To most people, a “volunteer” is someone who contributes time and effort to help others, with no expectation in return. However, this does not mean that volunteer work is of no consequence for the volunteer him/herself. Indeed, it is widely believed that helping others is as beneficial for the volunteer as it is for the recipient. Through my last volunteering experience in Nepal, I can say that the impact on me was tremendous. I came back to Dubai, with deep-rooted feeling of connectedness, more positivity and satisfaction than ever before.
In October 2017, I decided to leave my high heels behind and the routine office work for one week to join a volunteering mission that will help set the foundation for a new school in a remote community in Nepal.
At sunrise on the first day, I put on my uniform and made my way to Dubai Airport. On my way to the airport my heart was pounding from excitement, I was like a child in a candy store, full of energy and excitement, except this time I was on my way to a dream mission. While boarding, I managed to select a window seat as it always excites me to see the plane taking off and watch the earth from the top. After 3 hours of flying, I was looking outside the window and noticed the stunning white layers of snow covering a huge set of mountains: the Himalayan Mountains. The mountains were a surefire sign that the plane was approaching Nepal. A couple of hours later we landed in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. We were greeted with smiles and respect and it was smooth sailing through immigration. We then collected our luggage and boarded a van that transported us to the hotel. Through the window I saw the streets of Kathmandu were bustling with cars going in all directions.
The following day, all volunteers gathered at the hotel lobby to leave to the airport and take a domestic flight to Phulei, a remote village in Dhangaddi district, which is more than 660 km away from the capital. After an hour and ten minutes flight, we landed in Dhangadhi airport. The ride on the bus from the airport to the hotel was an unforgettable experience. Our bus driver was playing a very famous Nepalese song called Parka Parka Mayalu throughout the ride. The song was one of the 2017 music hits, which is still engraved in my memory until today. After a 30-minute drive, we finally reached the hotel. It was time for us to get some sleep after such long travels. Back in my room, I was unable to sleep as I was so excited waiting to be in the field the following day.
At 6 a.m. the next day, we hit the road to Phuleli. Upon our arrival in the village, the local community welcomed us with open arms by offering us marigold flower necklaces. After a warm and folkloric welcome, the real field work started. Here I want to emphasize that if anyone likes to get their hands dirty and appreciates hard work, this is the perfect opportunity to undertake. Each volunteer was given a task and were joined by members of the local community in their work. I was responsible for digging, which I have never experienced before. We used traditional methods and locally sourced materials. The construction techniques were simple to master and were ideal for sites with limited facilities. No electricity was available at the site and everything was done manually! Our tasks included digging foundations, mixing cement, building walls, landscaping, digging trenches and laying bricks.
Our weeklong mission did not only consist of construction work, we were also given the opportunity to interact with families and children in the village. At the end of each laborious day, we had cultural exchange sessions which included making bamboo baskets, weaving traditional fans, pottery as well as learning words and forming sentences in Nepali. Members of the community also gave us local names, with mine being Kalpana, which means imagination.
The volunteering mission to Nepal has also given me the opportunity to discover one of the best cuisines in Asia. Even though it is not popular in the international scene, I really enjoyed eating Nepalese traditional food, which is defined by its lentil soups, lean non-creamy curries and famous momos, which are Tibetan-style dumplings made with Indian spices. Through this unique volunteering experience, I can say that knowledge exchange is a precursor of impact, and brings different communities closer to each other.
There are no words to describe my satisfaction in seeing the foundation of the school being completed in this remote village, and imagining the effect that the school will have on the local community. I was also very humbled to see the happiness on the faces of children and their families, something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
As we were travelling back to Dubai, we were primarily left with one emotion, which is fulfillment, having contributed to the education of 150 schoolchildren and 60 illiterate women within that small community in Phuleli.