I am currently sitting on a rooftop in the rural town of Jharuwarashi, looking out over the Himalayas writing this blog post. To the left of me the Nepali volunteers are practicing 'Feliz Navidad' on an out of tune guitar, for what seems like the hundredth time, whilst Amma, our host mum, floats in and out of the kitchen preparing our dhal bhaat for lunch. Iona and Keelan, the other international volunteers are engaged in a tense game of chess on the makeshift chess board we made out of paper during our second week, an hour into their game and they are still nowhere close to finishing. This surreal collision of cultures has become the backdrop to the last four weeks of our volunteering experience in Nepal.
For the last month, I have been volunteering on the Department for International Development's International Citizen Service (ICS) programme, with Restless Development in partnership with the local NGO Urjaa. ICS is an unique opportunity for 18-25 year olds to participate in development work in another country. My placement is in Jharuwarashi, a semi-rural community in the Lalitpur region of Nepal, just south of Kathmandu.
In this beautiful, friendly place the six of us have been placed in two host homes, one of the unique (and best) parts of the ICS programme. Iona, Lalita, Sona and I have been placed with a family that owns the local tea shop. In our host home, there is our host mum (Amma), host dad (Bubaa), older sister (didi) and older brother (dai), there is also three-year old Unika and her mum Sachita who rent a room in the house. The tea shop means a constant stream of people linger in and out of the home, giving us plenty of people to practice our, admittedly poor, Nepali on. However, living with a host family does present its challenges. Whether that is Unika bursting into our room to steal pens while we are trying to lesson plan or the language barrier between the international volunteers and the host family (especially when trying to ask for less rice!) On the whole though we have been very lucky, the family is lovely, the food is delicious and we have WiFi and hot water (which is deeply appreciated when the temperature drops to below freezing at night).
The main focus of our programme is improving knowledge on livelihoods in schools and communities, we also work on issues such as gender-based violence and sexual health. So far we have mainly been focusing on schools and delivering sessions on topics such as saving and spending and how to open a bank account. The sessions are good but can be difficult for the international volunteers as the students do not speak that much English. In addition to the livelihoods sessions we have also given extra English sessions to grade 7, it is something which all the international volunteers are really enjoying as we can engage with the students more and help them with questions. In the first week on placement, we participated in a rally in the local town against gender-based violence and child marriage, a great start to our program.
So far ICS has been a mixture of highs and lows but overall The experience has been amazing, getting to know lots of people from all different backgrounds both Nepali and British has been really eye opening and staying with a host family has allowed us to be immersed in Nepalis culture. Having a cold that has lasted nearly a month has been less great but the copious amounts of Malpas being consumed has more than made up for that!