I had decided that it was time for me to shake up my life a bit and try something different! Being 56 (I actually celebrated my 57th birthday in Kathmandu!) and not having a great deal of experience of solo travel, I felt that the opportunity to be around other like-minded people my own age was just what I needed. I didn’t want to be the only granny on a gap year! It turned out to be an excellent decision, as the nine of us in our group (four different nationalities) hit it off immediately, and I felt that I was amongst new friends.
One of my main concerns was whether we would be doing something useful; I was afraid that any commitment of only two weeks might prove to be a bit tokenistic. I am sure it must be difficult for Projects Abroad to strike the right balance between providing useful opportunities for volunteers to donate their time and energy, whilst still giving them enough free time to enjoy their stay in the country. Personally, I feel that they got the balance right.
My Care & Community placement
During the first week, we painted classrooms in a school in Kathmandu. It was humbling to see the less developed school, with few resources and only the most basic of facilities. Despite this, the children were extremely enthusiastic about learning in general and so keen to practise their English with us during their break times.
We managed to give the concrete walls several coats of paint, which brightened them up considerably. Luckily, within the group there was enough artistic talent to produce some inspiring murals, which the children all seemed to love. We were delighted to see that we had made a difference.
During the second week, we worked as a group to plan and lead some sessions working with the young people we’d met. We were lucky enough to spend part of the Diwali celebrations at an orphanage, which was built by the Nepali Youth Foundation.
In the hillside just outside of Kathmandu, it was a real privilege to be asked to organise some games and activities for the youngsters living there. We all had fun playing football, demonstrating drama-type games involving lots of running around and grabbing chairs, and taking part in craft sessions, using some of the materials we’d brought with us.
We also led some sessions for the youngest children back at the school. Although those in the kindergarten were only three and four years old, they were already learning English, and enjoyed joining in with songs like “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”, and playing games like “Simon Says”.
My accommodation and free time
Those of us on the Grown-up Special were all staying at the same hotel, which meant that once we returned from work every day, we were able to eat together, and sometimes we went out to experience the bustling local area. Sam, our lovely, flip-flop wearing Coordinator, had just arrived after a year with Projects Abroad in Cambodia, and reminded us all what it is to fall in love with the carefree nature of travel.
On the first weekend, we drove to Chitwan National Park, a nerve-jangling trip along congested mountain roads. It certainly made me feel that we were getting to see the real Nepal, outside the westernised glimpses that tourists often experience. Our three days out of the city were beautiful. The highlight for me was the walking safari, where we actually saw a mother and baby rhino, albeit at a safe distance!
We also had fun dancing with the friendly staff at our lodge, canoeing along the river, and seeing a local cultural show. Another brilliant trip was a journey up into the mountains outside Kathmandu, where we all woke early to see the sun rise over the Himalayas – a moment I will never forget.
Reflections upon my return
For me, the fortnight in Nepal was life-changing. I certainly feel that I gained far more than I gave, both in terms of what the trip cost me financially and the challenge of some of the volunteer work we did. Apart from making some great new friends, with whom I am still in touch, it renewed my sense of optimism that we can all do something positive to help others. It gave me an urge to volunteer again and I am currently investigating this year’s trip, possibly to Cambodia or South Africa.