There are a range of projects in Chitwan to suit the needs and interests of a variety of volunteers. We were lucky to visit four of the child-based projects whilst here.
Getting to Chitwan
The journey from Kathmandu to Chitwan is via the tourist bus that leaves around 7:00 am. You will be provided with water but don’t expect a smooth ride on the highway as it is often so poorly maintained that if it were to be in the UK they would close it. However what can be guaranteed are beautiful views as you snake through the valley following the river. Passing through small villages and groups of settlements you begin to appreciate just how simply a vast majority of the population live.
Around 9:30 to 10:00 am you will make a stop at Peace Heaven Restaurant (there may be another toilet break for 5 minutes around 8:30 am) where you can get food, drinks and use the toilet facilities. We were given the advice to go for vegetarian Dal Bhat which is the local choice (eaten twice each day at around 10:00 am and 7:00 pm with veg choices often changing but not always). The rational was that this will be quick, cheap and made well. Choosing a western option is not what they specialise in so may take much longer, not be as you would expect and cost more. It is also not a good idea to opt for meat in a country where electricity is often off for at least 12 hours in total causing anything that is kept in the fridge to constantly defrost before re-freezing again – not great for chicken (the most common meat here). If you do eat meat then you need it killed fresh and cooked as soon as possible.
After filling up on food and using the squat toilets we were back on the bumpy bus. A full stomach and rise in temperature soon led to me falling asleep. Waking up as the bus stopped we watched passenger after passenger getting off – nervously looking out the window each time not sure if it would be us. Eventually we came to the centre of a village and the man on the bus (with a conductor/baggage handler role) indicated for us to get off.
Stepping off the bus we were dazzled by the sunshine and bewildered as to where to go. Two young lads around 15/16 years old came over with their bicycles indicated that we needed to follow them to Happy Home orphanage. I assumed we would walk but they indicated for us to climb on the back of each bicycle. I confirmed this as I thought “surely not” but yes he wanted me to balance precariously on the back of the bike (where bike panniers usually go) with my bag in my back (glad I went for a 40L carry-on) and holding on to both the bike as well as my water. We travelled on very bumpy rides and I am not sure how I managed to hold on to the bike, my water bottle and my sanity as he went faster and faster. His level of fitness in the heat was impressive and it’s only when we got to our destination I found out that Anthony had had to be the cyclist in his duo due to too much weight at the back.
Happy Home is an orphanage to eleven children (9 girls and 2 girls) ranging from nine to sixteen years of age. They are looked after by a single lady called Basanti who they refer to as ‘Mommy’. The children live in a large three storey house with Basanti where they share rooms with two to four children per room in bunk beds. Surrounding the house is a very large outdoor space which includes gardens, a swing, table tennis table, area for growing crops, cows, chickens, space for doing outdoor crafts and several flower beds some which surround a small sculpture park of religious deities. The volunteer house is separate from the main building by around 10 m and provides space for around eight volunteers sharing same sex rooms with two to four people in each room. Couples can be accommodated together with prior arrangement. Each room comes with a single bed per person (some are bunk-beds) bedding, a mosquito net, table and en-suite facilities but these are basic. There is a kitchen and dining area too where Basanti prepares all of the food (two cooked meals a day along with teas and snacks) and everyone eats together.
The children go to school from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm from Sunday through to Friday. Before and after school the children complete both homework and chores. On Saturdays they currently have a local medical student who volunteers and does arts/crafts but have been known to go out, complete more chores or just relax. We arrived on a Saturday as they were in the middle of painting and the girls were very keen to get to know our names and have us join in.
Once the craft class was finished the children showed us around the site, got to know us a little better and then it was time to eat. Food was traditional Dal Bhat but exceptionally tasty. We all ate together and when finished everyone helped out to clean up and clear away. After dinner the children went to complete homework or hang out in their rooms so we got to know the other volunteer based here (on a two week placement) and use the free WIFI. The rest of the evening was free time (as is most, if not all, of the day whilst the children are at school).
Living and working in an orphanage you’ll become part of the family and hence part of a larger community. With only one adult there to look after the eleven children, your help around the home and garden will be so gratefully received. Children will also benefit from the opportunity to practice their English, receive support with their homework and chores as well as you being a source of information about the wider world.
Tasks you will carry out or support include:
- Cleaning up after breakfast and dinner to include washing up, wiping tables, sweeping and mopping your floor.
- Walking with the children and carrying the milk that has been taken from the cow and is going to be sold.
- Helping to feed the livestock (cows, buffalo and chickens) which involves collecting and carrying water from the pump before giving it to the animals.
- Helping to maintain the garden involving a number of tasks such as cutting the grass or weeding (both by hand), helping to fill bags of grass which can be used for feed for the livestock, carrying bags or refuse as it’s too heavy for the children and turning over the soil to prepare the vegetable patches.
- Spending time with the children especially after school or on Saturdays where there is no school engaged in tasks such as homework, talking to them to practice their English or art/craft projects.
Info Nepal Resource Centre in Ganganagar Village
We had heard about the resource centres that Info Nepal had built, painted and kitted out. They were an excellent way for a community to come together to learn. This was especially important for children before and after school for homework as homes rarely had anywhere to complete such tasks being very basic mud huts with straw roofs.
However, two months ago a local woman committed suicide using a rope hanging off the back window. Since then, the community have been fearful of going back in including the local teacher. This has meant that such a wonderful facility has gone unused.
We were fortunate to begin the relaunch of the project where we began by cleaning up the main room. The children (both from the local village as well as those we had brought across from Happy Home) helped too so it became a team effort. With tables/stools replaced on the newly swept floor another volunteer and I began to do some singing with the children. Popular songs with actions were the favourites as the children could get involved such as “Head, Shoulders…”, “Incy Wincy Spider” and many more. Once engaged we got the children doing some free-play with the toys brought across from Happy Home. This allowed us to practice their English with them and show them how to play some of the games e.g. Snap and Dominoes.
Sadly it was approaching the time that the children needed to get ready for school and have their breakfast so we said farewell. It’s been agreed that the teacher will go back in from now on with the support of one of the volunteers currently based at Happy Home. This will be from 7:00 am to 8:00 am in the morning and then again from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm. Prior to the earthquake, there were up to four volunteers supporting the resource centre with often a further four at Happy Home too. Without the good work of the volunteers then these much needed projects are often remaining closed and unused.
Work is from 7:00 am until 8:00 am and again from 5:00 pm until 6:00 pm. This is to fit around school as well as to coincide with the cooler parts of the day. It only takes around 20 minutes to walk to the project from Happy Home. The purpose of the centre is currently to provide support to children in getting their homework done. Outside this time, whilst the children are at school, volunteers will spend their time assisting at Happy Home or enjoying free time.
Accommodation will either be at Happy Home or if there were ever a large enough number of volunteers then a local family would provide a Homestay. Work is from Sunday to Friday with Saturdays off. There will be a lot of free time throughout the week though allowing volunteers to get involved in local community life if they wish.
Sauraha Day Care Centre
On arrival at the Wildlife Adventure Resort we were informed that prior to the commencement of our programme we would get to visit a Day Care Centre. We met Maëlle (the volunteer currently assisting there) from Germany. It was great to be able to find out a lot of detail about the project as well as her experience as a volunteer.
The project involves living with a host family who run the Day Care Centre from a building set back in their garden. The ‘mother’ runs the project with some support from another member of staff along side any volunteers. The funds from the volunteers help to keep the project going as she has no other income.
Maëlle has already completed five weeks here working with 28 children aged 2 -3 years of age. The Day Care project involved her working from 10:00 am – 1:00 pm at which point the children have a simple lunch of cookies and milk followed by a sleep. Maëlle has free time then to visit the jungle on organised trips, borrow a bike to head to ‘town’ or get on with her studies as part of her university course. She sometimes assists at the Homestay after 6:00 pm in preparation for dinner and then once again the rest of the time is her own. When other volunteers were in the house they could spend evenings either at ‘home’ or head for a local drink.
You will work Sunday to Friday from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm. Accommodation is in a Homestay where you will stay in same sex rooms (unless you are a couple) with single beds, linen included, mosquito nets on windows and a fan. There are western bathrooms (bring your own towel) though the showers are cold in the summer (which is preferable as the temperature is hot). Electricity is not on all day (there will always be lights though) but there is a schedule which should help you to plan when to charge your electrical devices (2-pin plugs needed) or use the included wifi. Two meals are provided each day (around 9:00 am & 7:00 pm) which is the locally eaten Dal Bhat served with a variety of locally grown vegetables as well as some chicken, pork or fish. Throughout the day there is access to water, tea and light snacks including fruit. Washing is often hand-washing where you can use the laundry powder or take your clothes to ‘town’ to have them done for you. The ‘town’ has a variety of shops, places to eat and an ATM.
Info Nepal Resource Centre in Sauraha
Just five minutes by foot from the Day Care Centre is another resource centre. As part of Maëlle’s volunteering she runs this centre single-handedly for around 25 children from 2 -13 years. This takes place from 7:00 – 8:00 am and 5:00 – 6:00 pm. Although children can complete homework there it is difficult to support individual children with only one staff member so group teaching, activities or play usually occurs. However, this is made difficult by the fact it is highly under-resources.
Due to the fact that unlike other centres there is no permanent teacher, it does mean that once Maëlle leaves in less than a week, that the centre will close until another volunteer arrives. The last time it was closed it was for seven months.
Work is from 7:00 am until 8:00 am and again from 5:00 pm until 6:00 pm. This is to fit around school as well as to coincide with the cooler parts of the day. It only takes around 5 minutes to walk to the project from the Homestay. The purpose of the centre is supposed to provide support to children in getting their homework done. However, due to lack of volunteers or resources this is often impossible. Outside this time, whilst the children are at school, volunteers will spend their time working at the Day Care Centre or having free time.
The details provided were collected at each project location by speaking to staff and volunteers and were correct at the time of writing. If you have any further questions or want any further details on these or any Nepal-based projects, please contact VPO for the latest information.
We are currently exploring the opportunities for volunteering in Nepal thanks to the support of VPO and will be blogging and vlogging about the projects, the people and the country throughout our time here. By doing so, we hope to encourage others to come to Nepal and make a difference themselves in a sustainable and appropriate way.