. Good luck with your last few weeks! Emma
Thank you so much Emma and how interesting that you’ve volunteered in both India and Nepal! I keep thinking there must be interesting similarities but also many differences. Today I’m posting the final blog post of this series on ICS in Nepal, as sadly my 3 months in the village finished on Tuesday and I’m nearly heading home to the UK, although I honestly feel like my new home is right here in my Nepali host family’s house!
Fascinating! Glad you’re enjoying the experience so much. How you describe mixing fun, learning and cultural exchange is inspirational!
Oh thank you so much Jessi! The final post in the series (Part 3) is coming today too so look out for that!