First, congratulations are in order for a few young adults on the move.
Rupa received a work visa to the Maldives in mid December, a very merry early Christmas gift for her.
Also, in December Rajan was accepted to attend college in Toronto for a two-year course in Computer Programing. He will arrive there in April.
Ashok, who graduated with a bachelor’s in computer science, from Thames College and has been teaching the computer science courses at the Chelsea Center for the past few years, was selected to teach at Swotishree Gurukul College, a new and very modern school that has earned its International Baccalaureate Certification. He is teaching computer design and technology there and will continue to run our after-school computer program at the Chelsea Center.
If ever the children and staff of Nepal Orphans Home had voted for the nicest boy and girl among us, I am pretty sure that Ram and Sushma would be named. This brother and sister, along with an older sister Karmu, came to us through our Lawajuni Home in the Dang region, around 2007. Karmu stayed with us in Dhapasi off and on and at Lawajuni the rest of the time. In 2009 she was with us while receiving extensive reconstruction surgery on her hand. Ram and Sushma remained with us constantly.
Soft spoken and intentional, Ram and Sushma were as constant as the northern star in their behavior. And they remain so to this day.
Ram, Karmu, and Sushma in 2009
Ram and Sushma again in 2015
Ram as a student apprentice in China February 2020 and Sushma teaching at the Chelsea Adult education program in 2022
Ram is in a managerial position at the four-star Lumbini Palace Resort in the birthplace of the Buddha. He has worked hard and used his money to build a small house of his own. Sushma has consistently been a favorite teacher among our adult women students for the last four years at our Chelsea Center.
In the past two years each of them met the people they wish to spend their lives with, and on February 8th in a double ceremony in Dang, with many of their older NOH brothers and sisters traveling to Dang to be in attendance, they both married.
A Tribute to a Wonderful Institution
Many pre-med students asked to get operating room exposure to help them decide if they were on the right path. Some found indeed they were, went on to medical school, and became doctors. One young female volunteer was invited into the OR at Martyrs Hospital to observe an operation which turned out to be a leg being amputated. She quickly saw that a career in accounting might be preferable. We arranged medical clinics in remote areas for teams of doctors and nurses, as well as individual doctors, from the US and Australia. At Khopa-chagu in particular, we arranged two multi-day clinics over the years in which thousands of dollars were provided to purchase medical supplies through our Dhapasi pharmacist. One young man, a senior at Vanderbilt University who had applied to medical school, arranged $10,000 worth of medicines to be brought over with him which were used at his placement in Bastipur-Lahan in the Terai region, a very rural and medically underserved area. The doctor at the clinic told a little lie to the villagers that an American doctor was coming and word spread. Before sunrise on the first day of the clinic a long line had formed outside. In Chaturali, we arranged for a young midwife volunteer to experience how rural Nepalese babies were born. Like many of our volunteers, she expressed feeling that her life had profoundly changed because of her time there. We arranged for third year medical students from Australia’s Monash Medical College to provide weeklong clinics in some of the mountainous regions of Nepal, and the list goes on.
We found a village where lived a practicing Shaman Priest, after one volunteer mentioned he would love to travel in Nepal and find a priest to further his own Shamanists studies. He lived with this man and his family in Tutung for several weeks. “The most amazing experience of my life,” he kept repeating when we brought him back to the volunteer house afterwards.
The Shaman priest and his family remained close to us for many years after that and they hosted other volunteers who taught in the small village. During the earthquake of 2015 the village was pretty much destroyed, but Volunteer Nepal staff managed to get there and provide support and money for the priest and his family. Amazingly, within five days of the earthquake our incredible staff accessed each of our placements and provided much needed money and supplies. They somehow traveled where roads had been blocked by landslides, fallen bridges and other obstacles, never giving up until they reached our placements and provided financial aid to host families, schools, orphanages, and clinics.
We arranged for two American journalists, partners in life, to go to Bigu, a Buddhist Monastery high up in the mountains near the Tibet border. Getting there involved a six-hour bus ride followed by two days of vertical hiking on a practically deserted mountain. They were the first volunteers to go and that opened the door to a relationship with the Rinpoche and nuns that lasted as long as our volunteer program. The Monastery was destroyed in the earthquake, but once again we were there with financial aid, and we supported the transfer of over a hundred Buddhist nuns to Kathmandu for over a year while the Monastery was rebuilt. Over the years, scores of our volunteers taught there; some went to do maintenance, some to help in the kitchen, and one couple went there to be married by the Rinpoche in a full blown traditional Tibetan ceremony replete with provided, appropriate wedding garments.
Near Bigu we found a small Tibetan School, started by a villager who wanted the Tibetan children in the area to receive a culturally appropriate education. Our volunteers taught there and enjoyed living in the humble homes of parents and other villagers.
When a volunteer went to an area, we would furnish them with money or supplies that had been coordinated with locals. So, in the case of this little Tibetan school, money and educational supplies were donated by Volunteer Nepal. Host families were always paid for their hospitality.
We developed a concept for “Recording Oral Histories” where a volunteer, usually an anthropology major, would stay in the village of one or more of the very diverse cultures in Nepal, with a member of our staff serving as interpreter.
Some of our volunteers wished to apply their building skills to worthwhile projects which we found mostly in the Terai region bordering India. There, a school in Bastipur that consisted of clay and thatch walls and roof was torn down and replaced with a new brick and plaster structure with a tin roof, with the assistance of the volunteers.
Another favorite volunteer placement was a school at the top of a mountain in Ramechhap. The village caste was Dalit, also known as untouchables. Through a connection made with our Volunteer Nepal staff, NOH began supporting the school by providing teacher salaries and a daily hot lunch program that attracted the village children to come to school. A young couple who had just finished grad school in the study of environmental science and sustainability were some of the first volunteers there. We purchased the necessary equipment for them to teach the local women how to make cooking briquettes out of leaves and other debris. The volunteers helped form a cooperative of twelve village women who made the briquettes for each village house for free, and then they sold the surplus to other villages for revenue generation. While there, our volunteers retrofitted many of the houses’ open-burning clay fireplaces with outside exhaust to further reduce the indoor pollution, adding value to the quality of life of the people living there. In Ramechhap, NOH paid to have built a beautiful new school to replace the old school which collapsed during the earthquake, and we continued to pay the teachers’ salaries and provide the hot lunch for a total of ten years.
Volunteers were constantly changing lives for the better. In late 2005 NOH collaborated with SWAN, a Tharu NGO in the Dang district, to provide financial support to rescue girls who had been sold as indentured servants. We refurbished two buildings on the sprawling jungle-cleared area where the elementary school was located and turned them into homes for recently rescued girls. We named the home “Lawajuni” which means New Beginnings. Prior to this, no sustainable solution to stop this exploitation of female children existed. The homes were initially outfitted for 25 girls in each, but within months of opening we were pleased that around 100 girls had been rescued and were living there. In response, NOH began shifting as many of these girls to our Dhapasi homes as we could afford. This was an exciting time for NOH and we began sending volunteers to Lawajuni and neighboring villages in the Dang district as well for teaching and medical assignments.
Another collaboration we formed was with a trekking outfit in Kathmandu. Many of our volunteers asked for us to arrange a trek for after their volunteering. We became close friends with the two men who owned the business, and they treated the volunteers with discounts and excellent care.
In 2009 we had an idea: what if we organized for a large group of people to come to Nepal for a trek and each member would contribute an additional $800 for us to bring another child to live at Papa’s House in Dhapasi, where we were able to provide better education and childcare. We came up with a “Yoga for Freedom” idea, which we shared with filmmaker and social activist Toni Thomson who helped advertise it for us. This caught the attention of the Cleveland Yoga Studio. We designed a three-week trek that had its own incredibly gifted Nepalese yogi who would travel with the group and lead twice-daily yoga sessions. In late summer, 2010, Yoga for Freedom began from Dhapasi with its first stop at Lawajuni where the 18 yogis met all the girls and got to know and understand the culture for a few days before traveling to breathtakingly beautiful locations throughout Nepal. Yoga for Freedom was a great success and from it a fascinating book was written, Yoga for Freedom, by John Vourlis.
A few of the yogis who came for this event have remained regular donors to NOH to this day, 14 years later. This was one of the unanticipated results of having Volunteer Nepal. It became the go-to volunteering experience in Nepal and over the years covered some of the annual budget of operating NOH. In addition, the volunteers themselves were so moved by their individual experiences that they became donors and friends thereafter.
Volunteer Nepal has hosted many diverse groups over the years. A large group of students from New York’s inner city school system came by way of an NGO headed by a previous VN volunteer. Earlier, the same volunteer, but with a different NGO, returned with a program to teach cooking using locally wild grown food products for our NOH children. We also hosted a high school class from Australia, and their chaperones for two years running. This same group, in return, invited the entire Volunteer Nepal staff to visit them in Australia, and even more, have helped a few of our children to attend college in their hometown.
Our volunteers have shown themselves to be real life heroes. We arranged a trek to the Everest Base Camp for a Wall Street investment banker and her best friend, a schoolteacher, in return they raised over $35,000 to fund the continued medical costs for our little Hope Angel.
Another volunteer, also a yoga practitioner, inspired her yoga studio to raise over $10,000 to help us cover the cost of a kidney transplant for a 16-year-old boy in our neighborhood. His mother was the donor. We also supported their family with all their expenses for a full year after the operation. That boy stayed in Dhapasi where he grew older and married years later. He and his wife presently send their little boy to the same school where our kids attend.
One of our volunteers taught mountain survival techniques in Australia. She wrote and asked if she could simply have a guide to trek across Nepal, to experience the mountains and the desert. We said yes and added a caveat. If along her trek she found a child that she felt needed to be rescued and placed in Papa’s House to be raised and educated, then her guide and our staff would investigate making it happen. They found a little girl who fit the description; her father had died, and her mother was unable to afford to care for her, much less ever send her to school. They returned to Dhapasi with the girl at the end of their journey. Today that little girl has a college degree and has been teaching at our Chelsea Center for three years.
Another volunteer from Australia, a very gifted educator and thinker, worked with a small group in Kathmandu that had started a school program for children of poor street vendors. She advocated for them in Australia, taught educational methodology to the teaching staff when she was with us, and over the years raised enough money to build a permanent school for them.
Our volunteers were each and every one remarkable individuals. They ranged in age from a very bright young teen to folks in their seventies. They covered a range of education and professions. Some were already teachers and professors; others became teachers or professors. We were able to embed several young journalists with two newspapers in Kathmandu, one a Maoist paper and one a mainstream Hindu paper. Three of our volunteers are now working for the US State Department. One young woman became a photographer and tour guide for National Geographic after her time with us. One young man came for a few months each year for five years after we introduced him to an important member of the Maoist party; he eventually finished his PhD in political science. Some became doctors, some psychologists. Over a thousand volunteers served from 2005 (when our website first appeared) through 2022. Many of them became close friends during their time together and remain so to this day.
Our volunteers made a huge difference in the lives of many. One volunteer, teaching in a remote village, would open a world of ideas to the lives of the students. One doctor seeing hundreds of remote villagers over several days would ease the suffering and give hope to many. One volunteer working at SERC, the center for disabled children, bringing a new awareness of physical therapy to the staff and whose methods were learned and adapted thereafter, allowing patients new flexibility, mobility, and pride. Volunteers would leave their placements forever changed after sharing ideas about the world, new ways to see life, and new methods for learning, with the Nepali people served. The volunteers were moved by their exposure to very poor children and adults who despite poverty had rich inner lives.
But, when Covid came and travel was essentially stopped for Nepal for close to two years, NOH gave up the Volunteer House, and our staff all found other opportunities for themselves. Without the infrastructure or trained personnel, and a limited interest in international volunteering, we decided it was best for us to retire the program rather than ever take a chance of providing an inferior product if we tried to start again.
Volunteer Nepal volunteers have many thousands of stories to tell, each a poignant encounter with life at its most meaningful moments. The program lives on in the awakened hearts and minds of the volunteers and Nepali people they served.
Read a short history of Volunteer Nepal derived from Nepal Orphans Home annual reports.
Just some of the memories of Volunteer Nepal over the years…