Volunteering in Nepal

Scenery to rival anywhere else on Earth, a breath-taking gamut of culture and ancient tradition, palette-expanding cuisine, a land of adventure and a people of gentle grace await those willing to open their minds to Nepal. Prepare for your senses to be captured forever on a trip not to be forgotten. Nepal is home to most of the world’s largest mountains, including the renowned Mount Everest, Nepal is home to a lifetime of outstanding sights, sounds and varied experiences, from lowland jungle safari to snowy Himalayan peaks.

Why Nepal?
Nepal is also home to some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the world, people who have little access to basic services like healthcare, education or road transport, whose lives are dependent on agriculture, food deliveries on the mule train and unsustainable foreign aid. It is estimated that 60% of Nepal’s growing population of 30 million are living in poverty. Nepal has higher levels of child malnutrition than its South Asian neighbours, weaker health facilities and also appalling adult-literacy. About 71% of adults are illiterate – one of the lowest rates in the world.

What’s the Need?
Years of political unrest and civil war have left their mark on Nepal in the form of a gaping hole in the country’s infrastructure – educational standards are low, attendance lower. You will find that the sort of placements and volunteer opportunities on offer cover the following areas:

? English Teaching & Educational Training
? Child Care & Orphanages
? Fund Raising & Grant Writing
? Medical / Healthcare & Hygiene
? Construction & Manual Labour
? Environmental Education
? Community & Youth Empowerment

There are a wide range of opportunities in Nepal for those willing to donate their time. But be prepared to pay large sums of money for these chances. Volunteering in Nepal through a volunteering organisation will more often than not mean paying anything up to, including and even over $350 – $3500 USD for varying durations of time – but often in the range of 4-6 weeks.

Do Your Research
An internet search of ‘Volunteering in Nepal’ will result in many hits worth of volunteering organisations, volunteering opportunities and more than likely, pictures of happy/destitute children vying for your emotions. There are many horror stories available on the internet about unscrupulous volunteering organisations that charge inordinate fees for what they claim will be the experience of a lifetime, then leave you stranded at the airport with no word ever heard from them again. There are stories of children living in ‘orphanages’ under excruciatingly awful conditions, set up simply to attract foreigners’ money – money which will never benefit anyone other than the crooks running the show.

Unfortunately there are a seemingly endless string of ‘orphanages’ – and new ones springing up every week – in Nepal that may or may not be legit and/or to the benefit of the children living there. The moral of this story: Do your research. It doesn’t talk 10 minutes of your time to enter the name of the organisation you are curious about in a popular search engine and read up. Look for online forums where people might discuss their previous experience with this organisation, be thorough, spend some time weighing up the available opinion from other’s experience and decide for yourself.

Responsible Volunteering
If you are considering donating your time and money to an organisation in Nepal, or anywhere for that matter, you might find the following guidelines useful.

1. Research the impact of the organisation.
How does the organisation define success? How do they measure success? What are their goals? What failures have they experienced and how have they learned from these failures?

2. Check out the management and transparency of the organisation.
Ask to see audited financial statements, receipts of donations and goods bought with these donations, ask for references from past donors. You could check out the reputation of the organisation in the local community – as they are more likely to understand the intricacies of the impact they make than other donors/volunteers.

3. Think about the sustainability of what the organisation does.
Are they affecting change? Is what they do a band-aid solution or are the underlying issues being addressed?

4. Ensure the organisation is locally-run and agendas are negotiated not imposed.
Ask about ownership and decision making lines, who is in charge? Try and meet with them – do you trust them? If you don’t trust them you might feel like you can’t trust the whole organisation.

5. Be sure volunteers are not taking away local jobs.
Is a volunteer the best person for this role? Who will perform this role when the volunteer(s) leave? Will your input leave the organisation with more gaps or a greater dependency, or with a greater capacity to solve these problems in the future?

6. Question any organisation diverting extensive resources towards catering to foreigners.
Whose needs are being served best in this organisation? What are the motives for this organisation to take volunteers?

7. Think about the impact of a foreigner doing that role.
Are Volunteers’ roles designed to reinforce the roles of local staff? Are volunteers is managed and supervised by a permanent member of staff, not the other way round? Is speaking English taking precedence over other, more important skills?

8. Question any organisation that lets un-vetted volunteers work directly with children.
Why is a volunteer doing that particular role instead of another member of staff? Whose interest is being served? Would this be allowed in your country? What kinds of background checks does the organisation do on the volunteers? What kind of training is given?

9. Question any organisation that allows volunteers to do anything they would not be qualified to do at home.
Would you be allowed to do this job at home? Would the organisation put a local person with the same skills you have in the role they are offering you?

10. Ensure that a volunteer is not too big a burden on the organisation.
Will providing the necessary supervision or support for the volunteer actually distract staff from the main mission of their organisation? Are paid staffs taking time out to instruct volunteers?

Nepali people always welcome visitors to their country, just be sure you are there for the right reasons. Do the job that helps the most, not the one that is most exciting. Good luck and work hard!

*The above guidelines were originally developed by PEPY Tours in Cambodia.
~ This article is compiled by Rory McCormick for VisitNepal.com

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You can travel the world and never leave your chair when you read a book.
~ Sherry K. Plummer