There are a range of projects to take part in whilst in Pokhara to suit the needs and interests of a variety of volunteers. We were lucky to visit six of the projects whilst here, many of them working directly with local children.
Getting to Pokhara
We arrived in Pokhara from Chitwan which is something you might choose to do if you’re interested in visiting Chitwan National Park or splitting your volunteering time across projects in two different areas. The bus took longer than expected due to high volumes of traffic on the ‘highway’, which at times was only a single track of road winding through the valley due to a number of road works. The road actually heads back towards Kathmandu (on the same road we’d used to arrive here) before splitting off to Pokhara. As before there is a stop half way through the journey lasting 30 minutes and allowing you to use the toilet facilities (squat toilet), buy lunch if required (Dal Bhat) or just stock up on drinks/snacks. Unlike before, there was no complimentary water and due to the high temperatures (& often inability to open the bus windows on a dusty road) it was a most welcome break to stop. The bus then enters Pokhara with a number of locals alighting as we made our way to the bus park – the terminus for the journey. There will be several taxi drivers hoping to take you onward but be prepared to haggle if you haven’t made a prior arrangement.
Prior to arrival at this project I had always overlooked the construction projects when browsing volunteer opportunities. They didn’t involve working with children and seemed to be something I would be completely ill-equipped, ill-prepared and too weak to carry out. I also assumed that maybe they were taking away local jobs for local people and therefore, as I wanted to work sustainably, were a poor choice.
However, visiting this project, meeting the volunteers and talking with local people has changed my perspective on this entirely. It’s true that most construction projects are completed by men since the work is tough, often having to be completed by hand (e.g. mixing concrete, carrying bricks by hand) and requires a certain level of strength/physical ability. That said, if there were the opportunity to register for a neighbouring project mainly but help occasionally on the construction project (e.g. on spare afternoons), I certainly wouldn’t shy away from some hard work. As one volunteer put it: “Why pay to go to the gym when you could just pay to come here and really make a difference, not only to your body but to others too?” It seems that any help is appreciated by the local team, including that of children on their day off each week. Jobs are not being taken from the community – the opposite in fact. Volunteers who pay to come on the project are enabling local people to have a job. If the volunteers stop coming, the project pauses and people will lose their job. Currently there is enough work for four local men and they view the volunteers as a great pair of extra hands. It’s particularly beneficial to them when the volunteers stay for long periods of time as they can train them up and then get on with it instead of having new volunteers each week which they have to constantly help.
My other concern, that the project didn’t involve working with young people, is partially false. True, there are no guaranteed opportunities to work alongside young people unless they live in your Homestay or you combine this project with another (e.g. helping out in a Resource Centre). However, the project is all about the young people and directly benefits them as it’s building them a Happy Home (like the one we stayed at in Chitwan). Without the construction, there will be no Happy Home and therefore no projects to support the young people directly.
This Happy Home will house the eight boys currently living in a different building (temporarily) as well as allowing for expansion to take in girls as well. The boys will be housed in two rooms (four per room) with bathroom facilities and the girls likewise on the opposite side of the building. It is thought that the mother will sleep in one of the rooms housing the girls. As well as bedrooms there will be a TV room which will be a room for socialisation, a dining area with kitchen and an office where the computers will be kept for use. In front of the house will be space for gardens so that the family can grow their own vegetables aiming to make them at least partly self-sufficient. Plans to keep animals so far include a buffalo for milk but it may be that future plans change to include cows and chickens as was the case in Chitwan. Separate from the main building will be two volunteer rooms built to house two volunteers in each with their own en-suite facilities. If the volunteers are individuals then they will be housed in same-sex rooms but couples can be catered for on prior arrangement. All of this looking out on to an amazing view of lush hills and rice paddy fields.
The construction projects runs from Sunday to Friday. Work begins at 8am as it’s cooler and after two hours there will be a breakfast break for Dal Bhat back at the Homestay. Resuming around 12 noon, work continues until around 2:30pm when lunch is eaten at a nearby cafe/restaurant. The final work slot takes place from the time lunch is finished until around 5pm. Dal Bhat is served again at the Homestay at 7pm. All other time is free time and volunteers are encouraged to take as many breaks as required – these are the times worked by the current volunteers only. All jobs are carried out by hand so be prepared for a lot of physical work including carrying stones, gravel and sand.
The Homestay is around a two minute walk away from the construction site where you will be in a shared room on the roof of the family home. Currently there are three male volunteers all sharing a room and as all volunteers are male these are typical sleeping arrangements. The Homestay has a bathroom but no western toilet which for some can take a little getting used to. Out front is a shop selling drinks, snacks and a few other useful items like toilet paper. There are places to eat food, relax and get washing done too – what more could you need?
From the top of the road you can find a number of shops to buy local products such as bottled water and snacks. Should you require anything extra you can get a bus into town or down to the popular Lakeside area (tourist area with shops, bars & restaurants). If you don’t fancy getting the bus you can also take a taxi.
A short walk from the construction project (opposite the Homestay) is a newly built resource centre (similar to those visited in Chitwan). It is still awaiting some interior fixings but it is hoped that once the volunteer industry picks up again (following a decline since the 2015 earthquakes) that English teaching will take place in the two classrooms. Each room will house between 12 and 24 students meaning that a total of 48 children will be able to benefit from English support at anyone time. There are also two purpose built volunteer rooms which will accommodate up to two volunteers in each (single-sex unless couples) and with a bathroom between the four of them.
It is hoped that the project will run from 7am until 9am (before school) and from around 5pm until 7pm (after school) from Sunday through to Friday. Outside these hours there is free time unless volunteers are interested in helping out at the Happy Home (once built) which is a two minute walk away. Accommodation will be inside the resource centre – at the back with meals eaten at the Homestay opposite.
Pokhara Happy Home
The Pokhara Happy Home orphanage (which was set up in 2010) is currently being housed in a temporary building until the construction project is completed. There are eight boys who benefit and one mother to look after them. The boys share several large rooms which are pristinely kept and have en-suite facilities (a range of Western & non-western toilets, showers and even a bath). There is a TV room containing a TV, playstation with two controllers and some mats to sit on. There is a kitchen area where the mother prepares food for the boys and joined to this is a small store room (for the food) which doubles as the bedroom of the mother. She will however have more space in with the girls in the new Happy Home currently under construction.
This project has been paused until the boys are rehoused in their new permanent building with adequate volunteer accommodation. This cannot take place until more volunteers sign up to the construction project and the building is completed.
Higher Secondary School
For those with teaching experience, wanting to gain teaching experience or happy to take on the role of teaching assistant – there is a fantastic school called Little Steps currently in need of volunteers. Only 2 minutes walk from the Homestay we were fortunate to reside at, there is a well thought out school, with neatly dressed and well behaved children eager to learn. On arrival at the school we were unsure of just how ‘basic’ the facilities might be as we met with the principle and awaited our guide who would show us around.
The school delivers education to the full age range (5 – 16 yrs) and is open from Sunday to Friday (10am – 4pm) with a half day on Friday. The school can accommodate up to 15 volunteers with ease but sadly at the time of writing has none. There are between 30 – 40 students per class with classes divided into Primary (class 1 – 5), Lower Secondary (class 6 – 8) and Secondary Level (class 9 & 10).
We were surprised by the facilities with large outdoor spaces used for sport and roll call; classrooms containing simple resources; science labs; a computer room; and even two libraries. Teachers also have access to a staff room for relaxation between classes as well as being a space to mark books.
The nature of your involvement depends highly on your qualifications, experience and length of stay. Qualified teachers with experience staying several months would, if they wanted, have the opportunity to have their own class with support from local staff. This is something that would have definitely appealed to me had I been staying longer especially after being surprised by the facilities. Those with limited time or wanting to gain experience/only interested in a supportive role would support the class teacher on a range of tasks such as helping children, developing English or even checking homework completed in class to alleviate the workload of the teacher.
Accommodation would be at a local Homestay with the most likely choice being where we stayed. Here you will be spoilt with regular tea, snacks and meals. Although Dal Bhat is a favourite there are many other dishes on the menu as the ‘host-father’ has extensive culinary experience from his work in Europe. We were treated to both pasta and noodle dishes. Sleeping quarters are on the roof giving lots of privacy and currently they can cater for couples or individuals with space for a maximum of three volunteers at a time. The bathroom is shared with the family but is spacious and has a western toilet. The TV room is open to all and you are encouraged to watch films or play cards with the family. They’ll even show you the family albums so you can get an insight into growing up in Nepal and the festivals in particular.
There are local shops nearby to get drinks and snacks. Within 5 – 10 minutes you’ll reach the main street where you can buy pretty much everything else you’d require as well as find several places to access the internet on either a computer or your own device via WiFi (30 rupees – around 20p per hour). This may be useful as the Homestay currently had no WiFi as it is not cost effective since the decline in volunteers.
Only a 30 minute walk (or 10 minutes on a very busy bus) and you’ll reach Lakeside. Lakeside is the tourist hub of Pokhara which not surprisingly is on the side of the lake. Here you’ll find bakeries, cafés, bars and restaurants with most offering free wifi as well as a range of every type of cuisine from American to Japanese. This is also the place to go for shopping (clothes, touristy souvenirs, trekking equipment, books and more), money exchange/ATMs and places to book tours/trips/treks as well as bus/plane tickets for onward travel. You can also get buses/taxis from here to many (if not all) of the tourist highlights including the World Peace Stupa, Devi’s Falls, several Caves, the Gurkha Museum, International Mountain Museum and many more.
Housed on the same site as the Secondary School, the Little Steps Montessori school is for Nursery and Kindergarten. The Kindergarten which we were fortunate to visit is for 23 children aged 4 – 5 years in age. Open from 10am to 3pm there is a large focus on reading and writing in English which the volunteers can support with.
An additional Montessori school called Childcare is around a 10 minute walk away from the Homestay. This school was set up in 2001 and currently has 45 children aged from 1 to 6 years of age. Open from 10am until 5pm (3pm on a Friday), volunteers are used for providing extra curricula activities such as paper making and dance as well as supporting the teachers in teaching English.
Both Montessori schools operate from 10am and finish between 3pm and 5pm depending on which school you are placed in. However, there is the possibility to work split-shifts when there are a large number of volunteers.
The accommodation arrangements will most likely be the same as for the secondary school unless another Homestay is used and then they will be similar.
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.